05/14/2021, 14.43
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COVID-19 victim denied burial in Odisha cemetery

by Nirmala Carvalho

The rising number of deaths caused by the pandemic is causing tensions involving Catholic cemeteries. For Sajan K George (Global Council of Indian Christians), burial rights cannot be denied. Despite international aid, people continue to die from a lack of oxygen supplies at a Goa hospital.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The rising number of deaths due to COVID-19 is causing tensions around Christians’ right to burial.

According to the latest data, India reported 343,144 new cases in the last 24 hours with some 4,000 deaths in the country; meanwhile, in Odisha a person who died from COVID-19 was not allowed to be buried in a Catholic cemetery.

The victim, Manjula Beero, lived in Mohana, a village in Gajapati district. The 63-year-old woman, who suffered from a mental disorder for 25 years, died on Tuesday, but could not be buried in the local Catholic cemetery, next to St Peter's Church, Diocese of Berhampur.

In accordance with established COVID-19 guidelines, a public official contacted the woman's son, who was confined at his home in quarantine and was therefore unable to obtain permission from the local priest, Father Valentine Uttansingh, to bury his mother at the local Catholic cemetery.

Contacted by the village catechist, the priest said that the cemetery was running out of space, and that the ground in the cemetery was sandy and the soil was eroding. Hence, the official suggested to the woman’s son that she be buried elsewhere and he accepted.

However, Hindu residents in the village refused to allow the woman’s remains to pass through the village. So in the end, Manjula Beero’s son Rajanikanth decided to bury his mother at their house.

For the family, the sad part of the story is the fact that Church authorities had allowed four local people who died from COVID-19 in the last two weeks to be buried in the local cemetery abiding by the rules.

Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), strongly condemned the denial of a Catholic burial; in his view, the dead woman’s religious and human rights were denied.

“The denial of the Catholic burial rite offends the religious feelings of a family already hurting,” he said. “The government allows the burial of Christian and Muslim victims of COVID-19 and the High Court of Bombay has also enshrined that right.”

What is more, “The Archdiocese of Hyderabad has issued new guidelines stressing that bodies must be sealed in a leak-proof zip bag before they are placed inside a coffin. The grave must be sanitised after the coffin is placed into the ground.”

Meanwhile, despite international aid, COVID-19 patients continue to die in hospital from lack of oxygen. The Medical College & Hospital, a government-run facility in Bambolin (Goa), saw three consecutive days of higher than normal deaths (62) caused by the lack of oxygen supplies.

The High Court at Goa intervened in the matter with a stern warning to the state government. “Statistics show that deaths are happening due to lack of oxygen. Do not try to deny the fact. We are aware that the issue has not yet been sorted out yet.”

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