Meghalaya: Members of Niam Khasi faith win cremation rights and a crematorium

“No person can practice religion or become spiritual, until and unless he or she becomes a good human. Humanity comes first then religion,” the court observed in its judgement

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media
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Ashutosh Sharma

In a major relief to the members of indigenous faith Niam Khasi, the Meghalaya High Court has upheld their traditional cremation rights and ordered construction of a crematorium for the deceased members of the community in Mylliem village in East Khasi Hills of the Christian majority state.

The residents of Mylliem belonging to Niam Khasi religious faith had been facing great difficulty in cremating the dead in the absence of a cremation ground and cremation facilities.

“The village authorities and other village people did not allow the cremation (of deceased community members) and the dead bodies had to be taken to some other place at a considerable distance to complete the last rites. In the past, at least six families of the community even buried their dead instead of cremating,” the petition claimed, adding that right to dispose of the dead bodies in a particular manner with particular rites in consecrated places is part and parcel of a religion protected in the penumbra of the right to profess and practice religion.

Members of the community had approached the High Court after some members of the Christian community forcibly drove them out of the cremation ground along with a dead body, on September 24, last year. The matter was brought to the notice of the police and an FIR was filed but the police failed to take any action.

During the course of proceedings before the high court bench presided by Justice SR Sen, Deputy Commissioner East Khasi Hills district, Shillong, reported that the matter has been settled between the parties amicably and a suitable site had been provided for the cremation ground.

Nevertheless, the court disagreed with one clause in the settlement agreement that the crematorium shall be used for the purpose of cremation of only the deceased members of the community. “It is directed that anybody belonging to the indigenous faith and from any locality who needs to use the crematorium, can use it,” the judgement read.

“No person can practice religion or become spiritual, until and unless he or she becomes a good human being because humanity comes first, then religion,” the court observed in the judgement.

The Judge further observed that it is very sad that even after death, “we are fighting over our faith, caste and religion. Do the people of this country want to say that after death, somebody will go to heaven or somebody will go to hell; nobody knows that. My humble belief is that there are not two or three Gods, God is only one”.

Citing another example, the court held that “if the blood of a Khasi, Bengali and Nepali or any other person is mixed together, no science has established any methodology to distinguish the blood whether it belongs to a Khasi, a Bengali or a Nepali and it is an undisputed fact that the blood of all human beings is red, no matter what faith, caste or religion he or she belongs to, so why so much difference.”

The court observed that it is high time that society should wake up and the time has come to make the people aware about their fundamental duties, specifically, clause h of Article 51A which speaks about humanity.

The court also imposed a cost of ₹1 lakh on some members of the Christian community for “disrespecting” the Constitution of India.

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