In a heartbreaking story out of Odisha, a tribal man had to carry his wife's body for several kilometers after a district hospital failed to arrange a vehicle, even though there was a new ambulance parked on the premises.
The Telegraph reported that the ambulance was not used to ferry the body of Daana Majhi's wife back to Melagahara village in Kalahandi district, or anybody else's for that matter, because none of the local lawmakers had found time to inaugurate it.
The newspaper also pointed out that under the Mahaprayana scheme, all district hospitals have dedicated ambulances which have to ferry bodies for free in the state of Odisha.
Majhi's wife, who was suffering from tuberculosis, died on Wednesday morning. After the hospital authorities failed to arrange an ambulance or a hearse van, Majhi wrapped up her body in old sheets which he found at the hospital and set off on foot to their village, some 60 kilometers away, with his daughter crying and walking next to him.
"I pleaded with the hospital authorities to arrange for a vehicle or an ambulance to carry the body. But as no one came forward to help me, I decided to carry the body on my shoulder to the village for cremation," he said.
Media reports varied on just how far Majhi had to walk, somewhere between 10 kilometers to 16 kilometers, before he was spotted struggling with the body by some locals, who informed local officials and a lawmaker, who then sent an ambulance for the body to be taken to Melagahara village.
The chief medical officer of the district, and the district collector Brundha D, told the media that Majhi did not wait for a vehicle to be arranged, and he took the body away without informing the hospital authorities.
But Majhi told Odisha TV that the hospital authorities told him that there are are no vehicles. "I pleaded with them saying I am a poor person and cannot afford a vehicle to carry my wife's body. Despite repeated requests, they said they cannot offer me any help," he said.
In fact, journalist Ajit Singh told the The Telegraph that the district collector did not help send the ambulance, but it was a local lawmaker who ultimately arranged for the transport.
Mahiji's case is not an isolated incident in Odisha. The Indian Express noted that in May, a body had to be ferried on a bile for nearly 30 kilometers, and in April, one family had to tow their daughter's body in a trolley-rickshaw.
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