He is a businessman and social worker. You can find him at any tragic site in the UAE - a friend of the dead. Ashraf Palorukkam, who helps grieving families with documentation, has so far helped repartriate at least 150 bodies to India.
In fact, Ashraf says his life's mission is to help distressed families with the complex paper works and the various clearances that are required from the police, consulates, embassies in the UAE as well as arranging for air tickets and coffins to repartriate bodies back home.
He chanced upon this service as he had to run helter-skelter when faced with the death of his friend 10 years back.
“Last week alone I handled about nine cases across the UAE. Five natural deaths took place in Sharjah and they were repatriated the next day,” says Ashraf, who lives in Ajman with his family of five.
The reason he gives for his selfless service is interesting. "It is easy to serve the dead, because they will not complain." He is not associated with any organisation either. “I am not working with any association or organisation because living people have ego, they fight for power and money. But the dead don’t create any issues and therefore, I enjoy my work. God Almighty will reward me for helping these dead people and their relatives.”
"The body of a Bengali worker was lying unclaimed in Ajman Police morgue for more than six months. After the news was released, I got a call from Calcutta, India, inquiring about the body," he recalls.
However, these days there are not many unclaimed bodies because hospital staff across the emirates are aware of Ashraf's service. Mortuary staff too calls him for help if they cannot identify the dead or their families.
"Suicide cases have increased of late, says Ashraf. "As I handle a case every third day, I have begun to understand the value of life. Earlier I used to feel depressed. But now I have changed. I am determined to be active and do the best while I'm alive."
Salim Noor, Social worker with Youth India, Ajman, says: "Ashraf's mobile number is circulated among hospital staff and social organisations. Once Ashraf takes over a case, rest assured the body will be repatriated quickly."
"In fact, Ashraf is always one of the first social workers to reach a death site,” he added. Salim says Ashraf must have handled nearly 200 bodies.
“I have seen all type of bodies. Some charred faces, some deformed with injuries. The worst images were four victims of a fire on a ship in Ajman. They were completly burnt. I was really disturbed then. But once I return to my family, the images disappear from my mind," says Ashraf.
“Normally friends or relatives of suicide victims shy away from reporting. Similarly, educated professionals are sceptical of using my services as they think I have some selfish motive in them, adds Ashraf.