To put an end to issues over burial of people following the tussle between Orthodox and Jacobite Christian denominations, the Kerala government introduced a bill, The Kerala Christian Cemeteries (Right to Burial of Corpse) Bill, 2020, in the Assembly on Thursday. Though the bill earlier did not clearly define which all denominations of Christianity would be covered, on Friday, the state assembly subject committee decided that the bill will be limited to only two factions Orthodox and Jacobite Christians. The bill is likely to be passed on February 11.
"There were recent incidents of delay in burial of bodies due to fight between the two Christian factions. Those incidents were a shame on Kerala's culture. It can lead to social and religious conflicts in the state," said A K Balan, minister of law and parliamentary affairs, in the Assembly. He added that the tense situation still prevails and the government cannot keep quiet.
However, there were mixed responses to the bill in the Assembly. The Opposition said that the bill should be redrafted as the present one is confusing. MLS V D Satheesan (Congress) and Mons Joseph (Kerala Congress-M), said that other denominations apart from Jacobites and Orthodox, of the Christian community, should be excluded from the bill. Following this, Malabar Church authorities had also expressed their concerns over the bill. Later on Friday, the government informed that the bill will be applicable only for the two denominations.
There have been many incidents in the recent past where burial of people was delayed for days and even weeks, as these factions fought over priests performing burial rituals, church and cemetery ownership. In the latest incident on December 2019, 92-year-old Mariamma's body was buried six weeks after her death. A group of people barged in to Kattachira St Mary's Church during the wee hours to conduct the burial. The funeral was delayed as the family and Jacobite faction wanted the rituals to be conducted by a Jacobite priest whereas the Orthodox faction did not agree to that. Next day, the Orthodox faction had protested asking to exhume the body.
Though the dispute between the two factions started decades ago, the issues surfaced again after the Supreme Court order of July 2017, which gave the Orthodox faction authority over 1,100 churches in Kerala. Following this, the Orthodox faction started taking over the churches which earlier belonged to the Jacobite faction.
Meanwhile, coming down strongly on the bill, Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II, the supreme head of the Orthodox faction, told media that the government move intends to make the Christian cemeteries as a public graveyard.
"To end the issues, the government should implement the court order. Though we have received justice from the SC, we are not able to experience it. The state government did not take any measures to implement the order. Moreover, now they are trying to convert cemeteries into a public graveyard," he said.