A reader’s mail in The Hindu speaks of lack of proper monitoring of the functioning of cremation grounds, where employees allegedly demand money for the funeral services that are supposed to be free. Grief-stricken relations pay up without questioning, says the complaining newspaper reader. He suggests surprise official checks at the funeral facilities and on-the-spot action against wrong-doers.
But then there is hardly any on-the-spot cash transaction at these facilities. Besides, the employees guilty of corruption rarely come into the picture with those who pay. Priests who conduct funeral rituals act as middlemen. The conduct of last rites, particularly in the Hindu faith, are an elaborate affair and expenses run into thousands, if not lakhs .The conducting priests often double up as event managers.
Those who pay often don’t know or really care about the bribe that is factored into the final tally of funeral expenses.. I had occasion to attend a recent funeral service at Chennai’s Besant Nagar electric crematorium. It is a well-laid out facility, and the cremation services are free, if we go by the bold notice-board at the entrance.
However, on enquiry I found that my brother-in-law doing the ritual for his mother had paid Rs.7,500 to the conducting priest, for the day’s rituals at Besant Nagar crematorium. There was no knowing how much of this accounted for payment to the crematorium employees. Nor did my brother-in-law, who spent a considerable sum on the rituals, was unduly concerned about the Rs.7,500 crematorium charges.
In fact, there would be hardly any grieving family that would grudge paying the cremation ground employees for their services. Theirs is an unenviable job; and most of us are thankful to this lot, for carrying out a job that no one would be pleased to take up.
I would say these faceless employees, doing the most thankless job, deserve extra payment. But bribing isn’t on. Instead, they could place a ‘gratitude box’ at cremation facility, where people bringing their dead could slip their contribution.