The other day, a casual conversation with my co-worker ended up heart-warming when I first heard about the empathetic Sharif Chacha who believes that every individual needs a dignified funeral.
82-year-old Mohammed Sharif popularly known as Sharif Chacha, a bicycle mechanic and a social worker is awarded with Padma Shri award in 2020 for his contribution to social work.
Sharif’s elder son was murdered in 1992, later Sharif found his son’s unclaimed body near the railway platform and it was already devoured by starved animals. This led him to decide and start to perform the last rites to the unclaimed bodies when there is no one else to do so. He empathetically believes that every individual deserves the dignity of a funeral and performs rites of unclaimed bodies.
“I resolved then that no individual would undergo the humiliation my son (then 25) had undergone in death”, said Sharif with an emotional tone.
He visits hospitals, railway stations, police stations, and mortuaries regularly for the unclaimed bodies. If any dead body remains unclaimed within 72 hours, the government officials hand it over to Sharif to perform the last rites.
People used to call him a mad man whenever he used to carry the unclaimed dead bodies on his bicycles or rickshaws to a nearby burial ground but he never stopped by to care what others think and he carried on with the cause he strongly believed in. Although he faced many difficulties financially, he performed last rites activities by collecting donations but never stopped doing them.
When news of the Padma Shri first came to Sharif, he was sweeping around a mazar (mausoleum). “A police officer came and said come with me at once to the District Magistrate’s Office. I asked what have I done? But he wouldn’t answer and did not even allow me to take my cycle. At the DM office, I was given roses and the DM held my hand and told me about the award” chacha recollected when asked about the award.
He has cremated over 25,000 unclaimed dead bodies in Uttar Pradesh for the last 27 years. He doesn’t discriminate based on caste, religion or creed to complete the last rites of a body. He performs last rites to every unclaimed body as per their religious beliefs.
“Kya Hindu, kya Musalman, sabse pehle insaan” (What Hindu, What Muslim, humans above all), says Sharif Chacha.
This heart-warming story of Sharif chacha sets an example to all of us to show empathy towards others. The next time you encounter people like Sharif chacha, make sure you pat their back by donating or helping them out by any means possible!