Tamil Nadu

Retrieving the dead from railway tracks



Kali has been aiding Railway Police in the task for the past 25 years

Kalimuthu, or Kali, as he is known to his friends, can be found sleeping outside a closed shop on West Perumal Maistry Street, less than a kilometre away from the Madurai Railway Junction. On days when bodies need to be retrieved from the tracks, personnel of the Government Railway Police come looking for him.

“They say, ‘Dei Kali, seekram vaadaa. Ponam kedaku (Hey Kali, come quickly. There is a corpse lying)’. I accompany them, carry the stretcher from there, and begin my job,” Mr. Kali says.

For the past 25 years, he has been carrying parts of mangled bodies found lying on train tracks on stretchers, zipping them, and taking them on a tricycle to the Government Rajaji Hospital’s mortuary. He is now 67 years old and has poor eyesight and a weak body. But he still waits for the ‘Dei Kali’ call as he is paid handsomely for the job.

Mr. Kali says that before he began picking bodies off the tracks, he was a cycle-rickshaw driver. The advent of motorised transport meant dwindling income, and he was desperately looking for another job to earn some money.

“Word spread through a network that exists around the Meenakshi temple, and the police came to me and asked me if I would pick a body up late at night,” he recalls.

On the job, he says he has learnt to always remove his shirt, drink enough alcohol to withstand the stench of the corpse, carry the body on his shoulder and wear slippers.

“I have some simple techniques. The bloodstains on my shirt usually do not go away even after washing because I do not have any powerful detergents or a washing stone as I don’t have a home. It is easier to work without a shirt. I also make it a point to wear my slippers because the stones on the tracks can cause us to trip. We ourselves could then become victims of accidents,” he says.

Severed body parts

Mr. Kali says he brings back bodies by himself during the day, but is accompanied by two policemen carrying torches at night.

“They will point to the severed body parts and guide me. I have never been afraid during the job and have largely been truthful. I have never stolen a single piece of jewellery from the dead,” he says.

For 25 years, the price offered for retrieving a body has ranged from ₹200 to ₹500. He has to return from the morgue, clean the stretcher and then get his payment, he says. He adds that members of the police force have been particularly kind to him — by giving him some “extra money” when he is unwell or picking out shirts for festivals.

“The last time he picked up a body was three months ago. But sometimes, he comes to the station for an extra hundred [rupees]. Because of our long association, we do not mind giving him some cash here and there,” says a Government Railway Police staff.

Except for the purpose of survival, Mr. Kali says he is not attracted to the concept of money.

“I do not see myself as a saint or someone who has done a big service. For me, the job has just been about earning enough to buy enough food and alcohol to get through the rest of my days. I have carried bodies of rich mill owners and beggars. One day, someone will carry my body off the street, too. Nothing strange,” he says.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 3:13:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/retrieving-the-dead-from-tracks/article30907863.ece

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