In a shocking incident that has recently come to light, a civic body in Odisha — Kendrapada Minicipality — is reported to be operating a crematorium in which bodies of only members of the Brahmin community are cremated.
The 155-year-old municipality, the oldest civic body in the entire eastern state, has even put up a ‘Brahmin crematorium’ notice at the entrance of the burning ghat, which is situated in the town’s Hazaribagicha locality.
According to local sources, although the crematorium has been used for performing the last rites of Brahmins for a long time, the official signage was only recently put up; this was after the renovation of the facility with government grants.
The sources said that people from other castes cremate their kin at a crematorium located nearby; it was also renovated in the recent haul-up, according to them.
Prafulla Chandra Biswal, Executive Officer of Kendrapara Municipality, said, “Yes, the issue has come to our notice, and we are looking into it. Steps will be taken to set right the alleged caste discrimination.”
The move has drawn criticism from political leaders and Dalit rights activists.
“I was shocked to know that the municipality has been maintaining a crematorium only for Brahmins for a long time. By doing so, the government body is breaking the law and promoting caste discrimination. This practice should be put to an end at the earliest,” said Nagendra Jena, district unit president of Odisha Dalit Samaj.
Gayadhar Dhal, CPI(M) district unit secretary, said that it is illegal for a civic body to run a crematorium exclusively for Brahmins. He said that people of other castes should also have the right to perform the last rites of their dear ones at the same cremation ground.
A ‘Brahmins only’ crematorium violates the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution to people of all castes. “Allocating a separate cremation ground for Brahmins amounts to encouraging caste inequality,” he added.
According to Bhaskar Mishra, a researcher on the ‘Jagannath culture’, “While the Kendrapara Municipality has been running a separate crematorium for Brahmins, no such discrimination is witnessed at Puri’s sacred ‘Swagra Dwar’ burning ghat, which literally means ‘gateway to heaven’, where people of all castes are cremated.”
He added, “It is believed that cremation at ‘Swarga Dwar’ ensures a place in heaven. The burning ghat runs on Shri Jagannath’s ideology, wherein there is no place for discrimination among castes.”
According to Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, the state shall not deny equality to any person before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. Article 15 prohibits the state from discriminating against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth.
Article 17 states that untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The ‘Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955’ was the first Indian law that came into force to provide punishment for the preaching and practice of ‘Untouchability’ and for any matter connected with it.
In 1989, the Government of India enacted ‘the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act’, which recognised various kinds of acts of violence and discrimination inflicted upon the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes by non-scheduled castes and non-scheduled tribes as punishable offences. It also provides for provision of special courts at the district level to try the offences under this Act.