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Friday, November 12, 2010

In service of The Dear Departed

Dharmishta Mithran was set up to help with funerals. Today, it helps people with other day-to-day concerns too, writes VN Vasudevan.

It all began with a few like-minded people, seeped in Sanatana Dharma, coming together to assist families to conduct funerals and to perform the last rites of departed mortals. These spirited social workers, who look at death stoically, have created an organisation that is totally dedicated to this service.

In November 2001, the group set up Dharmishta Mithran as a not-for-profit company, under Section 25 of the Companies Act. The objective of the organisation was to deal with all matters related to the death of a person-from attending to calls in emergencies to conducting funerals anywhere in Greater Mumbai, and responding to other specific requests from members.

Jagmohan Vohra, a local businessman and a staunch devotee of Sai Baba, provided land to house the Aparakriya Centre (for last rites). From a modest beginning, the centre has grown into a 1,000 sq ft facility, thanks to the encouragement from late Pramod Shirwalkar, a former member of the Maharashtra legislative assembly. Mr Shirwalkar spurred them to reach out to salt pan workers in the Jai Ambe Nagar area. This community now has proper drinking water facilities, and they are provided toiletries (donated by Hindustan Unilever), books and uniforms for the kids and funds for their medical needs.

Dharmishta Mithran has conducted nearly 1,000 funerals in nine years. Desh Seva Samiti, which operates an ambulance service, has been a partner in the work. This has been possible because of the growing number of co-operators. Today, Dharmishta Mithran has 13 patrons, 551 life members and 219 ordinary members.

In March last year, the organisation acquired an apartment where it set up the Shraadha-cum-Community Development Centre that is patronised by people from Mumbai and from other cities. The Centre can conduct up to six kriyas a day.

The work of the organisation has been appreciated by none other than the pontiff of Kanchi Math, Jayendra Saraswati. On a visit to the Centre in December 2008, the religious leader compared conducting a funeral to holding an Ashwamedha Yagnam, saying: "No human being should run the risk of not being cremated for whatever reason."

The demand for the services has grown at a quick pace and the organisation has found it difficult to cope with the rush. Fortuitously, in August 2009 it managed to acquire more space and this enabled it to begin conducting shraadhs (memorial ceremonies). Now, it also conducts a variety of other rituals and ceremonies, such as upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony), annaprasanam (on the first birthday of a child), shastiabdapoorthi (on the 60th birthday), nischita thamboolam (engagement before marriage) and seemantham (during the first pregnancy).

The organisation has taken up new areas of activity like setting up a legal cell, to assist people to write and register a will and create awareness about issues related to transfer of property. It has published a compendium on transfer of property and monetary rights to appointed beneficiaries. It also provides transit accommodation for groups visiting Mumbai to attend marriages, for a low rent of Rs3,000 a day.

Dharmishta Mithran is also engaged in day-to-day issues, like working with the police department and partnering with citizens' groups to help senior citizens. It has an arrangement with a hospital in the area to treat its members at concessional rates. It is working with a sister NGO Bharatiya Adhyathmic Society to create infrastructure for the development of Vedic and other cultural/fine arts.

All donations to the organisation are exempt under Section 80G of the Income-Tax Act.

In service of The Dear Departed - Moneylife: Personal Finance Magazine

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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