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12 days and counting: Manipur Baptist village stalls woman’s burial as she became Catholic

Imphal has been rocked by protests after Rita Haorei’s burial was blocked by her husband’s native village. Meghalaya has seen a similar case this month.

india Updated: Aug 18, 2017 17:49 IST
Rahul Karmakar and Sobhapati Samom
Rahul Karmakar and Sobhapati Samom
Hindustan Times, Guwahati/Imphal
Rally demanding the burial of a 42-year-old woman in Imphal. (HT photo)

Death can be divisive, a stalled burial and a cremation under police protection have revealed in the Northeast.

A 42-year-old woman in Manipur has been refused burial for 12 days by her Baptist Christian-dominated village that excommunicated her family seven years ago for allegedly becoming a Catholic Christian.

Rita Haorei died on August 7 and her body has been lying since in a Catholic Church in Ukhrul district’s Litan village, 40 kilometres north of state capital Imphal. Her husband Yangmi Haorei, who lives in Litan, has refused to bury her anywhere else other than his native village Leingangching.

Leingangching and Litan are both inhabited by the Tangkhuls, a community of Nagas dominant in the Ukhrul district.

The stalemate has grabbed statewide attention. On Thursday, a joint action committee (JAC) of Catholics carried out a rally in Manipur capital Imphal demanding the woman’s burial of the woman.

The JAC submitted a memorandum to Manipur chief minister N Biren, seeking his help so that Rita could be buried in Leingangching under security. The committee also demanded abolition of an unwritten rural law – that of ‘One Village, One Denomination’ – as “it is inhuman and violates basic fundamental rights”.

The Catholic congregation in Ukhrul district too organised a public rally on Wednesday in district headquarters Ukhrul, 84km north of Imphal, against the village diktat disallowing the burial.

Similarly, the Delhi-based North East Catholic Community and Tangkhul Christian Fellowship have been critical of the “corpse controversy”. They called for tolerance, peace and harmony while pointing out “parochialism negates the principles of secular, democratic and progressive society”.

But the Leingangching village elders are not keen on relenting. “He (Yangmi, the widower) has no right to claim that he is a native of our village because he was excommunicated and banished from our village for violating village norms repeatedly. It is our internal matter and has nothing to do with Christian denominations,” village headman Wungreikhan Kasar said.

This is the second death-related controversy in the Northeast this month.

Four days after Rita’s death, Christian residents of Mylliem in Meghalaya tried to prevent adherents of Niam Khasi, an indigenous faith, from cremating a village elder named Kulam Nongrum.

Mylliem, in East Khasi Hills district, is 15km from Meghalaya capital Shillong.

“The Christians of the village objected when relatives of Nongrum sought to cremate him in accordance with Niam Khasi rituals. We sorted things out and let the body be cremated,” Davis Marak, the district’s superintendent of police, told HT.

Thma U Rangli-Juki (TUR), a progressive people’s body, said the cremation could be done only after the Seng Khasi, a traditional body of Niam Khasi adherents, provided space.

“The intolerance shown by the Christian-majority village is not an aberration. This has been happening for 20 years. This climate of intolerance has meant that most adherents of Niam Khasi in this area have no choice but to bury their dead against their deeply held religious belief of cremation,” a TUR spokesperson said.

The NGO said Niam Khasis had been targeted earlier for violence besides being slapped with legal suits. Their allotted space for rituals has been desecrated too.

First Published: Aug 18, 2017 11:40 IST