UCA News

India

Indian state makes law for burial rights of warring Christians

Law exempts Catholics and others not involved in the century-old feud over ownership of landed properties

UCA News reporter, Kochi

UCA News reporter, Kochi

Updated: February 14, 2020 08:34 AM GMT
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Indian state makes law for burial rights of warring Christians

Members of Confraternity get ready for a procession in a Catholic church in Kochi in southern India's Kerala state. (Photo: Christopher Joseph/UCA News)

Share this article :
The communist-led government in India's Kerala state has passed a law to govern the burial rights of two warring Christian factions, exempting other groups including Catholics from the purview of the law.

The Kerala legislature passed the law on Feb. 11, incorporating the changes the Catholic leadership requested, to make it applicable only to the Orthodox and Jacobite factions of the Kerala-based Syrian Church.

The Christian Cemeteries (Right to Burial of Corpse) Act 2020 aims to address a century-old feud over church lands and properties, which resulted in each faction denying the other access to cemeteries to bury the dead.

As their fight became a law-and-order issue in the southern state, the communist-led coalition stepped in with an ordinance in January to ensure the right of Christians to be buried in their respective parish cemeteries.

When the government then moved to make it a law applicable to all Christians in the state, Catholic leaders objected, saying they needed no such laws as Catholic parishes have no issues about burial. 

Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church and president of Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, said the new law will only affect the rights of other Christian groups.

“We are happy that the government has addressed our concerns,” Father Antony Thalachelloor, spokesman of the Syro-Malabar Church, told UCA News on Feb. 12.

“The law in its original form could have led to long-standing problems for other churches. The government voluntarily took the initiative to correct it.”

Factionalism in the Malankara Church, which owed its allegiance to the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, began in 1911.

The Jacobites owe allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch, while the Orthodox consider the Catholicos of the East, based in Kerala, as the head of the Church.

The bone of contention is the ownership of temporal properties — large patches of prime land and institutions.

In 1995, the apex court in India declared the Catholicos of the East as the head of the Malankara Church based on the 1934 agreement.

The Jacobites approached the Supreme Court last August to dispute this verdict, but the apex court refused to intervene.

Since then, the warring factions have lost no opportunity to outmaneuver each other in moves that included denial of burial grounds for the deceased.

Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
YOUR DAILY
NEWSLETTER
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
 
Support UCA News

William J. Grimm, MM

Publisher

Union of Catholic Asian News

"As Pope Francis has said, we live not so much in an era of change as in a change of era. That is especially true in Asia and for the churches of Asia. UCA News is the dedicated, Asia-wide news and information service for the Church in Asia and we need your help to maintain the service."