Sunita Tai Patil

Curator of ‘Panchavati Amardham’- A Crematorium
Ms. Sunita Patil, fondly called as Sunita Tai (meaning elder sister) is 35 and has gained name and fame for being a female curator of ‘Panchavati Amardham’- a Hindu crematorium in Nashik district in the state of Maharashtra, India. In a traditional and a culturally rigid society like India; she is brave enough to put her feet into a segment where only men are allowed to work. She has not only put her feet into this occupation but also has taken up an arduous task of undertaking the last rites of the dead. Getting into this, of course wasn’t an easy task-with strong patriarchal mindsets many would not even allow her to touch the dead person’s body – saying that it is a man’s job and women are not allowed to do it. Not caring for such kind of obstacles, Sunita Tai continues doing the work of undertaking the last rites of the dead. Sunita Tai is married to Rajendra Patil. She always says, ‘He is my biggest supporter’. While she is working in the crematorium performing the last rites, Mr. Patil takes care of the children, feeds and looks after them. Mr. Patil is proud of her work and supports her in every way he can.Due to the nature of Sunita Tai’s work, she has encountered serious issues in her spinal cord; her husband was operated for kidney stone.

Her elder son Vijay sought admission to 11th standard (college) in Nashik; while Anand’s schooling continues. Due to all these unavoidable expenses, Sunita Tai is facing an acute financial crisis. In spite of this she continues her work in the crematorium. After knowing her status, many friends have started pouring in help for her financially and otherwise. As an informed viewer; if you are interested in helping Sunita Tai and her husband medically/financially or sponsoring her sons’ education/tuitions please contact me for more details. All given help will be directed towards Sunita Tai and her family. Her work in detail: Sunita Tai has her own way of performing the last rites of the dead and she does it with elegance. She selects wood required to burn the dead body, takes it to the crematorium, lifts the body herself to the death bed and start the rites. She would crackle the bones of the dead and make them loose. Depending upon the condition of the dead person she would put the tongue of the dead inside its mouth and will close the eyes. She smears ‘toop’ (home-made butter) to the whole body inside-out of the dead and then directs the concerned relative of the dead to start the rites. At times there are many deaths on the same day, so she starts early in the morning and finishes late night. During a heavy day others wait patiently for their turn to come; because they like it only when Sunita Tai performs the rites. She does this with ease, and never expects anything from others. She will ask the kin of the dead to collect the ash and ‘asthi’ (bones of the dead; considered sacred) after a day. This is required for the kin to put it into sacred rivers like the Ganga and/or Godavari. Sometimes, the kin of the dead will give money to Sunita Tai as praise for her work; she is too modest and does not take, but sometimes takes it on coercion. The Nashik government provides her with the required amount of wood for a year and she accounts back to them. The government does not provide her with a monthly salary or any honorarium for the work she does in the crematorium. She does this work on her own will. She says, ‘I do not know how the dead person has lived her/his life; my job is to give the dead person complete solace, peaceful experience on the death bed so that s/he is at least satisfied at last.’ Being socially mindful, Sunita Tai says, ‘I am doing this because I want to pay back to the society in which I live in.’ Sunita Tai has won many accolades, citations, plaques and awards for her work in the crematorium; including the most prestigious ‘Hirkani’ award in the state of Maharashtra for excellence in vocation.

Although she has gained name and fame for her work, she is poor. Sunita Tai has only one source of living for the entire family- one small general stores shop; which also keeps all things necessary for performing the last rites of the dead. She is very down to earth and lives in a hardly 200 sq. ft. of room with her husband and two children. Sunita Tai’s younger son Anand was denied tuitions just because she works and stays in a
crematorium. Undeterred, she continues both her son’s education. Sunita Tai looks contented and satisfied in her work but worry for her children’s future. She and her husband Mr. Patil want the children to get more educated, get a job, buy a big house and live a happy life. But Anand wants to follow her mother’s footsteps and can be seen around helping her in the crematorium.

– As told to Mr. Abhijit Alka Anil & Ms. Priyanka Anuradha Ravindra. 2013-2014

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