Every year, thousands from the northeast come to New Delhi in the hopes of becoming breadwinners for their families thousands of kilometres away in the hills. But some of them don’t return. Not even in death.
For weeks after their death, many bodies are kept in a mortuary while authorities try to contact the families. But the families, many of whom are struggling financially, say they can’t afford to transport the deceased back.
Some say they can’t even make it to Delhi for the final rites.
Last year alone, the Delhi Police’s North East Unit received over 15 cases where student volunteers from the region pooled in money to cremate or bury the dead. This year so far, there were three cases.
With such instances on the rise, the ministry of home affairs for the first time last week granted an initial sum of Rs 5 lakh for the Delhi Police North East Unit. The unit’s nodal officer will disperse the money for the final rites of economically deprived NE residents in the Capital.
20-year-old Dhunita Munda, a native of Dhubri district in Assam, was found hanging at her employer’s house in west Delhi in June.
The woman came to the city a few months after her parents’ death. She hung herself, unable to cope with city life. “Her body was in a mortuary at Deen Dyal Upadhyay Hospital for more than 10 days. We managed to contact the family but they said they could not come,” said Saranjay, a volunteer.
He said flying her body was too expensive. “We alerted the northeast unit and gathered volunteers. Some students from Assam contributed from their pocket money and we managed to give her a decent funeral in Burari,” he said.
In July, Soibam Akash Moirang (20) died in Nehru Vihar after a brief illness. His mother, who lived in their hometown in Manipur, tried to arrange the money to send him to a hospital. But he died, said Sangeeta Channa who helped with his final rites.
Though Moirang’s mother came to Delhi, she said did not have the money to take the body home. He was cremated at Punjabi Bagh, said Channa.
Moirang came to the Capital in December 2013 to learn mobile repairing. “He wanted to take admission in a computer repairing institute but his family could not arrange the money,” said Channa.
Last month, a woman from Darjeeling in West Bengal who worked at a mall in Gurgaon was raped and murdered.
Volunteers contacted her family but in her case too, the family said they had no money to take her body. “The Gorkha Unit volunteers approached the north east unit. The Delhi Police nodal officer Robin Hibu contributed Rs 2,000 from his salary to pay for ambulance and other expenses,” said Rajen Sharma, a Gorkha volunteer from the police unit.
A few good men
With no direct flights to states such as Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, ticket prices are exorbitant. It is more expensive and difficult for families to fly the body back to states such as Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura, which are not connected by flights.
Joint commissioner of police and Delhi Police north east unit nodal officer Robin Hibu said they found a few good souls who do not charge for cremation. “When I was the ACP of Rajouri Garden, I came in touch with Kuldip Chana, in-charge of the Punjabi Bagh cemetery. Chana must have helped us in at least 10 cases last year,” said Hibu.
He said some priests at Christian cemeteries also did it for free.
“Everybody deserves a decent burial and that is the least we can give for our deceased brothers and sisters…Men like them are rare and for us they are angels,” said the joint commissioner.
Apart from cremation, there are other costs involved too, volunteers said.
They pointed out that finding a vehicle to transport a body was difficult as nobody wants to do it. A private ambulance charges at least Rs 1,000 to transport a body from the mortuary to the cemetery. Volunteers also have to pay the priest, they said.
“Most northeast residents are Christians. Wooden coffins cost a lot of money. It sometimes causes a dent in our wallets, but we don’t mind as long as we do this,” said a volunteer, who did not wish to be named.