By A Mirsab, TwoCircles.net,
For most people, social activities is defined as work carried out by people with the aim of alleviating the living conditions of those people in a community suffering from social deprivation. They strive for helping the poor and deprived people to live a better life. By this definition, it also implies that social work is for the living.
But what about people who are dead?
This question, and the answer to it, is what makes Jahangir Shaikh, a 47-year-old resident of Solapur, an exception. His social activity starts after he finds an unclaimed dead body. Once he discovers an unclaimed body, he assumes its guardianship and lays the body to its final abode.
“Initially I started to give gusl (bath) to unclaimed Muslim bodies on the request of Police. Later, I started doing it for people of other religions too”, Jahangir shares his journey of the past ten years; about a cause rarely undertaken by people.
Jahangir, a devout Muslim, first received a phone call in 2007 from a Muslim policeman who knew he can give gusl to unclaimed dead body. Jahangir had rushed to the spot and completed funeral right of a fellow Muslim.
“That was the first instance after which devotion for performing last right of unclaimed body arose inside me and thereafter I made it a duty to attend such bodies”, he recalls.
Jahangir’s strange choice of social work iniitally caught people by surprise, but he never doubted his commitment. “People disliked my work and they would treat me as an inferior individual but that did not stop me from carrying out the work that I supposed as my duty. I would pray to the almighty to strengthen me so that people’s objections do not hold me back,” Jahangir says, when talking about the initial days.
His family also strongly objected to this kind of work but he managed to convince them to allow him to continue doing it.
“I told them that I don’t do it for earning money; burying these bodies gives me pleasure as I became a guardian for them. They felt awkward initially, but gradually they got accustomed “, Jahangir explains how he convinced his family.
Till today Jahangir has performed last rites of as many as 1,600 people, out of which 1,400 were non Muslims. As he is used to of giving gusl, he is also called by people for giving gusl to their relatives. In return, they give him hadiya (gift).
But one might wonder; what is his main profession and source of living? For that, he cooks food in social functions. However, he is always on his toes when he gets to know about any unclaimed dead body either at a hospital or the police station.
Jahangir’s dedication to what he called his ‘duty’, and his sincerity towards this soon made him famous in Solapur. He started receiving phone calls from police stations and hospitals for burying unclaimed bodies. His amazing sense of kindness towards the unattended also moved many people; a few years ago, a young Muslim businessman Salman Shaikh took notice of his noble service and donated a second-hand Ambulance to help him carry out the work more efficiently.
“I was impressed with his dedication towards the work. The charred and blood-soaked bodies that a normal man don’t even look at, he would offer them a bath and bury them”, a bewildered Salman explains why he donated ambulance to him.
However, a couple of years after he got the ambulance, it met with an accident while carrying a body of little girl. This damaged the vehicle substantially and Jahangir too was injured in the accident. However, this did not break his determination and he bought two ambulances on loan and again started his service to the community. He got support from his son, who took a loan to buy an ambulance for Jahangir.
With some likeminded friends, he also formed the Baitul maal Shifa Committee through which he raises fund by collecting zakat (compulsory charity) or sadqa (voluntary charity) from people. However, he does not use this fund for performing last rites. Instead, he and friends pay money from their pockets for funerals and use the fund raised for poor patients admitted in hospitals.
“We use collected fund to help patients in buying medicines and other medical expenses”, Jahangir says with cheerful face.
When asked if police or hospitals pay him for carrying and burying bodies, he says, “They give Rs 300 but we give this money to the boys who help in carrying bodies to ambulance and dig holes for burial.”
For other expenses related to performing last rites: kafan (white cloths) and attar (perfume), Jahangir and his friends spend money from their own pocket.
His dedication has led to many people offering him voluntary service whenever needed. Currently, his Shifa committee has some active members: Gulam Shaikh, Zainuddin Nadaf, Sameer Shaikh, Daula Kumthe, Babulal Phaniband, Rashid Chaudhari and Shakila Shaikh are always ready to join hands with Jahangir.
Irfan S.M, a social activist and an educational personality from Solapur has nothing more than praises for Jahangir for his distinguished work.
“He is into this task of voluntary work and selfless service to humanity, it is really remarkable. Thousands of people are engaged in different social and religious activities but this is unique. There should be one Jahangir in every city”, Irfan says.
Imran Inamdar contributed to this story