The number of abandoned bodies the trust has to bury is only rising, showing the scant regard for the dead and dying.

This Coimbatore trust works to give the citys abandoned dead and dying people their dignity
news Philanthropy Thursday, July 21, 2016 - 13:41

A life well lived is never complete without a dignified death and burial. While the economically privileged are ensured, in most cases, a solemn and befitting send-off, people from underprivileged circumstances are many a time denied this rite of passage.

As many as 2,450 such unclaimed bodies in Coimbatore would not have got a dignified, decent burial if not for the Thozhar Trust. The trust, one of the very few of its kind, has given itself an unusual mission – to give proper funerals for the abandoned dead. The 12-year-long journey, though satisfying, has also been unnerving for the four founding members of the trust because the number of bodies has only been increasing, showing the scant regard families have for their elderly and dying.

The need for the trust did not originate in the elite entrepreneurial minds of the city.  It took shape in the minds of flower decorator P Shanthakumar, flower seller S Sampath Kumar, flower exporter KR Jeevanandham, and lathe operator P Annadurai.

The trust buries bodies recovered from the streets, those abandoned in hospitals, and others abandoned in morgues.  It works in tandem with the Coimbatore Medical College Hospital (the Government hospital here) and police, to complete the documentary formalities before taking a body for burial or cremation.

From eight bodies in 2004, Thozhar Trust now buries nearly 20 per month.  And, it seems to only be increasing without any significant decline, according to Shanthakumar, the Managing Trustee. 

Winner of the CNN-IBN Real Heroes Award for Social Welfare in 2012, Shanthakumar says that couples without children, those with children living abroad, alms-seekers, those who die in accidents without identity proof, also fall in the abandoned/deserted category.

In the case of those with means, the difference is that the children or in some cases the elders themselves inform the trust that in case of an eventuality, its services would be required.  For those who die without means, where the children dump the body, or someone who is on the verge of dying on the roadside, the trust takes up its work on information from the public or police.

The trust could not have come such a long way without support from committed volunteers who give liberally of their time or resources.  The trust members say that till now they have not approached any donor for donations of any kind.  But thanks to voluntary donations, they have been fortunate enough to have never been wanting or having to spend their own money to bury a body. 

There is a retired postmaster who sends a monthly money order of Rs 100 without fail.  There are college students – both young men and women – who help the trust in conducting the last rites for the body.  S Roopika, who completed her Masters in Social Work in Sri Krishna College of Arts and Science in 2012, has been one of their regular volunteers who helped to carry bodies and bury them.  She continues to be a volunteer whenever time permits, and had to overcome family and social stigma to be involved in this initiative.

Sangeetha, a transwoman from the Thirunangaigal Nalla Sangam, Coimbatore, is another regular volunteer.  She, and 10 others, are available to help the Trust members in turns. 

A dozen years on, having buried 2,450 bodies, and having gained the support of many well-wishers, the members found themselves prodded to go a step further to enable the abandoned to die a dignified death. 

 “After doing this work for more than 10 years we have realised that there are unclaimed bodies because most of them die an abandoned death.  The only way we could think of to reduce this number was to ensure the abandoned get a dignified death.  Sons or daughters from poor families abandon their dying elders on the streets or in the corridors of the Government hospital because there is no place to take them to where they can spend the last few days on a clean bed in clean surroundings.  We want to establish a hospice where any individual or hospital can send those who are counting their last days to die a peaceful death,” says Shanthakumar. 

The Trust is looking for philanthropists who can donate land or a building on the outskirts of Coimbatore that can house at least 40 to 50 people at a time. It plans to operate the hospice free-of-cost for those who cannot afford palliative care or who have been abandoned.  Those who can afford to pay for their family members will be asked to bear the cost of taking care of one abandoned person.

The Trust also hopes to employ staff-members from among women and men abandoned by their families, or retired hospital personnel. These staff-members will also be given food and shelter in the hospice itself. In this way, the Trust plans to make the establishment self-sufficient over a period of time. 

With the planned hospice, the Trust has set itself a goal of providing a dignified death rather than only a dignified burial.  The Thozhar Trust can be reached on 98422-67700 or 97888-89888 or on their website www.thozhartrust.in.

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