Two women oversee burial ground work

DC | D. SENTHIL NATARAJAN
Published Sep 3, 2014, 11:36 am IST
Updated Jan 10, 2016, 8:38 am IST
They say it’s tough, but want to make a difference
Praveena Solomon and Esther Shanthi at their office in Velankadu burial ground in Anna Nagar. (Photo:DC/ File)
 Praveena Solomon and Esther Shanthi at their office in Velankadu burial ground in Anna Nagar. (Photo:DC/ File)
Chennai:Unlike other working women in the city, S. Esther Shanthi and Praveena Solomon’s chores include managing bodies that queue up and supervising cremations. The two married women work as overseers at Velankadu crematorium on New Avadi Road in Anna Nagar. 
 
Shanthi and Praveena work for an NGO, Indian Community Welfare Organisation, that maintains the burial ground in a tie up with the Chennai corporation. Six months ago, the two took up the job knowing well that they would encounter dozens of problems every week but stuck to the decision to break the social stigma.
 
In the beginning, Shanthi says that even a flutter of the window made her heart skip a beat but the duo’s determination to stay in the job has even led them to manually dig the ground for burying a body. “Three months after we joined, the men, who usually dig the ground for burial, were transferred and we were left all alone when a body of a child came for burial,” says Shanthi. 
 
The moment was critical, but the two did not send the body back. “Instead, we took the shovel and went about digging. We unearthed parts of skulls and bones, while digging but completed the burial successfully. That boosted our confidence in staying on in this job,” Shanthi says.
 
Now there are 10 other workers to help. Shanthi and Praveena engage them in booking at least seven cremations everyday and supervise the process. Praveena’s journey to being a crematorium overseer was a cakewalk as she says her family was happy with what she was doing but Shanthi had to hide any information about her work for a month after joining, from her husband.
 
“But we have more trouble than handling ourselves and our family. We handle people coming drunk for cremation and others, who gather in groups here for consuming alcohol,” says Praveena. Their work winds up by 8 pm after which they turn into loving mothers for their kids at home. 
Location: Tamil Nadu

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