Woman gravedigger finds it tough to meet both ends

Last Updated: Sunday, January 22, 2012 - 12:30

Thiruvananthapuram: Grave-digging is
considered to be a profession even the bravest man would think
twice before choosing.

A 54-year-old woman, however, has been digging graves in
a cemetery close to a Catholic church near Kochi in Kerala for
the last several decades.

The woman Baby has not only dug hundreds of graves, but
also helped bereaved parishioners in laying to rest their dear
departed in the pits and, after some time, removing bones from
them to make way for others to find their final resting place.

Perhaps the only woman grave digger in the country, Baby
has been engaged in the job at the 500-year-old church at
Pallippuram for the last 37 years.

Beginning her career at 17, when most women dream of a
comfortable family life, she has so far dug around 15,000
graves. Though it is one of the least opted jobs anywhere in
the world, Baby considers it a social service, and a humble
way of serving God, instead of merely as a means to earn a
living.

On how she happened to enter a path which even men
hesitate to tread, Baby said she inherited the job through a
maternal uncle and her mother.

"My uncle was a grave digger at this cemetery. My mother
Kunjamma had to do the same job to bring up me and my sister
after my father died. I used to accompany her to the cemetery
to help her and I dug the first grave when I was 17," Baby
said.

Just like any other teenager, Baby said she was scared
when she first entered a graveyard.

"It was around 37 years ago that I first stepped into the
cemetery. I had a quick glance when my mother opened a grave,"
she said.

"I was shocked to see a half decayed body and taken aback
by the stench that came out of the pit. The body there was not
fully decomposed and dissolved into the earth," Baby said.

"Scattered bones, tattered clothes and snakes and
crawlers added to the macabre effect of the setting, as often
seen in horror movies. I felt sick and ran back home without
telling my mother," she recalled.

But, it was her first and last escape from the reality of
the graveyard, with which her life has now been bound. When
her mother grew old and fell ill, Baby shouldered the
responsibility all by herself.

Baby digs three to four graves in a month and around 50
in a year. She is the one who decides where to lay to rest the
mortal remains of the parish members, whether rich or poor.

In her career, she has seen different faces of death.
"I have dug graves for people who died of accidents,
burns, suicides, homicides, diseases and natural causes.

Angel-like children and age-old people were among those for
whom I have prepared the final resting ground. Now, death has
ceased to have its power to shock me," she said.

Baby got Rs 7.50 for digging the first grave. Now, she
gets Rs 500 per pit.

"It is folk wisdom that all that a human being finally
has is six feet of land. But it is a fact these days that it
is difficult to have even this six feet of land in a cemetery
all by oneself," she said.

"After some months of burial, the bones will be removed
and another dead will be buried in the same pit," she said on
a philosophical note.

As grave digging is the only job she is skilled in, there
are times when Baby remains jobless for months. But she has
never wished for a death to happen in the parish. During the
interlude, she works as a housemaid in her neighbourhood.

She and her husband Antony Pushkin, who fell in love with
her and converted to Christianity to marry, have no children.

Recently, her husband was diagnosed with cancer and is in
poor health.

"I owe a big sum to the people around as I have been
forced to borrow money to meet the medical expenses of my
husband. As we have no children and my husband is bed-ridden,
meeting bare family expenses is my sole responsibility," she
said.

"I do not know how long I can continue digging grave to
win bread for me and my husband. After all, I am also getting
old and only God knows when I will end up at my work site,"
she added wistfully.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, January 22, 2012 - 12:30

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