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Tantrik wages dignity battle for the dead

Patna, Jan. 23: Guddu Baba, 45, is not your stereotypical tantrik for unlike many of his cult, he is ready to die for the dead.

The Baba has threatened to immolate himself if the dead are not cremated with dignity in the state. Eight of the state’s nine electric crematoriums are closed and the dead are piling, with the cold wave sweeping across the state.

“This (the closure) has pushed the state’s poor into a precarious condition. They (the crematorium authorities) should have bestowed some dignity on the dead by cremating the bodies at Rs 300. At traditional burning ghats, Rs 1,000 is needed for cremation,” Baba said.

The tantrik, formerly called Vikas Chandra, a post-graduate in political science, was a college teacher in Saharsa. He gave it up for the tantrik cult in 1985.

Chandra, mortified at “the way the rotting bodies keep floating on the shallow water of the river (Ganga) and the stench of death”, dumped rituals and took up the cause of flushing the polluted river clean in 1999.

Now, after Chandra’s “immolation threat”, all eyes are on the crematoriums. Local people said at least 12-16 bodies can be seen lined up in the daily queue to get to the incinerator at a crematorium.

“When the poor fail to get adequate amount of wood, they just dump the bodies in the river. Most float up, creating a grotesque sight,” said Anju Sinha, a social worker who recently joined the Ganga Bachao Abhijan ( Save Ganga Crusade).

Chandra has taken his crusade not only to the people, but also to the chief minister and the court. He shot off a letter to Rabri Devi and filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in Patna High Court.

“There is little hope,” Chandra said. “The issue was raised in the Assembly and the urban development minister had assured to inspect them (the crematoriums). But nothing has happened.”

A high court division bench, hearing Chandra’s PIL, had expressed the “revulsion in our minds” on seeing the pictures of the bodies scattered across the river.

“We felt horrified to see one lying without any stitch in its stomach to suggest there was any post-mortem,” said Justice S.K. Singh and Justice S.K. Katariar in their order of March 3, 2001.

The bench’s attention was drawn to the practice of throwing unclaimed bodies in the stretch of the Ganga flowing behind Patna Medical College and Hospital. The hospital authorities, Chandra alleged, have no concern for the environment.

The bench ruled that “on the question of disposal of dead bodies, we have reminded the parties of the social responsibility to treat the dead with respect and allow their proper disposal to prevent environment pollution”.

The hospital and the municipal doctors vowed to facilitate cremation and stop dumping of bodies in the river. The court’s intervention against disposal of biological waste in the river did prompt the hospital authorities to instal an incinerator to destroy the waste. Yet, two years on, nothing much appears to have been done to dispose of unclaimed bodies — not just medical waste — which are piling up in the cold wave.

The state had in 1992-93 installed nine electric crematoriums with the Centre’s help under the Ganga Action Plan.

The crematoriums were set up at Gulbighat in Patna, Banshghat, Khajkala, Hajipur, Mokama, Barauni and two in Bhagalpur. Now, only Gulbighat is functional.

Chandra, despite the apparent lack of response to his crusade, has pressed on with his court case, and various government departments have kept filing affidavits in court.

The division bench has now summoned the state’s chief secretary and health secretary.

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