Published: 21st August 2018
Why this MSW graduate decided to bury unclaimed bodies in Bengaluru like his dad
How did Praveen Kumar go from an MSW degree to burying unclaimed bodies like his father? That's a story that's as compassionate as it is disturbing for the average person
While the dream for many of us is getting a corporate job after graduation, there is one person in Bengaluru who has followed his father's rather morbid path — choosing to give a decent burial to unclaimed dead bodies. Praveen Kumar M is no less than a VIP in Victoria hospital or any police station in the city, because of this factor. Even more popular than his father Trivikrama Mahadeva (56), the original burier of Bengaluru's unclaimed dead, the son has buried more than 20,000 abandoned dead bodies so far, which is one-fourth of his father's tally of 80,000.
After graduating in Political Science from the Government First Grade College in Vijayanagar in 2007, he then went on to pursue a Masters in Social Work degree at Ganga Kaveri Group of Institutions, Rajajinagar. He could have landed a job in a corporate company or some NGO as a programme manager, but he chose to take the baton from his father. "I choose to pursue MSW because I wanted to work for various causes. Having grown up watching my father do this social work every day, I thought I would continue the same job," he says happily.
From being an MSW graduate to burying unclaimed bodies: Praveen gets at least five to eight calls a day from various people
While looking at a corpse or carrying it can send a shiver down your spine, for Praveen it is all in a day's work — to clean the body, pack it for burial and transport it in his Maruti Omni or an auto. How he took up this 'family business', of sorts, is an interesting story. He took up this job when he was a mere 12 years old, "When I was studying in the VI standard, my father fell ill. Then, we had a tonga to carry the dead bodies. Someone had to do my dad's work, and so, I carried the dead body all the way to the graveyard on Mysore Road and buried it," says Praveen
That was years ago. Today, Praveen gets at least five to eight calls a day from various people. Either from the police officers or a hospital's mortuary. He rushes to the place without a second thought and completes his work swiftly while handling all the necessary paperwork. When we asked if he is paid by the government for burying unclaimed dead bodies, he says, “If the BBMP people call us to bury the dead bodies, then they pay us only Rs 250. If there is a police call, then they pay us Rs 700. But there is no fixed amount that we get every day and we don't expect much. We are happy if this helps us earn our bread and butter."
Praveen is just 30 but he has handled some truly tricky cases, "There are instances of relatives and close friends disowning the body. People don’t even touch the body in arson and suicide cases in which the body would have started to decompose and stink, but I take them with ease for burial. Of course, the smell is unbearable but after all, everyone is human and deserved dignity in death," he adds philosophically.
Curious to know more about his experiences, we asked him what the worst case he had come across was.
There is no particular incident which I can recall as the worst, but in 2015, I was a witness in one of the cases booked against the famous criminal 'Cyanide Mohan'. A lady was forced to consume cyanide in a public toilet in Bengaluru and I was the one who had buried her body
Praveen Kumar M
Praveen taking up this line of work has made Trivikrama Mahadeva proud. “I am happy that my son has taken up this profession. I trained him to handle a decomposed body and it was not easy for him,” says Mahadeva. Recalling an incident in the Vrishabhavathi Valley, Mahadev says, “The body had decomposed and it had maggots all over. Praveen was hesitant to touch it but I was stubborn and did not let him go. I tied a rope around his waist he got inside the water He brought the body to the shore and later buried it. Today he takes care of all the burial activities and asks me to take rest." Praveen Kumar has just formed the Trivikrama Mahadeva Trust in March 2018. "We are six people in the Trust now. It includes Harsha Kundankarni who is a social worker and an MBA graduate from London."