In 1995, K Selvaraj was in a major road accident that damaged his spinal cord, leaving both his legs paralysed. While his doctors gave Selvaraj little hope for a normal life outside the hospital, the 53-year-old has outdone all of their expectations.
Not only has he flourished in his life after the accident, he has even created a philanthropic initiative to help other people around him. Selvaraj offers any people living within a 10-km radius of his house in Vellankurichi free funeral and cremation services.
When Selvaraj first returned home after the accident, against his doctors’ urgings, the path ahead looked difficult. But far more disappointing was the reaction of people around him. “People around me always used to say, ‘Now you cannot do anything in life.’ That’s what forced me to do something in life,” he said.
Determined to make something of himself, Selvaraj tried his hand at various business ventures. “I set-up an STD booth, tried setting up a textile shop and later became a broker in the real estate business. I worked really hard,” he said.
Finally, he found his niche in real estate, being able to provide sufficiently for his family.
Having found success for himself, in 2013, Selvaraj hit upon the idea of offering free cremation services for people living around him. While Selvaraj was not able to answer the question of why he chose this route to philanthropic service, he can certainly see the need for such a service. “When a watchman does not have enough money to pay a monthly rent of Rs 1500, how will he pay for cremation services which often cost over Rs 10,000?” he asked.
In the last two-and-a-half-years, Selvaraj has provided his services to more than 2700 households. “We provide everything from chairs and tables to freezer boxes and vehicles,” he said. Selvaraj himself has attended the services in 2000 households and oversees all the details to ensure that the ceremony proceeds smoothly and successfully.
Most of the houses that have availed of then service are poor and are not in a financial condition to conduct the funeral ceremony. Hence the popularity of Selvaraj’s initiative. “The service began with 200 chairs and 20 tables. Now, the trust has 1,500 chairs, 160 tables, five freezer boxes and three vehicles including an ambulance,” he said.
But despite the growing popularity of the initiative, it has still not been an easy journey. “I have about 10 full time staff, I have to pay them a salary and the whole cost comes to around three lakh rupees per month. There are months when we find it difficult to support it but we cannot stop it,” he said.
Selvaraj finances his initiative through completely voluntary donations. If a household wants to give Rs. 10 or Rs. 2000, we accept it. Even if the family does not give anything, we are fine with it,” he said, adding that there have been some very generous donors who have donated Rs 50,000.
Bouyed by the success of the first stage of the initiative, Selvaraj wants to start five other branches in Coimbatore, but finds himself unable to do so at present since he does not have the financial support for it.