Mohammad Sharif the UP local has always been loved and respected and is endearingly known as 'Sharif Chacha' but an announcement about him being bestowed with the highest civilian honor has elevated his social status.
Sharif's name figures in the list of Padma Shri awards for 2020.
Sharif Chacha's claim to fame is rather unconventional. For years, he has been burying and cremating unclaimed dead bodies in Ayodhya. He has cremated/ buried over 25,000 dead bodies so far.
A cycle mechanic by profession, Mohammad Sharif, every day, makes rounds of burial grounds and cremation sites to perform the last rites of the unclaimed bodies.
In case, he does not reach there, the caretakers of burial grounds and cremation grounds inform him whenever an unclaimed body is taken there.
He not only cremated and buried bodies of Muslims and Hindus, but also arranged for and performed the last rites of the bodies of Sikhs and Christians.
According to Sharif, who is into his seventies, had lost his own son, 28 years ago, and his body was found on railway tracks.
Sharif's son, who worked as a chemist, went missing when he went to Sultanpur district for some work. It was the time when communal tensions were at its peak over Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi issue.
Later, it was discovered that his son lost his life in that same communal riots.
It was this incident that changed the life of Mohammad Sharif forever and he decided to take care of unclaimed bodies anywhere in his district. He decided to give a proper burial to every unclaimed body irrespective of religion.
Sharif says he had faced financial difficulties many times, but continued to manage with donations.
"When I lost my son and could not give him a proper burial, I decided that I would take care of the last rites of unclaimed bodies. After all, they are also someone's son or brother," he said.
It has been 20 years now and the local people give domination to Sharif Chacha for his work.
The old man featured in the TV show 'Satyamev Jayate' that was hosted by actor Aamir Khan and it is said that Aamir had himself checked out on the story before the show.
This is, perhaps, the first time that Padma Shri is being awarded to people involved in humanitarian work -- besides Chacha, there is also Langar Baba from Punjab, who feeds people and even sold his property to do so.
Photo courtesy of Padma Awards (Twitter)