The family of 46-year-old Thondanpaarayil Saramma, who passed away on Sunday, is in a quandary as they continue to wait for her burial ceremony. This family from Varikoli in Ernakulam district has become yet another victim to be caught in the crossfire of the protracted dispute between Orthodox and Jacobite factions of the Malankara Syrian Christian Church. Earlier, in November 2018, a 95-year-old man’s burial was delayed by 10 days due to the same reason.
The body of Saramma, who belongs to the Jacobite faction, was shifted to a mortuary on Monday evening after Jacobite priests were denied entry into St Mary's Church in Varikoli. The Orthodox faction and police officials prevented the priests from performing the last rites in the church.
Though a Jacobite church, the St Mary’s Church came under the power of the Orthodox faction following the Supreme Court verdict in July 2017. The Supreme Court upheld the 1934 Malankara Church guideline and ruled that 1,100 parishes and their churches under the Malankara Church should be controlled by the Orthodox faction.
The priest trustee of Jacobite Syrian Church, Sleeba Paul Cor-Episcopa Vattavelil, pointed out that per the Kerala High Court’s new verdict on Wednesday, members of both the factions have equal rights to visit the Church and bury their family members in the Church cemeteries. “Nobody can claim ownership of the Church property even if they have the majority,” he added.
“But the Orthodox faction has violated the court order. Every person has the right to a dignified burial. The Orthodox faction always points to the Supreme Court verdict but never adopts a humanitarian approach,” Fr Sleeba of the Jacobite faction told TNM.
Meanwhile, calling the allegations baseless, Malankara Orthodox Church PRO Fr Johns Abraham Konattu told TNM, “We will allow the believers of the Jacobite faction to bury the body of their family members in the church, albeit without the Jacobite priests. We are ready to perform the rituals of the burial,” he said.
Fr Konattu stresses, “The High Court did not state that the presence of a Jacobite priest is required for the burial of a Jacobite believer. We will not allow Jacobite priests in the cemetery for the burial.”
Earlier in November, the funeral of 95-year-old Jacobite parishioner Varghese Mathew Pallikalethu was in limbo due to the dispute. The burial was delayed by 10 days. It was only after the National Human Rights Commission intervened and asked the Kerala government to conduct the burial that Varghese was finally buried at the St Marys Church in Kayamkulam.
Irrespective of the commotion in the church premises, Saramma’s family has decided to conduct the final rites with the help of Jacobite priests, irrespective of the resistance from the Orthodox faction, Father Biju Kureekunel, vicar of the St Mary’s Church, told TNM.
‘Will not attend peace talks’: Orthodox faction
Meanwhile, the Minister for Industries and CPI (M) leader EP Jayarajan, who is the convener of the Committee formed by the Kerala government, is conducting a talk to resolve the ongoing tiff between Jacobite Syrian Church and Malankara Orthodox church, on Tuesday.
The members of the Committee are Minister for Revenue E Chandrasekharan, Minister for Transport AK Saseendran, Minister for Ports Ramachandran Kadannappally and Minister for Water Resources K Krishnankutty.
The Orthodox faction, however, has refused to attend the peace talks. “The Supreme Court issued its final order in the Malankara church-related cases. We want the government to implement the SC order immediately. The talks hold no relevance over the Supreme Court verdict,” says Fr Johns Abraham Konattu.
Fr Sleeba of the Jacobite faction, on the other hand, said, “The Orthodox faction’s decision to not attend the meeting only shows they are not ready to solve the dispute.”