Living among the dead- life of the Doms

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doms

The circle of life and death is something which most of us fails to understand. From the moment a child is born to the moment he dies, everything is about Moksha, nirvana or what we call salvation. The beauty of this circle lies in understanding the meaning of life but most importantly the meaning of death. People often see death as a part of a bad vibe or negative energy but what is left unnoticed is the fact that death isn’t about dying rather it’s about the release of the soul. On the Ghats of Varanasi one can easily locate burning corpse, Pooja’s, chanting prayers and an everlasting scent of burning camphor. Amidst this chaos, there are several people who seeks their shelter there like the Mahapatras. But there remains another community that goes unnoticed-the Doms. Who are they and what is their identity, lets know about it!

The life of the Doms:

The identity of the Doms is reflected majorly through their occupation. The Doms are the caretakers or the keepers of the funeral lands (cremation grounds) and the main people who keeps an eye on the fire that lights the pyres. The pyre refers to the bunch of woods where deceased are cremated in Hinduism. It is believed that one cannot enter the heaven if their body is cremated without a presence of a Dom. This line is enough to prove the important part these people play during death. Unfortunately, this believe on the other hand also leads this community only to be noticed at the time of the death and left untouched for the rest of the time.

The Doms didn’t came from nowhere but has a legend attached to them. According to the Hindu myth, the Doms are the people who were cursed by Lord Shiva as someone from their community named ‘Dom’ tried steeling an earring of the Goddess Parvati. In order to gain forgiveness from the Goddess, the community agreed on becoming the guards of the fire. And that’s how they came into existence. 

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The fate of the Doms get twisted in such a manner that this caste falls on the lowest of the Dalit caste. These people are usually indulged in small business like a farmer or a shopkeeper but majority earns their living from the Business of Death. But what exactly the business of death is? This business is all about making money from the dead. In any religion, performing last rites costs expenses in the forms of white cloth, incenses, flowers, and in Hinduism wood and ghee. Then we have fee for the people who cremate the bodies and these together pile up into the business of death. The ‘Dom Raja’ as the people call them are the main keeper of the light that burns the pyre. This sacred flame isn’t free and can cost one from Rs.100 to whatever the Dom Raja decides but usually the cost is compromised depending upon how much one can offer. Unlikely the Raja’s we know about, the Dom raja is only respected during the time of need otherwise no one seems to care much. Once the body is burned the left wood is taken by the Doms for household purposes and the next day when the body is completely burned, any jewel wore by the deceased is also taken by them. So, what exactly this business of death is? Is it just a mere business or have a much deeper meaning in it? Most of the Doms are not encouraged by the society to get education or a specified training in something. They are compel to opt the same occupation as their ancestors to make a living. It’s not a business they willingly choose, it’s a business they are forced into. Not only this, the Doms are often asked to the work in manual scavenging or as a waste collector. But now as the time is changing, these people hope that their children might not face the same fate as them.

It is a much mangled thought to think about, people need to understand why Doms only became important at the time of death. The untouchability taboo they keeps on their back prevails longer than they live. When on one hand people fight against the injustice of Dalit and on the same hand nobody talks about the Dom caste. In fact, the negligence is so vast that most of the India doesn’t even know about their existence. And this is where we need to improve. It is important to understand that no youth wants to opt this occupation as their future career, and when this generation will end, what will you choose to do?

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