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Unsung guardian of unclaimed deads

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Anil Dagar

When most people avoid even touching the dead body of their own family member, Anil Dagar of Ujjain cremated over 24,000 unclaimed dead bodies during the last 24 years. He not only cremates the bodies, but also performs their tarpan in Pushkarji and in the Sindhu and Ganga Rivers

While visiting Ujjain, the city of Mahakal recently a very unusual wall writing drew my attention. The writing was: “Lawaris Lash ke Bare Mein Soochit Karen” (Inform about the unclaimed dead body). At first glance, I was confused as to what this means. I asked the driver, a resident of Ujjain, about this person. He told me this person cremates the unclaimed dead bodies in the city free of cost. I immediately dialled his number to ask if he was at home. He told me he was ready to move to attend a call regarding a dead body. On my request he agreed to wait for me at his home. I postponed all my plans and reached Anil Dagar’s home at Bilotipura. I met a very simple, but strong willed man, at first glance. His office was full of the files in which he maintains record of every dead body that he cremated or buried. All walls of the office had photographs showing his felicitation by bigwigs of the city including some renowned holy persons like Swami Satyamitranand Giri and the present Lok Sabha Speaker Smt Sumitra Mahajan, who is MP from Indore, an emerging metro city about 59 from Ujjain.

My first question was ‘for how long have you been doing it’ he said: “I have been cremating dead bodies at Chakrateertha Crematorium since the age of 15. For some time, I worked as an assistant, but soon after I started doing it full-fledged. I have noticed that most people cannot arrange sufficient quantity of wood for cremation of the body. They try to cremate a body with just 1.5 quintals of wood. Such bodies remain incompletely burnt as the central part of the body requires more time to burn. If the wood is insufficient the torso remains half-burnt. For many years my duty was to notice such bodies & burn them.”

How it all Began

“Once during winter, a dead body from a Joshi family was brought. As it was raining heavily, relatives performed the last rites hurriedly and left. I requested them to stay for some more time, but they ignored my advice. It was raining heavily so river Shipra inundated the crematorium, and that half-burnt body was washesd away. It got stuck in the Riverbed and on reaching the crematorium two days later, I found a sadhu sitting with a burning corpse. Since it was winter, I arranged tea for him. Pointing to a half-burnt body in the river bed he said it is the same body that you mentioned that day. It is a religious city, where thousands of people come every day from all over the country; it looks bad if dead bodies remain in such a condition. I asked him how I could fetch that body as it was a quagmire and the water flow of the River was strong. He stood up and asked me to follow him to the river bed, we pulled the body out. Already two bodies were burning in the crematorium. He told me to put that too in any of them. The saint advised me to ensure the cremation of all unclaimed dead bodies in the city in 1994. I have been doing this since then.”

Tarpan in Sindhu and Ganga

The practice continues since 1994. This year, till June 2018, he has cremated or buried 265 bodies. “When this number crosses 400, I go to the Sindhu River in Leh along with my wife and perform tarpan of all the bodies. I have been doing it for the last 24 years. I store the ashes of all the bodies and immerse them in the holy river once a year,” he revealed.

Anil Dagar along with his wife performing tarpan of the dead bodies at Pushkarji, Rajasthan

Asked how he attends any call, he said: “As I receive the call, the first task is to fill up a form collecting all vital information about the body. Most calls come through police or the local administration. But when such calls come through general public, I inform police and attend the case only after the police formalities,” he said claiming that he has disposed of about 24,000 unclaimed bodies during the last 24 years. The bodies come from nearby areas like Nagada, Makshi, Raghvi, Makdom, also. “I cremate or bury each body with full respect. I maintain a complete record of these and submit to the SP office regularly,” said Dagar who works in the Ujjain Municipal Corporation. He cremates or buries the bodies as per their way of worship ascertained by the police. About 2500 Muslim bodies have been buried in 20 years.

Shelter to the Destitute

Dagar recalled an incident of June 2018 when a woman approached him. She originally belonged to Mathura and was married in Indore. She had two children. One had died sometime back. Along with the second child, she was thrown out of home by her husband. She went to Mathura to her parents, but they were not there. Hence, she decided to come to Ujjain. She did not have anything even to feed the child. Unfortunately, her second child also died when she reached Ujjain Railway Station. She approached him for help. “I took her to Mahakal police station and completed all the formalities. Then I buried the child in her presence. Then I got her husband Kallu arrested. I provided her money and ensured that she could reach home safely,” said Dagar who had also buried the body of a medical student, Namrata Damar, who was killed following the infamous Vyapam Scam of Madhya Pradesh.

Shri Anil Dagar on the bank of Sindhu River in Leh after performing tarpan of the dead bodies

Asked about hardships that he faced Dagar said many people felicitated him for his outstanding job, but none was ready to address his basic problem. “I carried the dead bodies in the hand-driven cart. As the number of such bodies was increasing, before Simhastha in 2016 I made an appeal to provide me with a vehicle so that I can attend more calls without delay. In Simhastha, crores of devotees come, and at least often 100-200 surely die. In routine also thousands of people come to Ujjain every day, and many of them die here. But nobody in Ujjain paid attention to my appeal. Later, a vehicle was provided by Union Ministry of Social Justice”.

Asked whether such bodies disturb him in the form of an evil spirit as some people believe, he said: “this is just a gossip”. Dagar not only cremates unclaimed bodies, he also provides shelter to the destitute. Three destitute girls, who came to him long back, have now been married. If somebody needs monitory help for cremating a body, he provides that too. When a 14-year old mentally sick girl was gang-raped at Ramghat area of Ujjain, Dagar rehabilitated her by sending her to Sewadham Ashram run by Shri Sudhir Goel in Ujjain only. Dagar also took full care of a mentally sick child, Vijaypal from Sonipat Haryana, for about 20 years. “About 20 years back I found a child in poor mental condition near Mahakal Temple. I brought him home and started his treatment. Since his case was critical, I visited Indore, Pune and Mumbai for his treatment. Finally, he got well and started living with us as our family member. Meanwhile, a Police Inspector, Sunil Kumar, who was posted in Indore, visited Ujjain to have darshan of Mahakal. Incidentally, he identified Vijaypal. We informed his family in Haryana. They came and took him back,” recalled Dagar.

Mukti Sewa Sadan

When asked what happens when the family members of any of the buried or cremated body start making claims, he said: “Such incidents are frequent. Some people pressurise us to dig out the buried body. But I discourage them because once a body is buried, it is inhuman to dig it out. All bodies are buried after postmortem. They are already in poor condition, and after the postmortem, their condition further deteriorates. Whenever any such demand or request comes, I tell them to feel relieved as the body has been cremated or buried in the holy city of Mahakal. I suggest them to perform the post-death rituals of their dear ones. And most people agree.” Most of such dead bodies are either of train accident victims, or those drowned in the river, HIV or Cancer patients, etc. Dagar has formed Mukti Sewa Sadan for this service to the humanity. He is indeed an unsung guardian of the unclaimed deads.

By Dr Pramod Kumar

Courtesy: Organiser

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