White is the colour of mourning

by Shumona Sinha

Finally! (Issue I/2020)


The author Shumona Sinha. Photographer: Patrice Normand

In India, death is not a private tragedy but a social event. In rural Hindu communities, all the local women come to the house of the deceased to mourn loudly alongside the affected family. The young men take care of everything else.

They help the mourners to buy a stretcher and flowers, and they decorate everything in white, which is the colour of mourning in India. That same day, the body is taken to a crematorium. There it is symbolically fed with rice mixed with milk. Usually the son of the deceased does this task. When my own father died the priests had to accept that I do it, as I'm an only child.

Three hours later I was handed a box containing my father's ashes, which was a very cruel experience for me. In India the discriminatory caste system even extends into death. Sometimes someone dies and, if there is no one from the same caste in the crematorium at that time, they won't accept the corpse, because they don't want to touch it.

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