Hyderabad: Even a six-foot-long land for a grave has become too much to ask for in Hyderabad. It is well-known that the rising population in the city has led to spaces getting constricted and pricier. While the living has to hustle and bear with it, the dead are left with no place to rest in the city.
Reverend Sundar Mallavarapu, a former parish priest at Mount Carmel Church Bowenpally, had seen this problem one too many times to ignore it any further. To a mourning family, the difficulty involved in finding a grave is huge, especially in urban spaces. “One of the main situations that the Catholic community faces now is that people have migrated from villages and settled in cities. These people don’t have family graves now, and when they should be mourning, they are desperately knocking doors for space to bury their loved ones. We have filled up graves that are over 100 years old, and now, we don’t have space for the dying,” says Sundar.
A solution that he found for this crisis was leasing out old graves. Graves have been leased out before in the Catholic Cemetery in Narayanguda, a first-of-its-kind in the city. Now, Mount Carmel Church in New Bowenpally is soon to follow suit. “When the situation arises, the close ones of the bereaved may approach the priest here. We have allotted 35 spots to be given on lease, and one of those graves will be given for 4-5 years,” said the reverend.
What about the remains of the person whose grave it originally was? That can also be resolved, says Sundar, by relocating the remains to “niches”, a vault made on a wall usually meant for memorials. “When the next person comes, we will remove the remains and transfer them respectfully into these niches. They can keep the plaque in the niche with the details of the person who is buried,” he adds.
Money-wise, the church is not keen on charging a hefty sum from the bereaved. “We just charge for the labour done by those who dig the grave. Also, we charge a sum for the maintenance work done by the church, usually ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500. However, we insist on considering the situation and background of the bereaved and their close ones, and won’t charge for those who can’t afford it,” said Sundar.
This practice of leasing out graves is not novel. It is extensively followed in Western countries and also in Mumbai, Goa, and Kerala, where population density has led to a lack of spaces. As of now, the reaction of Catholic Christians to it has been lukewarm. A community that is used to having a permanent space for their special ones is forced to adjust due to space crunch in the city. Reverend Sundar opines that they are not mentally prepared for this yet, but now since the situation has come up, there is not much that can be done. It goes without saying that rapid urbanisation and migration is bound to unleash similar systemic problems in future for other communities as well.