Angry Christians have taken to the streets in Guwahati to protest a city administration order that "elevated" a 125-year-old cemetery to a heritage site while making it out of bounds for fresh burials.
Acting on a complaint by the residents of Chenikuthi locality in Guwahati, Kamrup (Metropolitan) authorities on November 27 issued an order declaring the Catholic cemetery in the area a heritage site and banning burials there. The residents allegedly wanted the expansive cemetery, set up in 1882, to be converted into a playfield.
According to Allan Brooks, convenor of the Christian Coordination Committee, the order is in violation of an earlier Guwahati High Court ruling that the cemetery should be used for burial only. "Denying us our burial ground is a gross human rights violation besides an affront on the court," Brooks said.
The city administration had in October last year issued a similar order declaring the cemetery a heritage site. Catholics and members of the Church of North India, who share the burial ground, opposed it, maintaining that the heritage tag needed vetting by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The Assam Human Rights Commission (AHRC) subsequently took up the matter in what was regarded as the first instance where a panel for the living was deliberating for the dead. However, the AHRC referred the matter back to the city administration, which closed the cemetery for burial purposes.
"Over 25,000 Catholics now have nowhere to bury their dead," Brooks said. Though there are three more cemeteries, two of them belong to the Baptists while the third is beyond the jurisdiction of city-based Christians.
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