Uravugal Trust buries unclaimed bodies in Chennai

By Bhavani Prabhakar Published on Jun 18, 2018 11:36 AM IST

Chennai: When Khaalid Ahamed, a 23-year-old social worker, went on a quest to know the wants of homeless people in Chennai, he heard the same bitter lines time and again: "We don’t want to have an undignified death."

It kept resonating for days and that’s how we he, along with a few other youngsters, founded ‘Uravugal Trust’. The Chennai-based trust identifies unclaimed bodies and buries them with all due respect.

Khaalid also recalls another incident that led him to ponder over the death of homeless people.

"I was on a tour with my friends. We saw an old man with ragged clothes on the streets. On seeing his state, we asked him about his needs. All he asked for was water. To our astonishment, he passed away moments after quenching his thirst," recalled Khaalid.

"As a human being, we all want to help people. But we don’t go near such people due to their appearance and a deep-rooted hesitation. There were many people around the old man, yet none came forward to help him," says Khaalid.

Registered in July 2017, Uravugal Trust is an NGO that was founded by Khaalid Ahamed and seven other persons with the motive of giving a decent burial to orphans and homeless people.

Started with just a handful of people, the trust now has a strength of 120 volunteers. The most surprising thing is that all the seven trustees, the founder and the volunteers are also a part of other notable NGOs in the city.

"Our Uravugal Trust family is a dynamic body where everyone is associated with various NGOs working for different causes," says Khaalid.

The trust operates with four mottos: give a dignified burial to unclaimed bodies; offer medical service to people who come to Chennai from other parts of the country; and if such people pass away, the trust either buries them with the family’s consent or if the family wishes to take them to their hometown, the trust offers ambulance service to transport. The trust also gives medical aid to those who seek help and enrols them in a government home for homeless people in the city.

"The ambulance service is completely free for poor and needy people. However, if the patient can afford, we request them to manage the diesel expenses alone," says Khaalid.

In about 11 months, the team has buried around 80 bodies. In such a brief time span, the team has earned the trust of several police stations, mortuary workers and people alike. The police station tips them off about such cases, files an FIR and waits for about 15 days to see if someone has filed a missing complaint about the person.

If the body lies unclaimed after 15 days, the police complete all the legal formalities and hand over the corpse to Uravugal Trust. With such helpful gesture from the government, the trust buries the body with due respect and a prayer that there will not be another undignified death and wishing the soul to attain peace. The trust spends around Rs 500 per corpse to bury which is pooled in either by the trustees or given by donors.

When asked about their long-term plans, the founder, who has been donating blood for five years now, says, "We are working towards eradicating this societal stigma of homeless people. We don’t want any homeless to have a such a fateful death for which one of our volunteers is ideating a project."

To volunteer or donate, reach out to Uravugal Trust at 8056205080.

CARRIED TO THE GRAVE

Reams might have been written about how death is a great leveller. But it seems in reality caste feelings follow one to the grave. The Uravugal Trust is doing a noble service in giving a decent cremation to the homeless dead or for unidentified bodies. Nevertheless, they also face a hurdle. "The key challenge we face is the issue of caste. In one such incident, we faced stiff opposition from the neighbourhood people asking us not to bury a person in a burial ground since we did not know his caste," says the founder of the trust, Khaalid Ahamed.