Jal samadhi ritual in Uttarakhand gives tough time to police

On spotting a body floating on the river, police take up an investigation only to find out later that it was a Jal samadhi, i.e., the centuries-old tradition of immersing the dead in rivers.

Updated: Sep 11, 2018 00:54:35

By Kalyan Das

Police and the administration have been trying to create awareness among people about environmental hazards of jal samadhi but in vain. (Getty Images/Picture for representation)

The centuries-old tradition of immersing the dead in rivers or Jal Samadhi that prevails in Uttarakhand is giving a tough time to the police and State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) personnel. On spotting a body floating on the river, they take up an investigation only to find out later that it was a Jal Samadhi.

Police and the administration have been trying to create awareness among people about its environmental hazards but in vain. The seer community and Puri community living in Uttarkashi have been following the practice of immersing the bodies of their dear ones in rivers as Jal Samadhi and not burning or burying them.

Recently, the ritual was in news again after the body of a 13-year-old girl who died in a road accident in Uttarkashi on September 3, was found floating the next day on the Bhagirathi river. It sent the police and SDRF into a tizzy, making them launch a probe. Later it was found that her parents immersed the girl’s body as Jal Samadhi, citing the reason that she was unmarried.

“The ritual prevailing has been giving a tough time to us. We have been requesting the people not to do Jal Samadhi but they don’t listen citing religious sentiments,” said Mahadev Uniyal, station house officer, Kotwali, Uttarkashi, who had gone to take out the girl’s body after the September 4 incident.

“The seers in the area don’t burn the bodies of dead seers citing a Hindu custom. Instead, they immerse the bodies in the Bhagirathi as Jal Samadhi. Members of the Puri community also do the same. In the recent case on September 4, when the girl’s body was found, police and SDRF initially thought that it might be case of any suicide or any untoward incident but her family later told us it was Jal Samadhi,” said Uniyal.

The body was handed over to the family, requesting them to cremate it, but the ‘next day they again immersed her body in the river as Jal Samadhi and was again found by the police’, he added.

“The Puri community follows this practice for every deceased of their community. Some others in the district also follow the ritual in case if the deceased is unmarried, like the one in the September 4 case,” said Uniyal.

“There have been cases where the member of the community who was unmarried died outside the district, but his body was brought to Uttarkashi by his/her family only for Jal Samadhi,” he added

Police finds at least 4-5 bodies floating in the rivers every month due to the practice. “In every case, police have to investigate the incidents on criminal angles, which involves lot of manpower and time. Later when it turns out to be a case of Jal Samadhi, all of it goes down the drain. In many cases, we fail to ascertain the identity of the bodies found and list them in unidentified category. We have about 13 such cases from 2017,” said Uniyal adding that in such cases, police have to cremate the bodies on their own.

“The practice is also disrespect to the deceased as in many cases the bodies are seen dragged by stray dogs or pigs. We have been trying to make the people aware to bury the bodies or burn them, but they still continue the practice,” he said.

Praveen Alok of the SDRF said: “When we get to know about any body floating in the river, we promptly put our resources for rescue operation thinking that the person could be alive and we could save him/her. The society has to find a solution to it as it is also related to religious sentiments.”

A resident of Uttarkashi, Shardul Negi, said: “The practice is hard to stop as it is related to religion. The administration is also wary of putting pressure on the people who follow it, considering the religious aspects.”

Prakash Pant, minister of parliamentary affairs and finance minister of Uttarakhand, said: “The government can’t stop the practice but only spread awareness among the people on it... As the practice is related to religion, the government has to be cautious so as to not hurt religious sentiments. Steps are being taken to strike a balance by implementing awareness measures among its practitioners by requesting them to either bury them as Bhu-Samadhi or cremate them.”

First Published: Sep 11, 2018 00:54:35


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