CHENNAI: The loss of a loved one is traumatic in itself, and things take a turn for the worse when there is no place to bury them. This is the dilemma faced by many families in the city. There are 36 Corporation burial grounds and 39 private ones. There are also electric and gassifier crematoriums available.
Christians are divided on the matter of burial versus cremating, although the majority prefer to bury and not cremate. One of the biggest private Christian cemeteries in Chennai, the Kilpauk cemetery, was closed in 2005 due to lack of space. Only those who had already booked plots and had family members buried already would be allowed use of the cemetery; there would be no new burials. The nearly 108 year old cemetery has around 50,000 graves spread over 6.4 hectares.
Kilpauk Cemetery’s office in charge, Jacob, says, “Now that there is a lack of space, families go in for vaults. Currently, there are around 450 vaults in our cemetery.” These vaults are in a tier system. Reservations are not allowed for them like it was allowed for plots. Those who are not well off can afford only a mud grave. This costs around `1,000. Bigger graves with tombstones and engravings can cost anything from `7,000 to `45,000 or more.
The Corporation rules that graves cannot be reused till 14 years have passed. The Christian community opposes this and says that seven years is the maximum time taken for a body to decompose and that reuse of graves should be allowed in that time period. Such is the space crunch. Jacob adds, “Currently, after four years we allow the grave to be reused. It does not necessarily have to be the same family.”
Although many consider this a desecration of the body for religious reasons, some are pragmatic about the reason this has to be done. Peter, a member of the Christian community, says, “It’s between having space to bury a loved one and cremating them. I personally don’t know anyone in Chennai who has cremated, as it is frowned upon in these circles.”
Cemeteries like the one attached to St Thomas (Garrison) Church in St Thomas’ Mount have started reuse of graves over 25 years old. A member of the church says, “We are recommending vaults to anyone who comes now. That way the family plot does not take up too much space.”
Members of the church are allowed to have cemented graves, but for non-members, only mud graves are allowed. With space at a premium, sometimes former members of the parish are also not granted plots. People have become members of certain churches just for gravesite privileges.