Denied road access, Dalits in Vellore forced to lower body from bridge for cremation

The funeral procession was denied right of way to a road and to a common crematorium in the village.
Denied road access, Dalits in Vellore forced to lower body from bridge for cremation
Denied road access, Dalits in Vellore forced to lower body from bridge for cremation
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In a heart-wrenching video that has emerged online, a group of men from Tamil Nadu’s Vellore district are seen lowering the body of a dead person from atop a bridge. The body was placed on a stretcher and precariously lowered to the ground from the top of the bridge. Garlands that were draped on the body fell to the ground as the bier was slowly lowered. While a dozen men work the ropes from the 20-foot high bridge, a handful of them receive the body, standing amid the bushy undergrowth in Narayanapuram village. The men are then forced to carry the dead body to a funeral pyre in a crematorium some distance away.

As the men prepare to cremate the body, the man who is purportedly shooting the video says that this was unfolding in Vaniyambadi taluk in Vellore where the Dalit colony in the village does not have a crematorium of its own. "This is our crematorium. We lower the body like this each time. We don't have a crematorium,” he is heard saying.

The awful scene, denying dignity to the dead, is the story of Dalits in the village denied access to a road and a crematorium by caste Hindus in the area. According to one police official speaking to the Hindustan Times, the caste Hindus, mainly Vellala Gounders and Vanniyars, would not allow bodies to be taken through a stretch of farmland.

The incident took place on Saturday, August 17 but the video went viral on Wednesday. 55-year-old Kuppan had passed away in an accident the previous day. Kuppan's relatives allege that the caste Hindus encroached upon the path meant for the Dalits to transport the bodies. They had bought lands surrounding the path and did not want corpses to be carried through the area, allege relatives.

21-year-old Vijay, a nephew of Kuppan told TNM, "For over 20 years now, we have had trouble accessing the grounds we traditionally used as a crematorium. Members of the dominant caste own the land now and don't let us enter the area with corpses. Caste Hindus have a separate ground that we can't use for cremations. Before the bridge came into existence 15 years ago, we used to just leave the body in the water. But now we lower it down the bridge to cremate it. We have appealed to various district authorities for years now to help us, but to no avail." 

According to one report in the Times of India, cremating their dead by lowering them from the bridge has become a common practice for the Dalits who have been denied their right of way for over four years. The newspaper reports that soon after the bridge over the Palar river was built, caste Hindus took over the path to the river where Dalits cremate their dead. They have prohibited Dalits from using the path. 

“Due to lack of space in the village crematorium, we have been cremating our dead on the banks of the Palar river for the last four years,” a Dalit villager told the newspaper.

“Though it was common pathway and we used it since our ancestors’ days, they fenced it recently. When we requested them to open the fence, they were not ready. So, we were forced to carry the body around and lower it from the bridge,” a relative named Kumar told HT.

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