As India celebrates its Independence Day, the misfortune of this couple from a remote village in Bihar underscores just how far the country still has to go.
A week ago, Chatis Rai and Pramila Devi lost their eldest son. Seventeen-year-old Rahul died far from home, at an institute for juveniles in Jaipur. But the Rais, impoverished farm workers at Banka's Leelagora village, were unable even to bring home his body.
On Sunday, Rahul was finally cremated by strangers.
The authorities — the Banka district magistrate and the police — claimed they had offered assistance to the family so they could bring back the body.
The Rais said the assistance was more in the nature of a token.
“We were offered around Rs. 500,” said Pramila Devi.
“It was just not enough to travel to Jaipur, bring the body back and perform the last rites.”
Nand Gopal Thakur, a neighbour, said the family dropped the idea when they realised that even by pooling in money from every source, they could not meet the expenses.
For the Rais, the tragedy of their son’s death overshadowed the issue of his cremation. Rahul, the eldest of their five children, had left home on July 17 with Rs. 700 the family had saved to repair their leaking roof. But he left with a dream.
As one of the numerous migrant labourers from Bihar, he was to keep home fires burning.
But he was caught travelling without a ticket at the Jaipur railway station. And being a minor, he was sent to Kishore Grih, a juveniles’ home, where he died of illness, said Arun Kumar Rai, station house officer of Banka.