In the past, women were reluctant to visit cremation grounds, even when their close relatives had died. It is at such a place that Saleena Michael (58) has been making a living over the past 15 years. She is now the keeper of the Municipal Crematorium at Athani in Thrikkakkara, Ernakulam district.
“It is a tough job, especially the wait for the bodies to arrive for the cremation. But, I have no choice. There is a family to look after,” says Saleena.
She now collects the firewood, arranges the fire and also picks up the charred bones for the rituals carried out after death, all alone. On most days, two or three bodies are brought for cremation. “But when COVID-19 was at its peak, up to six persons were cremated,” says Saleena.
Saleena earlier lived at Bolgatty in Mulavukad, Kochi. She shifted to Athani 40 years ago along with her parents. Twenty years ago, Saleena’s husband abandoned her and their two daughters, forcing her to find ways to feed the family.
Initially, she engaged in manual labour but when the Thrikkakkara municipality opened a crematorium near her house and invited tenders to manage it, Saleena applied. When her application was accepted, Saleena took over the running of the facility and is now paid by the municipality.
“Earlier, some people frowned when they saw a woman at the crematorium, but everyone is appreciative now,” says Saleena.