Making space for the remains of the dead may soon be crowded Mumbai’s newest challenge.
This month, a Catholic cemetery in Thane that is running out of burial space, stopped using coffins and is burying bodies in shrouds instead, to free up graves and reuse them.
Five parishes in Thane use this cemetery for burials. But as the number of funerals became unmanageable, the parishioners have asked the state for land, for a new cemetery.
Father Rudolph Andrades, the parish priest at Our Lady of Mercy Church that has 1,200 families, said the problem arises as it usually takes about 18 months for a body to decompose. “But we have to reuse the graves even before this.” Andrades said his parish is insisting that cloth, and not coffins are used.
Thane’s guardian minister Eknath Shinde, agreed the parishes are facing a genuine problem. “I have spoken to the Thane mayor and we have agreed to allocate land for a new cemetery.”
But action must be taken quickly, as space is running out fast.
“With close to 200 annual deaths in our parishes, and only 50 grave sites available at the cemetery, it is turning out to be extremely difficult to make space for all burials,” said Melwyn Fernandes, the deputy secretary at the Our Lady of Mercy Welfare Association, a community group. “Sometimes, we are forced to pile bodies one on top of the other.”
This gives rise to a graver issue. Mahadev More, 60, a gravedigger at the cemetery for the past 22 years, said the problem of space becomes worse during the monsoon.
“This year, we dug up 12 graves, where the bodies had not decomposed completely. The smell from the graves is unbearable during the rains,” said More.
“From this month, we started wrapping the dead bodies in cloth to bury them, instead of putting them in coffins, so that the bodies decompose faster,” he said.
The situation in the city is no different. Father Nigel Barrett, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bombay, said city churches have been facing a shortage of space too. “The practice of burying bodies in a shroud or a cloth goes way back in time. Respecting people’s sentiments, the churches give parishioners the options of using either coffins or cloths for burials,” said Barrett.