Manjulata Kshirsagar had told her loved ones that she wanted to be buried near her husband’s grave in Nashik district’s Manmad, a town 254 km north of Mumbai, where she spent her whole life. It was a wish that her son Suhas had vowed to keep.
However, when 76-year-old Manjulata died in September at Malegaon – 37 km away from her hometown, Suhas struggled to keep his promise. Suspecting that the septuagenarian could have been a Covid-19 patient, local officials and health workers told the family that repatriating the body to Manmad would not be possible and forced Suhas to bury her in Malegaon.
Upset at not being able to meet his mother’s last wish, Suhas navigated government offices in Malegaon and Manmad to ensure the repatriation of the body.
After a three-month struggle, during which he came to know that his mother was not infected by Covid-19, Suhas managed to get clearances from state officials to exhume the body.
On Thursday, he again buried his mother at Manmad’s St. Barnaba Church cemetery, next to his father’s grave.
“It feels as if a weight has been taken off my chest. I managed to fulfil my mother’s last wish,” Suhas told The Indian Express after the burial.
Manjulata, who lived with her unmarried son in Manmad, was being treated for a heart ailment for the last five years. On September 21, when her condition deteriorated, she was rushed to the Malegaon Civil Hospital.
Doctors at the hospital suspected that she had pneumonia and were fearful that she may have contacted Covid-19 as well. With her Covid-19 test results still pending, Manjulata passed away a day later.
As the report was still awaited, doctors informed the local authorities, who stopped Suhas from taking the body to Manmad. “I tried convincing the health officer there, but she did not listen. She told us that only if her Covid-19 report comes negative, she will allow us to take the body,” he said.
Suhas kept the body at a Covid care center and returned home on September 22.
However, the next morning, he woke up to the call from the Covid facility, asking him to dispose the body. “They even threatened that if I failed to take her remains, they shall dispose the body themselves,” said the 40 year old.
Fearing the worst, Suhas acceded to their demands and allowed the municipal authorities to bury Manjulata as per Christian customs at the cemetery of St. Paul Church in Malegaon.
“Since she started undergoing treatment for her heart ailment, she would often tell us that she wishes to be buried at Barnaba church’s cemetery where my father was laid to rest in 1994… Every member of our family is buried in that cemetery in Manmad… my grandfather, grandmother, uncles and aunts,” he added.
Three days later, on September 24, Suhas received a call from the local authorities stating that his mother’s Covid-19 report was negative. He subsequently received her death certificate that said that Manjulata had died due to cardiac arrest.
While many of his relatives told him to let the body remain in the Malegaon cemetery, the inability of not being able to fulfil his mother’s last wish gnawed at Suhas. He decided to make rounds of government offices and also visit politicians to get permission to exhume the body and again bury it in Manmad.
“For almost a month, every evening, when we returned home disheartened after meeting government officials, Suhas would start to cry… On October 20, I took him to a lawyer in Manmad. He offered to help. He helped us write an application, which we submitted to the commissioner’s office of Malegaon Municipal Corporation,” said Firoz Shaikh, Suhas’ friend who frequently accompanied him to Malegaon.
After doggedly pursuing officials for 62 days, the two finally managed to get a no objection certificate from the Malegaon civic administration for exhuming and reburying the body.
“We then got permissions from the local police station, both the civic bodies and the Fathers of both St. Paul and St. Barnaba churches from where the body was to be exhumed and then buried,” said Suhas.
Following this, he sent his application to the tehsildar’s office. “I received the application on December 1. I was touched because people often forget the promises they make, but he did not back off even after three months. I immediately asked my office to process the necessary permissions,” said Tehsildar Chandrajit Rajput.
Around 8 am on Thursday, on the tehsildar’s instructions, Manjulata’s body was exhumed from St. Paul Church’s cemetery in Malegaon in the presence of an executive magistrate, municipal authorities and the police. On Thursday, her remains were again buried at the St Barnaba Church cemetery in Manmad around 12.15 pm.
“I am content. She is finally resting in peace,” Suhas said.
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