Crematorium Turns Second Home For Ex-Councillor In Odisha’s Berhampur

Berhampur: For 47-year-old Prasanta Sethi, the Neelakantheswar crematorium in the Silk City has turned into a second home. He has cremated around 1,700 bodies in the past 30 years.

A resident of Bijipur Badasahi, Prasanta is married with one daughter and a son. His daughter is a Plus III final year student while his son is pursuing his Plus III second year.

But Prasanta hardly gets to spend time with his family these days. “Since the second wave of COVID-19 struck Ganjam district, I have been able to visit my home only for 18 days during the past two months,” he said.

Prasanta stays in a small room on the crematorium premises. He uses a bed and pillow that were provided for a dead body by the family members some time ago. He cooks for himself inside that room and often has to go without any food.

Interestingly, Prasanta was elected as a councillor of Berhampur Municipal Corporation during a by-election in 2002 and continued in his post till 2006. He had also worked as a constable, but took up cremating bodies as a full time job after he was suspended from the Police Department.

Prasanta recalled that he was barely 17 years old when he had cremated the first body. “I found a dead body lying abandoned with no one to cremate it. I took it to the crematorium and performed the last rites. It gave me immense satisfaction. The interest for performing last rites was reignited after I was suspended from the police force,” he said.

“During the first wave of the pandemic last year, I had once cremated four bodies on a single pyre. I don’t discriminate between the bodies of those who have succumbed to COVID and those who have died of other causes. I see it as a service to society to cremate bodies,” he added.

But his sense of social service doesn’t extend to everyone, including some families and relatives of the COVID dead. “What pains me much is that many relatives and family members who bring a patient to Berhampur and who subsequently dies hesitate to take the dead body to their respective village. Even the family members of some non-COVID patients are hesistant to touch the dead body. They don’t even come forward for ‘mukhagni’ of the body. I somehow manage to bring the dead body to the Neelakantheswar crematorium and they pay me a meagre sum to cremate it. I have performed the rituals and lit the funeral pyre of hundreds of such bodies,” said Prasanta.

So does he charge money for cremating bodies? Prasanta replied that affluent people give him adequate money for his services. “But I never charge money from people who are unable to pay. I also don’t mind cremating abandoned dead bodies for free. The number of such dead bodies would be around 300,” he said.

“I had cremated 11 bodies at Neelakantheswar crematorium on Monday. The figure was only four on Tuesday,” he informed.

Prasanta said he and his family have no qualms about his line of work. “During the pandemic when the source of income for many people has dried up, I am able to provide for my family with the money given by affluent families for cremating their dead members,” he quipped.

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