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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

“Can’t deny burial ground to SC community”: HC allows Andhra govt to allot part of Hindu burial ground for Christian cemetery

In a curious ruling today, the Andhra Pradesh High Court (HC) has allowed the Andhra government to allot part of a Hindu burial ground for a Christian cemetery.  The reasoning provided by Bench of Justice Battu Devanand while dismissing the writ petition challenging the government decision was:

‘…all those contentions are made against the proposal of the respondent authorities for allotting the said land for burial ground to the SC community people.’

The Court ruled that the allotment was ‘neither illegal nor violative of any fundamental rights of the petitioners’ as it is the duty of the local self-governments to provide burial ground/crematorium to the people.

But this question gives rise to a puzzling question: how can a Christian cemetery be used by SC (Scheduled Caste) community people? Constitutionally, any SC who converts to Christianity loses his/her SC status. In fact, there is a massive problem in the Telugu-speaking states of Andhra and Telangana of such converts to Christianity hiding their religious identity to retain the Hindu SC status and fraudulently avail of reservation and other benefits. The Andhra state government has been charged with aiding and abetting such fraud by diverting funds meant for SCs to Christian converts.

Despite such illegal acts being brought to attention of authorities and courts, no action has been taken as yet. This has created a state-sanctioned incentive for SCs to convert – they retain their SC quota benefits, get minority-only scholarships and other grants too, and also avail the allurements given by the powerful FCRA-funded missionaries to lure more people away from their indigenous religion.

Moreover, if authorities had to allot land for a Christian cemetery, why wasn’t it done in a separate plot? Isn’t encroaching on burial land meant for Hindu communities a violation of their rights? The Church in Bharat is reportedly the largest holder of non-agricultural land after the government; and Andhra is full of church-planters of every denomination flush with foreign funds. Couldn’t the Church have found a plot of land to bury their flock?

Or is the Church hierarchy reluctant to part with their land bank as it is a question of burial for ‘inferior’ Christians? There is endemic discrimination that SC converts to Christianity face in the Catholic Church such as separate burial grounds, non-appointment to senior posts etc. We have seen cases in Kerala and other states where Christian churches guard their cemetery land so assiduously that they even deny burials to Christians who have rubbed the clergy the wrong way.

Such judgements leave little doubt that the secular state and our courts are now giving unofficial sanction to the fraudulent practise of SC converts to Christianity availing of benefits intended solely for indigenous SC communities.

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