Woman awarded for setting fire to an old patriarchal tradition

Published: 16th August 2016 07:15 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th August 2016 07:23 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI: It was only a week ago that she performed the last rites for her mother and cremated her body, something explicitly prohibited by the Hindu tradition, particularly the Brahmin community. But 40-year-old P Jayanthi, from a traditional family in Tiruchy, was in the same position a few years ago when her father died.

Burning.jpgShe was not going to stand there waiting for someone to perform the rituals, not any longer. When her father Pattu Gurukkal of Thiruppainjeeli died in 2009, no male member from her close relatives came forward to perform the final rites. For one, the person, who does that, cannot perform his duties as a priest for one year and thus has to lose his earnings for a year. It was her brother-in-law who performed the final rites. A few years later, that made her ask herself a simple question: why not me?

Woman.jpgNow, years later, Jayanthi received the Kalpana Chawla award, instituted by the State government for courage and daring enterprises, from the Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa on the occasion of the Independence Day celebrations for breaking barriers.

After her father’s death, Jayanthi faced a serious health problem in 2012. After three months of recuperation, when she was searching for a job, she came into contact with the United Welfare Trust, who helped her find the job of a gardener at a crematorium. Slowly, she engaged herself in the crematorium works and became a crematorium worker on January 1, 2013. 

Jayanthi received the Kalpana Chawla award instituted by the State government for courage and daring enterprises from Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa on the occasion of the Independence Day celebrations here on Monday for breaking barriers.

Working as the manager of the electric crematorium in Namakkal on Semamangalam Road, Jayanthi does all  works relating to burning the bodies - from sending the body into the gasifier to handing over the ashes to the relatives.

Jayanthi, who has a master’s degree in economics, told Express that her father moved to Koolipatti, five km from Namakkal, way back in 1965 to perform poojas in the nearby Murugan temple. The village became their permanent residing place thereafter.

Jayanthi is married to Vasudevan hailing from the Gounder community.

It was a love marriage, “But the marriage took place with the blessings of my father Pattu Gurukkal. Initially, my husband, too, was not happy with my working at crematorium. But he agreed later,” Jayanthi said.

Asked about her experience at the crematorium, Jayanthi says that at present another woman, who belongs to a Scheduled Caste and herself, are engaged in crematorium works, besides five men who are also engaged in other works.

“We treat the bodies as forms of God. Once the body is sent for cremation, we have to keep a watch till it is burnt fully,” Jayanthi explained.

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