Bengaluru has lakes with toxic foam catching fire, roads with garbage dumped on either sides, landfills bursting to its seams, civic agencies chopping off trees and one can add in the looming chances of an unwanted steel flyover.
While citizens complain of blatant apathy, it is not only limited to those who are alive. Bengaluru’s dead face the same amount of apathy and those who take care of the the dead are left to fend for themselves.
Bengaluru’s cemeteries and burial grounds lack the most basic amenities and grave diggers are finding it tough to make ends meet. The Shantinagar Hindu Burial Ground and the Kalpalli Cemetery in Sarvagnynagar are examples of it.
Forty-nine-year-old Anthonyammal is a grave digger at the Kalpalli Cemetery. She lives in a 11x7ft space, which accomodates one mattress and a few utensils.
Anthonyammal gets Rs 1,500 per month for performing her duties and a few tens from the families who come to bury their deceased relatives.
Anthonyammal, who is a third-generation grave digger, has six children, who live in a slum close by with her mother-in-law. Her husband, who was also a grave digger, died three weeks back and she has to fend for the entire family.
“I do not have a BPL card and did not know that we could obtain one. Four months ago, one of the families, which had come here to bury their 12-year-old son told me that I could get one and it would help me obtain basic necessities for a subsidised rate. I went to the office on Cunningham Road (Food and civil Supplies Department) and they said I have to pay Rs 4,000 for it. I did not have that kind of money so I am planning to get one once I save enough,” Anthonyammal said.
Anthonyammal was shocked when informed that the cost for a BPL card was Rs 45.
The Karnataka state Human Rights Commission, had in 2015, conducted a survey of all the burial grounds in Bengaluru and had issued an order to the BBMP to improve the quality of life for the families of grave diggers.
The order said that grave diggers should be given BPL cards and a stipulated amount per annum given for medical expenses. The Commission also said that the BBMP should provide drinking water facilities and also assist in construction of houses. Two years on, the borewells in the cemeteries have dried up, the Shantinagar and Kalpalli cemeteries don’t have a BWSSB connection and BPL cards are hard to come by.
While the grave diggers are facing troubling times, the cemeteries are also in shambles.
The Shatinagar Hindu Burial Ground also has an electrical crematorium. Bhaskar (name changed on request), who is a grave digger at the cemetery says that the electric coils in the crematorium do not function properly.
“Last month, there was a family who were here as their mother had passed away. They wanted to cremate her but had to take the body back due the problem. There is rarely any maintenance work. Three years ago, some people had come here for inspection but nothing materialised out of it. In January, this year, some officials had come for a visit. They made big promises of improving the cemetery. Nobody cares about the dead or those who want to look after the dead,” he said.
Bhaskar said that only one of the two borewells in the cemetery pumps water. He tries very hard to pump the water out and it is only after trying several times that the water slowly starts pouring into the bucket.
“It takes about 15-20 minutes for a bucket to fill up. At this rate, the borewell is also going to dry up soon,” he lambasts.
According to Gunashekar, the BBMP official, who had recently inspected all the crematoriums in the city along with his team, admits that most of them are ill-kept and lack basic facilities.
There are over 130 burial grounds within BBMP limits and 12 electric crematoria. Gunashekar said that only one is in proper working condition.
“The eleven crematoria have received various complaints. Upon inspection, it was revealed that the smoke filters have not been replaced and the air pollution levels were extremely high. 99% of them have no maintenance staff and lack toilets and water facilities. We have prepared a list of recommendations and will urge the BBMP to allot sufficient funds for the upkeep of the cemeteries and crematoria in the city,” he said.
Gunashekar’s team has recommended the construction of toilets, provision of water supply and has also written to the BBMP’s Horticulture Department to appoint personnel for the upkeep of the trees and plants in the burial grounds.
“We hope that sufficient funds are allocated for the development of these burial grounds and have requested around Rs 150 crore for the initial phase,” Gunashekar added.