It was almost dusk when the body of Atul Sarma was lit on the pyre in accordance with Hindu rituals. The district administration of Darang Assam made the initiative, in the presence of his son who returned from Punjab on Saturday, and his near and dear ones.
What at first glance seems to be a straight and simple case of death and body’s exhumation is in reality complicated and twisted with hypocrisy and irony of fate.
Atul Sarma, in his sixties, breathed his last in Gonoksuba of Monglodi in Darang district of Assam last Wednesday. Ironically, after his death, no one except his bereaved family came forward to perform his last rites or to take him to the crematorium and exhume his mortal remains.
“After my husband died on Wednesday night, I informed fellow villagers the next morning. But they said that they won’t touch his body or take part in his cremation. Villagers don’t want to touch my husband, despite him being a Brahmin, because I am Koch,” said Pranita Devi, his wife.
Atul Sarma who lived in Gonok Suba, a village dominated by Daibagya (Gonok), a Brahmin caste, married Pranita Devi some 27 years back. Pranita Devi belongs to the Koch community listed among the state’s other backward classes (OBC). Since the marriage, Sarma’s family has been ostracised by villagers and barred from participating in community functions and rituals including entry into temples and crematoriums.
With door shut upon them, Panita Devi was left with no option but to take few close members of the family and find a place near the river and bury her husband in a pit in the darkness of the evening.
“With no help offered by villagers, three of my husband’s brothers took the body to the bank of a nearby river and buried it. It pains me that my husband was buried and not cremated,” she added.
The district administration and Darang police sprang into action once the matter was brought to the notice. Pranita Devi narrated her ordeal and expressed her wish to perform the last rites of her husband according to the ritual observed by the village and his community. The Mangladai ( Sub Division) police officer had the body dug out from the pit and then in the presence of the family members and other officials, Atul Sarma was exhumed in the Mangaldai public crematorium.
“We have picked up a person named Jadab Sarma, a village elderly from Ganaksuba, who reportedly asked the deceased’s family to bury the dead body, for questioning,” said Raj Mohan Ray, Superintendent of Police Darang.
FIRs have been launched against Jagat Sharma, Lankeshwar Sharma, Arup Bordoloi, Tilak Bordoloi, Chandan Sharma and Kamala Sharma. The All Assam Koch Ragbongshi Students Union have filed the FIR based on which the police have made two arrests so far.
“One cannot show disrespect to a dead body and we cannot accept this. What the people of Ganaksuba have done is condemnable. We are ashamed of such an act. People of the village excommunicated Atul Sarma and his family because he married out of his caste. It is condemnable. This not acceptable and is dark episode for us,” said Pabitra Sarma, Chief Secretary Assam, Nikhil Bharat Brahman Samaj.