When the Vehicle Carrying the Dead Body Stopped in the Middle... Devaki Bist | Mar 26, 2024

We were heading towards Dharche in Gorkha district. A vehicle carrying the dead body of a migrant worker was traveling in front of us. When we reached Harshyang River, the vehicle suddenly halted. We went to the driver to ask for the reason. The driver replied that the vehicle could not carry on any further because it was not fit for the roads in that area. “This vehicle is not meant for such hilly roads,” he said.

What was amazing was that the vehicle, with registration number ‘Ba 19 Cha 2987’ that had been provided by the Foreign Employment Board to transport Santa Bahadur Sunar’s body to his home, was a two-wheel drive. Santa had died in a car accident in Malaysia. It was already 8:30 p.m.and it was a harrowing moment. We still had a three-hour-long drive to reach our destination. There also was no way that we could return the vehicle and carry Santa’s body home.  It was also not possible to transport the coffin in a vehicle that was already packed with six persons.

The vehicle carrying the dead body of Santa Bahadur Sunar, who had died in Malaysia, exiting the Tribhuvan International Airport

It took a pretty long time for Dinesh Sunar, the elder brother of the deceased, to complete all the necessary procedures to claim his younger brother’s body. By the time the vehicle carrying the dead body left the premises of Tribhuvan International Airport, it was already 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Dinesh had claimed his brother’s body on January 10 (2079 Paush 26). Santa’s relatives and the other villagers had been waiting at his house for the body. There were also talks that some of the youths from the village had gone down to Khorlabesi to carry home the dead body. Dinesh was a bit stressed just imagining how everyone was waiting for him to arrive home with his brother’s body.

After Dinesh explained all the circumstances and constraints to the driver and persuaded him, the driver was ready to proceed.

Three of Santa’s relatives were sitting in the vehicle carrying his dead body. We were following in another vehicle with Dinesh.

After reaching Nyauli River, the vehicle carrying Santa’s lifeless body stopped. We again got off and enquired about what had happened. The driver of the hearse replied, “The vehicle will not go any further.” Santa’s relatives who were in that vehicle looked panic-stricken. They pleaded with the driver to carry on in whatever way it was possible. After a lot of cajoling, the driver agreed to carry on, but he said that we would have to first place stones on the road if we wanted the vehicle to move. We did as per the driver’s instruction and finally, we were able to continue on our way.

We halted for dinner at New Chum Valley Guest House, which is located at Arughat Gap-3 Soti. While having our dinner, I started speaking to the driver of the vehicle. When asked why he had brought a two-wheeler in place of a four-wheeler, he said, “If we bring a four-wheeler, it will cause a lot of trouble. They will ask me to take the vehicle to even places where it won’t go. One of the people [previously] had said to drop him off no matter what, even if I had to carry him on my shoulders.”

The driver informed that previously the Foreign Employment Board did have four-wheel drive vehicles to transport the dead bodies of people to their homes. However, since there were many complaints from the drivers, the board, he said, decided to utilize only the two-wheel drive vehicles. He also mentioned that the board had given him a list of vehicles to choose from and all were two-wheel drives, so there was no way he could bring a four-wheeler.

By the time we finished our dinner it was 10 o'clock and we got ready to continue with our journey. When we reached Uha River, the driver said the vehicle cannot go any further up and Dinesh started panicking again. Dinesh then started enquiring with the driver of the vehicle that we were travelling in, which was a four-wheel drive vehicle. Our driver said that a two-wheel drive vehicle could easily be driven along the type of road that we were travelling in, adding that the other driver must be scared because it was dark at that time. Dinesh then again pleaded with the driver of the vehicle carrying his brother's body and he agreed to drive on.

After a certain while, we reached a point where the road was slightly more uphill and the driver again stopped and started saying that it was not possible to drive the vehicle uphill now. Santa's relatives who were travelling in the same vehicle told the driver that it was already very late at night so he would not have any place to stay in and they would arrange a place for him to stay in Machhikhola Bazaar. Moreover, there would be no other vehicle available at that time in the night. After a lot of cajoling the driver again agreed to drive on.  

It took 20 minutes by the time the driver was persuaded and we lay some stones on the road. The driver was finally convinced by the relatives and he started driving the vehicle. After a few minutes the vehicle carrying Santa's body again halted. The driver insisted he would not drive anymore and he became very adamant.

At that moment we were in the middle of a forest with the Budhigandaki River flowing below us. It was midnight. Dinesh was overwrought because the driver refused to carry on and it was his responsibility to take his brother's body home. We also got down from our vehicle to see if there was anything that we could do. The road was really in a very bad condition.

We were all in a dilemma and just at that moment an Eicher truck came speeding towards us. The truck stopped and the driver and his helper asked us about what the problem was and why we were stuck there in the dead of night. We told the truck driver about the problem we were facing and he decided to help us level the road so that the vehicle carrying Santa's body would be able to drive along. Santa's relatives might have thought that it would be a nice idea if the truck driver could drive along with them and requested him to do so. The driver agreed and we started on our journey together.

Every time we would reach a difficult section of the road and the vehicle carrying Santa's body stopped, the truck driver and his friend would help us level out the road. In certain sections where it was very difficult the truck driver himself would drive the vehicle carrying Santa's body. Meanwhile, the driver of the vehicle carrying the dead body would keep saying that if he had known that it was so far away he wouldn't have come. From the manner in which he was speaking we could understand that instead of trying to help and overcome the difficulty he was more concerned of not taking any responsibility if there was any difficult situation.

It was not that Santa's relatives had not thought about how difficult it would be to transport his body home. They had even had discussions on cremating Santa in Pashupati. However, it would have been an even greater hassle to call Santa's wife, his small; children and old parents to Kathmandu. That is why Dinesh had come to Kathmandu with two of his relatives to take his brother's body to their village.

We somehow managed to reach Machhikhola Bazaar at around 11 in the night. The road track leading to the village had been opened but it was a difficult drive. That is why the vehicle carrying the dead body could not move ahead. The relatives of the deceased made arrangements for the driver of the vehicle carrying the body to stay there for the night.

On hearing the sound of a vehicle some village folks started coming down from the hillside with their torches and at that moment they looked like glowworms descending the hill. From Machhikhola Bazaar it was a very steep climb to Santa's village. We were getting ready to carry the body and just then a tractor arrived. Some relatives requested the owner of the tractor if he would help ferry the dead body to the village but the tractor owner refused citing that the tractor would not transport any dead body. However, the tractor driver knew Santa and he wanted to help. Ignoring the owner, the driver asked us to load the body in the tractor. Along with the villagers we got on to the tractor and we drove uphill which was a tremendously steep climb. By the time we reached Santa's home it was four in the morning.

When any person who has gone abroad for foreign employment dies in the destination it is very troublesome for the deceased person's relatives to bring the body to Nepal. And this particular scenario shows how difficult it is for them to transport the body from Kathmandu to their respective villages.

Villagers attending Santa Bahadur Sunar's funeral

The Foreign Employment Board has said that after the arrival of the bodies of Nepali workers from abroad at Tribhuvan International Airport, vehicles will be provided to transport them to their villages if there is road connectivity to the respective villages. This facility is available for only those workers who have gone for foreign employment after taking a work permit from the board. The board does provide vehicles but they are not suitable for roads that are steep or rough and moreover, the drivers instead of trying their best to help just want to shirk their responsibility.

Gyan Rana of Syangja narrated a similar experience. He had come to Kathmandu on Poush 17 to collect the body of his elder brother, Jiju Prasad Rana, who had died in Saudi Arabia. The Foreign Employment Board arranged a vehicle to transport the body to Gyan's village. After collecting the body, he departed from Tribhuvan International Airport for his village but at around 5 pm when they reached Dulegauda of Tanahun, the driver said that he was responsible for transporting the body only up to that point.

Gyan's home is in Sajhagaun of Harinas Rural Municipality-1 of Syangja. On realizing that it would be a trouble for the family members and village folks if he took his brother's body home late at night he did not argue with the driver and decided to stay that night in Dulegauda itself. The next morning, he made arrangements with a driver he knew and took the body home. He had to spend Rs 8,000 on that vehicle the next morning.

Maiya Kandel, the then information officer of the Foreign Employment Board (currently at the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security) stated that depending on the requirement the board provides both two-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicles to transport the dead bodies. According to the board, it opened a tender and has entered into an agreement with four companies to transport dead bodies. As per the agreement, there are 20 such vehicles. But the details provided by the secretariat tell a different story with only two-wheel drive vehicles available.

According to data made available by the Foreign Employment Board, it has delivered the dead bodies of 393 people to their homes in the current fiscal year 2079-80. The data also mentions that the board has spent a sum of Rs. 13,632,157 for the purpose. The data reveals that it costs Rs 35,000 to transport one dead body. However, when one calculates the government expenditure then it does not match with the services that the people are actually getting.

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