Lucknow: After spending more than 27 years of his life performing last rites of unclaimed bodies, 82-year-old Mohammed Shareef has now been conferred with the fourth highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri.
Mohammed Shareef, popularly known as Shareef Chacha has performed the last rites of more than 25,000 unclaimed bodies.
A bicycle mechanic by profession, Shareef started this community service after his 25-year-old son disappeared and was later found dead in 1992.
“It all began after my eldest son Mohd Raes Khan’s death in February 1992. My 25-year-old son had gone to Sultanpur work as a chemist but went missing for a month. He was later found murdered with his body dumped in a sack. His unclaimed body lying off the road was devoured by stray animals,” said Shareef.
Shareef can be seen picking up abandoned corpses, digging a grave or lighting the fire at the cremation grounds to give a dignified funeral to the dead. He never discriminates the dead on the basis of religion and performs last rites according to the person’s religious practices.
“Maine yeh soch liya hai ki Faizabad mein mere liye na koi Hindu hai na koi Musalan, sab hai insaan (For me there are is Hindu or Muslim in Faizabad. Everybody is just a human being),” Sharif said.
Shareef’s office in Rakabganj
The Good Samaritan conducts the last rites in a small room located in a cemetery in Rakabganj, Faizabad. “Lavaris Maiyyat/Matti ka ghuslkhana” (bath of destitute unclaimed bodies) reads a board hung outside this room. While burial costs about Rs 5,000, cremation can cost him up to Rs 3,500. He has friends at the graveyard as well as the cremation ghat who help him with the last rites. “Sometimes, they don’t even charge for their own labour, like for babies,” said Shareef .
Sharif regularly visits the local police station, hospitals near to him, railway stations and mortuaries. He makes it a point to make rounds of burial grounds and cremation sites every day. If in 72 hours, a body is not claimed, it is handed over to him.
Shareef at Satyamev Jayate
Sharif has faced financial difficulties many times but continued to manage with donations. He lives in poverty with his wife and other son and is barely able to provide for the essentials. But when it comes to spending a major chunk of his earning for the cremation service, he never hesitates. Sharif also appeared in the TV show ‘Satyamev Jayate’, hosted by Bollywood actor Aamir Khan for his selfless service.