Mangaldai (Assam): For Pranjal and Dharitri, life has always been on the periphery of society. And the death of their father a week back, made them feel more secluded than ever before from the people around whom they had grown up.
Their father, Umesh Sharma, had died after a brief illness at their Patalsingpara house, about 10 km from the headquarters town of Mangaldai, on August 8. But his body had to be buried the next day instead of cremation as per Hindu rituals as the family was socially ostracised about 27 years ago when Sharma had married a “lower caste” woman.
After the matter came to light, the district administration and various organisations intervened and ensured that the body was exhumed and consigned to flames by the son on August 12.
As the issue snowballed into a major controversy, the local people on Saturday issued an apology for their “unintentional mistake” and assured of help in the rituals to follow.
“We had grown used to be chided at social gatherings. We were invited and allowed to attend the functions. But we had to eat a little away from where others sat,” the 20-year-old Dharitri lamented, speaking to PTI at their house.
“People even refused to have water that we offer them,” she said, eyes welling up.
Twenty-seven years old Pranjal, who works and lives with his wife and child in Punjab, said, “We had got used to being asked to sit aside at social gatherings. After a point of time, we stopped attending the functions.”
Sharma’s wife Pranita Devi said her family mostly stayed away from the village.
“The children, when they were young, would return home from gatherings and take out their frustration on me. They would blame me for marrying their father and subjecting them to such humiliation,” she rued.
“Pranjal went off to Punjab, and Dharitri and I went to Guwahati for her studies. I also married her off this March from there itself,” she said.
Pranita Devi was at home when her husband breathed his last late night on August 8 and she immediately informed the people of her ‘suburi’ (neighbourhood).
“They came the next morning and told me to arrange for the cremation. They said they will not help with it but won’t object if I can get it done. My son was away and only one of my husband’s brothers could come forward for help.
“I expressed my inability to cremate and then, as suggested by the people, we decided to bury the body. It was getting decomposed due to the heat and I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.
When the matter reached the public through the local press, leaders of the community to which Pranita Devi belonged and the district administration came fore to set things right.
Pranjal expressed his gratitude to the Darrang district administration as well as Koch-Rajbongshi associations’ leaders for their help and taking up cudgels on their behalf.
“The people of our ‘suburi’ came to our home on Saturday and apologised after holding a meeting. They have assured of help in the rituals that are to be performed,” he said.
Pranita Devi said that getting her husband’s ashes and assurance that vedic rituals will be followed has given her some relief.
Patalsingpara village headman Bhupen Barua said, “The people have realised the mistake, though it took some persuasion to make some of them see reason. We have over 800 people in our village, mostly of Koch-Rajbongshi and Brahmin communities. We have lived in harmony for decades. This was an aberration.”
The locals blamed a handful of people for such an incident in this age of science and technology.
Though they accepted that Sharma’s family members were not treated as equals at formal gatherings, they claimed that on all other occasions, there was no discrimination.
Several villagers had attended Dharitri’s wedding at Guwahati earlier this year.
The last meal that was served to Sharma on the night he died was provided by a neighbour, while another had helped him get a house sanctioned under a government scheme last year.
They also felt that had the village headman or someone in authority been informed about the family’s inability to cremate, things could have turned out differently.
“We all are to blame for what happened. Our heads are hung by shame. We only hope that we can leave it behind and move forward, taking the lessons learnt with us,” a villager said.
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