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India’s Christians are running out of space to bury their dead, leading some to pay small fortunes to book their final resting place in a relative’s grave.
Churches are asking people to empty remains from graves of family members who died more than 25 years ago and store them in specially created vaults, a senior official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India told Reuters.
“We foresee a major crisis across India and are asking people to empty graves and shift the remains,” said Donald H.R. De Souza, a former deputy secretary general of the conference. In Bihar, the Catholic Kurji cemetery is asking people to donate up to 60,000 rupees to reserve plots. “More than 1,600 people have been buried in the graveyard and we don’t have space for more,” said priest Vincent Francis. State governments until recently denied there was a problem and were unwilling to offer more land saying other religious groups would make similar demands.
Faustin Brank, an official with the United Forum of Christians of All Denominations, told Reuters that the scarcity of land in some cities was forcing Christians to cremate their dead against their relatives’ wishes. Christians make up less than 2 percent of India’s 1.1 billion people but population growth and the conversion to Christianity of some low caste Hindus has led to an increase in numbers in some states.
In the last 10 years, West Bengal’s Christian population has grown from 700,000 to one million, but churches have been unable to expand their 15 cemeteries.”Graves have probably been dug up five to seven times in the recent past to add more family members,” Herod Mullick of the Bangiya Christiya Pariseba told Reuters in Kolkata, in violation of laws which ban reopening for 25 years after burial.
“I was shocked to see a half-decomposed body when I buried my mother in a Kolkata cemetery recently,” Niranjan Soren said. Soren, 59, is not taking any chances and has booked a space in his mother’s plot for 5,000 rupees. “I know that I am denying others a chance to bury their dead in my mother’s grave, but do I have a choice?” he asked.