No space for the dead in GurugramUpdated: Jan 18, 2020 23:59 IST
A few years ago, when a long-time Gurugram resident’s grandfather passed away, her family looked for a space to lay him to rest, but in vain. Cemeteries for Christians in the city have either exhausted their space or are unusable, and there is no new space for burial. The woman, who wishes to be anonymous, says they had to go to their ancestral village in Kerala for the burial.
For the last several years, Gurugram’s 10,000-plus Christian community (as per the 2011 census) has been forced to use alternative cemeteries in neighbouring cities or their hometowns or bury their dead discreetly in non-designated spaces across the city. The cemetery at Civil Lines, where graves date back to the 1800s, is full. The second piece of land allotted to the community for burials in Sector 56 in 2015 isn’t usable as it has been encroached upon.
Christians have been demanding a final resting place from authorities for at least a decade—and say the city not having a proper cemetery is a crisis.
“I have been living here for 26 years but have no idea where my bones will be buried. The right to space for burial is pertinent to the right to follow religion and beliefs,” Michael Martyr, a resident, says.
The cemetery at Civil Lines—also the city’s oldest—is located over an area of around two acres and has been full for several years now. The oldest grave at the cemetery dates back to 1856, six years before the church was built in the area, which then was called Gurgaon cantonment, as per inscriptions in the church garden. The process of doubling—reopening graves to allow bodies to be stacked on top of each other— has been going on for more than two decades, says Sunil Ghazan, former pastor of the Church of Epiphany that is situated close to the cemetery.
“Only relatives of those who are buried here can re-dig the graves. A nominal fee is charged for the burial,” he says.
As a result, newer settlers of the city have to rely on cemeteries outside Gurugram. Martyr says the community has been relying on comparatively newer cemeteries in Dwarka and Burari, but those are almost full too.
Christians living in Gurugram would earlier use Delhi’s Paharganj cemetery, which now houses more than 8,000 cemented and kaccha graves and is full, according to community members. So are other four cemeteries in Delhi, the Delhi Cemetery Committee says.
Irudaya Kumar, a catholic priest at St Michael’s church in Sector 7, says his parish has around 600 families who are uncertain of where they will be buried. “Past burials have taken place in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Bihar, where the families are mostly from. We have to approach the priests there,” he says, adding that the families rely on their relatives back home to seek permission for burial there.
According to the community, the need for a new designated burial space arose as its population boomed in the late 2000s when people from other states came here for work.
After several meetings between representatives of the community and district officials, in 2012, the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA), now called the Haryana Shahari Vikas Pradhikaran (HSVP), wrote to the authority’s administration detailing the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese’s request to allot land to Christians in Sector 56 near Ghata village.
“As per report, an area of 1.35 acres land was earlier earmarked for burial ground for Christians and there is no type of court case/stay. It is requested to grant necessary approval for allotment of burial ground...(sic),” the letter states.
The land was allotted to the community after much bureaucratic delay in August 2015 on the terms that the ownership of the site would vest with then HUDA, and that the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese would be responsible for its upkeep and maintenance.
However, except for a handful of graves, the land has mostly remained unusable. Heaps of construction waste lies on the land, leaving no space for burials. Stakeholders of the land say the dump only increases every year and is generated from the upcoming housing societies around. Despite writing to the Municipal Corporation Gurugram (MCG) several times asking that the dump be removed, members of the community say no action has been taken yet.
Burial on the piece of land at Ghata has also faced resistance from the locals in the area, who have, in the past, resorted to threats of violence if any grave is dug, say several community members.
“Locals in the area are opposed to the idea of a cemetery there. Several attempts to demarcate the land and build graves have been met with resistance. We have been threatened by them,” Anthony Cruz, a resident of Sector 83 and a social activist, says.
The cemetery for the community is adjacent to hundreds of temporary shanties and houses in the village. It is also next to a graveyard for Muslims allotted in 2004, according to custodians. Apart from this one, there are graveyards for Muslims at Pataudi Chowk and Palam Vihar.
No one would want a cemetery near their house, reasoned Cruz, adding that the land should have been allotted elsewhere in the first place for the same reason.
“Most landowners here don’t want a cemetery near their plots and houses. Certain groups of locals have shown resistance to it several times earlier,” Naveen, a worker who lives in a temporary house in the area, says, adding that to his knowledge, there have been attempts to build a boundary wall.
The cemetery’s custodians say that even when they had tried to level the ground at the plot earlier, they were met with protests from the villagers and had to put the work on hold.
“Officials should talk to the villagers and understand what their concerns are,” Cruz says, adding that it would be better if concerns of both the communities are addressed and a decision taken after.
In September 2018, the community wrote to the MCG, highlighting that a service road is part of the allotted burial ground and that upon discussions with authorities, it was decided that a separate service road be constructed parallel to the current for vehicular movement. The letter again requested that the construction waste be removed from the site for the same. However, residents say none of the two actions have been taken yet.
Vivek Kalia, estate officer, HSVP, didn’t respond to texts and calls for comment. Community members say most officials who were initially involved in the matter have now retired.
Jitender Yadav, administrator, HSVP, says that he has recently joined the body and hasn’t heard of the issue yet. “We will look into the matter and get it resolved soon,” Yadav adds.
Gurugram’s Christians want to be buried in the place they live in—after all, as one of the residents puts it, what good is a ‘millennium’, multicultural city that doesn’t have space for its dead?