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When loved ones pass away, you want their bodies to be handled with care and help with the last rites. Dolly Mirchandani describes how Antim Samskar Seva helps you
Dr Ramnik Parekh, who lost his father in 1982, still can’t forget the harrowing experience of taking his father’s body from the hospital to perform the last rites. “My father died of an accident. I had to take his body home from JJ Hospital. The hearse provided by the Hospital was in a terrible condition—it was dirty and the seats were torn. Worse, the engine conked and the vehicle stopped in the middle of the road. I was forced to leave my father’s body in the vehicle for over an hour while I ran back to the Hospital to arrange another hearse and a helper. It wasn’t easy to transfer the body either. This was not my idea of saying a final farewell to my father. That day, I made up my mind to find a way to treat the dead in a dignified way.”
A former chief medical advisor at Hindustan Lever, Dr Parekh says, “Hiralal Parekh Parivar Charity Trust was formed in my father’s memory during the mourning period itself, to start a community assistance programme with donations only from my family. The objectives of the Trust included providing need-based services, scholarships, preventing cruelty to cows, etc. But due to lack of time and resources, the Trust remained inactive for two decades. It was only in 2005, after I retired, that my wife, Dr Jyoti Parekh, and I starting working on the concept of Antim Samskar Seva. A lot of research was done before starting this service. I went to assist people for last rites. I also spent six months studying different rituals. We started first with my family which donated Rs5 lakh. Then generous donations from other trusts and individuals came in. Thus, Antim Samskar Seva was started in September 2008.”
Managed by Hiralal Parekh Parivar Charity Trust, Antim Samskar Seva operates in Mumbai. It has an air-conditioned hearse, with seating for the relatives instead of a ‘tin box on four wheels’. A social worker and two trained helpers, all in clean uniforms, discreetly assist the bereaved family—from making the bier to arranging for flowers. The hearse has 24 permutations & combinations of kits required for the crematorium which include everything from a matchbox, to sandalwood, ghee, salt, agarbatti and cloth; and the staff is trained to understand the requirements of different situations and communities. They also obtain the death certificate from the municipal corporation.
“Religion is no bar for us. We also have priests who offer religious services,” adds Dr Parekh. The service operates 7am-7pm all days of the week, while calls are received 24x7. Over 350 families have availed of the service since 2008. It charges Rs3,500 when staff is required and Rs2,000 (up to a distance of 20km) if only the hearse is sought. “The biggest challenge” says Dr Parekh, “was to create awareness about Antim Samskar Seva since advertising was not possible.” So the Parekhs began parking the hearse outside gardens, hospitals and crematoria to display the facility and distributed pamphlets to explain the service. People were encouraged to see the interiors of the hearse to show how a comprehensive and dignified death service would be provided for their loved ones. These and word of mouth endorsements have created awareness. The Trust now plans to obtain two more hearses to expand its reach across Mumbai and make the service cost-effective. It has been promised a vehicle by a trust. Antim Samskar Seva also wants to get involved in upgrading crematorium grounds in Mumbai and making them more aesthetically acceptable so that the last rites are more dignified.
Over the past two years, donations have begun to come in from known and unknown people and other organisations. The Parekhs mention the Seth Purshotam Das Thakurdas & Diwaliba Charitable Trust, Suresh Shroff Memorial Trust, Adhvaryu Charities, Madgaonkar Trust and the Godiwala family among prominent donors. Donations to the Hiralal Parekh Parivar Charity Trust are eligible for tax-exemption under Section 80-G of Income-Tax Act.
Hiralal Parekh Parivar Charity Trust
1004 Phoenix Tower B,
Senapati Bapat Marg,
Mumbai – 400 013
Tel: 98210 24158
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