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Rest in peace? Most unlikely in grave crisis

The cemetery in Guwahati. Picture by Gaurav Das

Guwahati: The Guwahati Baptist Church (GBC), whose Navagraha cemetery here is fast running out of space for burials, has resulted in church leaders issuing an order disallowing burial of Baptist members from outside the city at the cemetery, even if they die while availing of medical treatment or in an accident here.

The church leaders have also issued an order that the length of graves with headstones be reduced.

"We have no other option but to issue such orders. The sizes of the graves have been reduced to allocate more space. If a community member who is not from the city dies here, his family has to take the body back to their native place. They cannot be buried here. One day, the entire ground will be filled with graves and there will be no space for any more burials," said Matthew Marak, the caretaker of the cemetery.

The cemetery was established by the American Baptist Missionary in the mid 1800s. But now, it defies the notions of a 19th century Christian cemetery that it should be isolated, sprawling with trees, clutter-free and graves adorned with stone figurines of angels accompanied by tombstones inscribed upon with impressing epitaphs, mausoleums, columbarium, niches or edifice.

It now spreads across three bigha. Though wooded rain trees and golden rain trees, it is squeezed in from three directions, its sanctity spoilt by surrounding residential buildings. The local residents use the ground as an open bin.

Based on the estimation of the congregation's mortality rate with 10 to 11 burials per year, the cemetery will lose its space in the next eight years, according to the church. "The city's Baptist community is affected the most. We chanced upon an 11 bigha on the outskirts. But clearance from the district administration is still awaited for the plot," said Aziz-ul-Haque, pastor of GBC.

The problem has been intensifying for several years, during which Haque even had pondered upon the idea of multiple burials. This system incorporates the idea of placing a casket over another within a single grave. But the idea was rejected owing to a proper feasibility approach and the fact that congregation members were unlikely to approve of it. "Judging by the mortality rates in our community, within eight years the cemetery will run out of space for any burial. We will have to wait for the 11 bigha of allotted land. We have to comply with the rules and regulations," said Hilton Vauqueline, secretary of GBC.

The city has four cemeteries catering to the needs of over 8,000 Christians who roughly comprise 0.93 per cent for the population of 9,62,334 here.

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