Pradeep Pattanayak

Gone are the days when women were viewed as the weaker gender, a subservient and marginalized section of society.

Over the years, they have not only cracked but broken several glass ceilings and proved that they are in no way inferior to men.

Meet one such woman, who has defied the age-old Hindu tradition wherein women are not allowed to cremation grounds to perform death rituals and has cremated over 1500 dead bodies.

Madhusmita Prusty, a resident of Bhimatangi area in Bhubaneswar, says her identity as a cremator was created during the Covid time.

After her marriage to Pradeep Kumar Prusty, who runs a social organisation Pradeep Seva Trust, she completed BSc in nursing. In 2010, she joined Fortis Hospital in Kolkata as a nurse.

During Covid time, disturbing pictures and reports of patients dying like flies were coming from foreign countries. Soon, the same picture unfolded in India and in Odisha as well.

During this pestilence, the fear among the people was so much that they even didn’t come to hospitals to claim their relatives’ bodies, let alone give them a dignified funeral.

The picture in Bhubaneswar was no different either. Seeing that people were reluctant to take the bodies of their near and dear ones, Madhusmita ‘s husband Pradeep Prusty came forward to give them a respectful funeral.

But he alone couldn’t handle such a huge number of bodies on a daily basis.

Realising her husband’s problem, Madhusmita resigned from her job and joined her husband in cremating bodies. 

She says the bliss experienced after giving a respectful funeral to someone who is neither her relative nor even known to her can’t be expressed in words.
She says she has so far cremated over 1,500 bodies.  “Starting from arranging wood for the pyre, arranging Brahmin and articles required at the final rites to lifting the body onto the pyre, I do everything on my own,” she says.

The funeral expenses are met from the donations contributed by the members of the trust.

Since the time of death can’t be predicted, the couple is always ready to receive calls. These days, they are receiving most of the calls from the police department to recover mangled bodies from railway tracks.

“In case of my husband’s absence, I reach the spot driving our ambulance. Take the body to hospital for post-mortem. After the post-mortem, the body is kept for three to four days in the hope that the family of the deceased would come to claim the body. When it doesn’t happen, we cremate it,” she adds.

“Like my husband, my two children -Jajnaseni and Gurmeet-have never objected to my handling of dead bodies,” she adds.
“But yes, initially people gave me an earful. Without paying heed to them, I went on doing what I understand as the best job on earth. Everyone, alive or dead, has dignity. We are ensuring that the dead should not be denied their share.