A Village That Refuses To Bury Its Dead

Love does not know bounds, so is the case with hatred too.

Orissa has been in the news, often for wrong reasons. The list is long with some of them making our heads hang in shame. In fact there is no comparison to what was done to Graham Staines and his two sons at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district on 23 January 1999. A maniac mob blocked the doors of their station wagon where they were sleeping, poured petrol all over, and shouted political slogans as the father and two sons were burned alive.

As if this was not enough, the same barbaric elements unleashed violence on the hapless tribal Christians in Kandhamal following the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides on 23 August 2008. The marauders ran amok, violating the tribal women, looting their properties, torching their houses and killing all those who were too weak to resist. In all nearly 200 people lost their lives in the violence.

That is why Orissa does not surprise me anymore. Yet a recent incident has stirred me once again in spite of the obvious contempt I do have for the state. At a remote village in the state, the majority Hindu group refused to allow the burial of a three-year-old Dalit Christian girl who died following some health complications.

The girl living at Jinduguda village, 15 km away from Malkangiri, a district in the southern part of Orissa, fell sick and was taken to a nearby health centre on 27 October 2010. The doctor advised the parents to take the child to a nearby hospital. However the patient developed more complications and died while being treated there.

The helpless parents brought the body of the girl back to their village for burial. The Hindus, who form the majority at the village, refused to allow them to bury the girl at the village. There are only 15 Christian families living at the village.

The distraught parents took the body to Malkangiri to seek help for burial. Finally the matter was reported to the local police. The parents, with the dead body in their hands, waited for the police to find a way-out. When the body started to stink, some sane elements in the community managed to prevail over the obstinate ones at the village and gave a quiet burial for the girl.

If anyone thinks this is an isolated incident, they are badly mistaken. Bargaining over the dead has been a regular phenomenon wherever caste feelings run high. In fact there are churches where separate routes as well as divided cemeteries exist to bury their dead – one for the high castes and the other for the lower sections.

Even in Kerala, God’s own country, the reality is no different. The lower sections and also new converts have no say in the running of the Church. They are kept on the margins, being denied of even normal human dignity. Separate seating and separate cemetery dots the landscape of Kerala Church.

A recent incident in central Kerala makes one sit up wondering about the extent of rot that has set in. A Dalit in his late fifties, who had been ailing for quite some time, died without receiving the last sacraments. In fact, he had not been attending the church for many years in protest against the discriminatory practices within his own church. And the leadership in the church did not take kindly to his way of expressing anguish. They ostracised him along with his family, stubbornly refused to reach out even in their times of crisis. Even when he died, they refused to bury him in the cemetery. Finally with the intervention of some sensible elders, he was buried just outside the cemetery.

This is happening in spite of the fact Christ has come mainly to give a new identity to all those who live on the margins – the tax collectors, the fishermen, and even the prostitutes. It is time there arose a new theology of action that could cleanse the Church within and without.

Remember the words that Christ spoke while addressing the synagogue at the beginning of his public ministry. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he appointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden…” (Luke 4:18-19)

– – – written by Dr .George Karimalil