Caught in church dispute: NHRC asks Kerala govt to conduct burial of 95-year-old

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) directed Kerala DGP to provide protection to family members to prevent any untoward incident during the funeral.
Caught in church dispute: NHRC asks Kerala govt to conduct burial of 95-year-old
Caught in church dispute: NHRC asks Kerala govt to conduct burial of 95-year-old
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The National Human Rights Commission on Monday ordered the Kerala government to conduct the funeral of 95-year-old Varghese Mathew Pallikalethu, a Jacobite who passed away on November 3, with all religious rites. The age-old conflict between the Malankara Orthodox Church and Jacobite Syrian Church hit a new low when the members of orthodox church denied Fr Georgy John, Varghese’s grandson and a priest, the permission to conduct the last rites, thereby, delaying the man’s burial.  

In the order, dated November 12, the National Human Rights Commission ordered that the family is immediately allowed to do all religious rituals and formalities to conduct the burial of the body at the church ground “under the prevalent customs of the community concerned”. It also directed the Kerala Director General of Police to provide proper protection to the complainant and the family members to prevent any untoward incident during rituals and funeral.

The 95-year-old native of Kattachira has been kept in a mobile mortuary at his residence for the last nine days due to the ongoing fight between the two Malankara Christian factions. Varghese's funeral was to be held on Thursday at his parish, the Kattachira St Mary's Church in Kayamkulam.

The order comes after Fr Georgy John wrote to the Commission on November 8.

Speaking to TNM, Fr Sleeba Paul Vattavelil Cor-episcopa, Former Jacobite church managing committee member, told TNM, “We will conduct the burial of the deceased with all religious respects on Tuesday. The National Human Rights Commissions order has come as a big relief to us. Now, we got justice from the authorities.”

Fr Georgy John added, “We will take further steps as per the direction of the order and the direction from the higher officials.”

Earlier, the State Human Rights Commission had ordered Alappuzha District Collector S Suhas to consider the issue. Later, the same day, the commission changed the order. “There is already an order by the Supreme Court in the manner. Hence I make it clear that the order shall be kept in abeyance. The order of the Supreme Court, if any, shall be complied with by the district collector Alapuzha,” said the new order.

Later, the family approached the National Human Rights Commission.

“The Commission has carefully examined the contents of the complaint raising a very serious issue wherein the body of a person who had died on 03.11.2018, is still waiting for burial. It is apparent that some people having some vested interest are harassing the aggrieved family, which is already in grief as they have lost an elder family member. It seems that the parties have approached the court for relief with regard to management of the concern Church but the Commission has nothing to do with the civil dispute between the rival parties regarding the functioning of the church. In as much as the commission is only concern with the respect of violation of human rights in this case," read the National Human Rights Commission order.

“The Commission is of the opinion that the right to dignity is one of the basic human rights which could not be ceased with the death of a person. The body of a dead person deserves respectful last rites. In this case, the body of the deceased Varghese Mathew has been kept in a mobile mortuary for the last ten days and the family members are not being allowed to enter inside the church to conduct the prayers/rituals. This tantamount to indignity and disrespect to the dead body and also hurts the emotions and sentiments of the braved family with their relatives,” it further read.

The Commission has notified the Chief Secretary, the government of Kerala, to look into the matter personally, so that the aggrieved family could “come out of the grief and mental agony with the burial of the body of the deceased in a dignified manner”. It said that the state has to ensure the human rights of the family members and the near and dear ones of the deceased person are not violated.

Fr Georgy John had told TNM, “It is my family’s wish that I do the funeral rituals for my grandfather. But the officials and the Orthodox faction denied me entry into the cemetery in the cassock.

However, Malankara Orthodox church PRO Fr Johns Abraham Konattu told TNM points out that the National Human Rights Commission has not mentioned which faction priest should conduct the rituals of the burial. “We are ready to conduct the burial with all religious respects. But we cannot allow the Jacobite priests inside the church or cemetery in a cassock. How can we say that entry of the grandson in cassock to the cemetery is a denial of natural justice?” asks Fr Konattu.

“We will raise our concern on the issue to the Kerala Chief Secretary. However, we will take further steps as per the talk and direction from the higher authorities,” Fr Johns Konattu added.

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