Space crunch in Delhi is not confined to the living; it is now taking a toll on the dead. At least five of the city’s eight Christian cemeteries have put ‘no space available’ notices.
In fact, the shrinking burial space is forcing a change in Christian funeral practices — many Catholics are opting for cremation.
“All our five cemeteries are full; we have been advising people to go for cremation. People are slowly becoming open to the idea,” says Father Januario Rebello, chairperson of the Delhi Cemetery Committee, which manages five of the eight Christian cemeteries in the city.
“I organise about 20 Christian funerals every day in Delhi and Mumbai, and four of them are cremations,” says John Pinto, a well-known funeral director. “Many Christians are forced to opt for cremation because of lack of burial space in the city,” says Samuel Massey of the Delhi-based PS Funeral and Ambulance Services.
Father Rebello says the reduction in burial space started about a decade back with increasing migration of Christian people to the city and no corresponding increase in the number of cemeteries. Today, there are about 3 lakh Christians in the city, half of them Catholics.
Most old cemeteries in Delhi such as Indian Christian Cemetery in Paharganj and York cemetery at Prithviraj Road are now going for the option of reusing graves — digging up the existing grave for second burial.
But reuse of graves is allowed only after 10 years, and only people with a family member already buried in the cemetery are allowed to avail of this facility.
“The space for fresh graves ran out long back. There are already about 9,000 graves in Paharganj cemetery. Now we are exploring the option of third burial in the same grave,” says Arnold James, chairman of the Indian Christian Cemetery Committee, which manages cemeteries in Paharganj and Burari.
The Delhi Cemetery Committee is now also promoting the use of niches — small shelves in cemetery walls — for storing the remains of a body after opening the grave. “This will allow other people space to bury the dead. Necessity is the mother of invention,” says Father Rebello.
Julius Joseph, funeral director at Delhi-based Morgan Funeral Services says: “I organise quite a few cremations for Christians every year. But most people still prefer burial, so the solution lies in creating kuchha (mud) graves rather than pucca (concrete) graves in cemeteries. Kuchha graves can be reused in 5-6 years; besides such graves bring down the cost of funeral”.
The cemeteries in Dwarka and Burari still allow new graves. But the one in Dwarka, opened a few years back, allows only mud graves. “We have approached the government several times for land to build new cemeteries, but it has not worked so far,” Father Rebello said.