An abysmal life among the dead

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BANGALORE, November 1:  The sight of a dead body does not create an emotional turbulence in 51-year-old Narayana. A gravedigger at the Harischandra Ghat graveyard, he literally grew up surrounded by death. He spent his childhood in the same graveyard helping his grandfather, father and uncle, who were also gravediggers. His family is dependant on the tips given by those who bring dead bodies for burial. For over 15 years, he even lived inside the ghat.

His brother, Narasimhaiah, is a gravedigger on the rolls of the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike and gets a salary of Rs. 1,000 a month.

Eshwar, another gravedigger, along with family members is engaged in grave-digging at the Chamarajapet graveyard for the past 23 years. Souri Raj (35) is the bread earner for his six-member family on a salary of Rs. 1,000 as a gravedigger in the Cox Town graveyard. M.D. Chandru (40) and his family live working in Hebbal graveyard.

Narayarana, Eshwar, Chandru and Souri Raj are among the over 186 gravediggers working in graveyards in and around Bangalore city, including those owned by BBMP. Brought together under the banner of Dr. B.R. Amebdkar Dalith Sangharsh Samiti, they are demanding that their wages be enhanced and living conditions improved.

Mr. Narayana said: “Our work has not been noticed by the BBMP. I have recently moved into a rented house as my children are growing. I am dependent on the money given as tips by those who bring dead bodies for burial.”

Eshwar says: “We bury dead bodies, even decayed ones. We work in unhygienic conditions ignoring our health. Despite such risks, we are in this profession for generations.”

Gravedigger Narasimhaiah said he was appointed in 1989 on a monthly salary of Rs. 200 in place of his father. “Now I am getting Rs. 1,000. But for the past three years, I have not got even that,” he said.

C.S. Dwarakanath, the former chairperson of the State Backward Classes Commission, said the gravediggers’ families were the victims of poverty and illiteracy for several generations. Most of their children do not go to school as they have to help their parents.

“The BBMP was paying a honorarium of Rs. 200 and now raised it to Rs. 1,000. Barring a few gravediggers, majority of them have not got the honorarium for the past three years. They live among the dead. They lack basic amenities and their living condition is pathetic. This is nothing but violation of human rights. Their effort to draw the attention of the authorities concerned has failed as they are unorganised labourers,” he said. He urged the government to help the families to live with dignity.

Samiti president K.V. Balakrishna demanded that the government appoint gravediggers as D grade government worker and extend all benefits. The pending wages should be paid immediately, he added.

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