It is a job that many are petrified to perform even if promised a huge some of money. But there are 19 men in Chennai city for who do it for a living.

Referred to as ‘body coolies,’ these men attached to Chennai Egmore, Chennai Central, Korukkupet, Perambur, Avadi and Tambaram railway stations perform the task of clearing severed bodies of victims run over by trains on railway tracks running in and around the city. They aren’t railway employees but are paid from Rs. 50 to Rs. 150 per body by the Government Railway Police (GRP).

Vetri Doss (40) is a veteran in the job with 24 years of experience at the Chennai Egmore GRP limits that stretch up to St. Thomas Mount. The stretch records the highest number of deaths every year. “Most of the victims are people who are run over while trying to cross the tracks in a hurry. Last month, a student was run over in Egmore as he was talking on his cell phone,” says the body coolie who has taken up the profession after his father.

Vetri, along with six of his colleagues, has to clear close to 35 corpses a month and must carry it on their shoulders to the mortuary in the Government General Hospital. “On a number of occasions, we have to guard the corpse till police officials come for investigation. We also have to guard the remains from dogs near the tracks,” adds Arumugam (27), another body coolie in Egmore.

Working at night is even tougher and more dangerous for these men and for the police personnel who assist them. A few years ago, a police constable and two body coolies died at work after being run over by an express train near Avadi.

Longest among GRP limits here is the 62 km-long Korukkupet limit, which extends up to Arambakkam near the Andhra Pradesh border. “There are very few lights along this line. We have to depend on a torchlight and take turns to carry the body to the nearest railway station which is far away,” laments Ethiraj (32) along with his colleague Gurunathan (37) from Korukkupet.

Most body coolies such as Vetri, Arumugan and Ethiraj feel that it will be useful if Southern Railway authorities can provide them with better equipment for work including stretchers with wheels and body bags. A fixed monthly salary and an identification card would also help.

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