It’s an image that will haunt India for many days. In one of the country’s poorest districts in Odisha, a man walked 10 km with his wife’s body on his shoulder, his weeping 12-year-old daughter by his side.
Dana Majhi had no vehicle to take home his wife’s body after she died of tuberculosis at a government hospital in Kalahandi, about 60 km from his village. He says he pleaded for a vehicle, but was refused one.
So he wrapped his 42-year-old wife Amang Dei’s body in a sheet, hoisted it on his shoulder and began to walk home. His daughter walked by his side, holding a bag with their meagre belongings, weeping.
“I told the hospital authorities that I am a poor man and cannot afford a vehicle. I kept requesting them but they said they could not help,” Mr. Majhi said to a television crew that found him after he had walked about 10 km with the body.
The TV crew reportedly called up a senior officer and arranged an ambulance for the remaining journey to Mr. Majhi’s village.
Kalahandi’s District Collector Brunda D has alleged that Mr Majhi left the hospital in the middle of the night without informing anyone. “If he had asked for help, we would have provided it,” she said adding that the administration has now offered him help with the funeral under a government scheme.
Odisha had also launched the “Mahaparayana” scheme in February, offering to transport bodies from government hospitals free of charge, but that service was not available to Mr. Majhi.
Brunha D said that Manjhi did not wait for the ambulance which was being arranged. She said that the authorities would have sent the body in a vehicle only if he had waited. The official also added that Manjhi has been sanctioned Rs 2,000 from the state government’s funeral assistance scheme and an additional Rs. 10,000 from the District Red Cross Fund.
Baijayant Jay Panda, Member of Parliament of the state’s ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), tweeted that the scheme is being expanded.
The Naveen-Patnaik-led BJD government has been severely criticised. “It is cruelty …there is no dignity of life,” said the Odisha BJP’s Bijoy Mahapatra, lamenting the lack of health services in the state.
However, after he had walked with the body for more than 10 km, some youth saw him and informed the local officials. An ambulance was soon arranged and sent to Manjhi for transporting the body to Melghar village.