‘Resting in peace’ can be expensive in Kerala

By Sanu George, IANS,

Thiruvananthapuram : Soaring real estate prices have made the cost of tombs in graveyards and vaults in churches skyrocket, ensuring that Kerala Christians who ‘rest in peace’ shall unfortunately do so at a hefty price.

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The price of the common vault for some churches in Kerala was Rs.10,000 five years ago and the church wanted to increase it to Rs.25,000, which was strongly opposed.

At a general body meeting of a prominent Syrian Orthodox Church here it was only after a heated discussion that the price of using a vault was fixed at Rs.15,000.

“Mind you Rs.15,000 is for a common vault and it would be used again and again. In case you want a family vault where only your family members would be kept, you have to shell out Rs.2 lakh,” said a member of the church who had initially decided to buy a vault but later backed out after hearing of the exorbitant cost.

This church is now planning to build more than a 100 vaults and work will soon begin once the committee decides to clear the proposal.

A vault made of bricks and concrete looks much like a bank locker which stands upright in a church cemetery. Each vault measures less than three feet in width and more than seven feet in length. Each time a vault is opened for re-use whatever remains are there get pushed into a common pit more than 30 feet deep.

Those who have their own tombs in graveyards, thanks to their ancestors, are more fortunate.

“I shudder to think what would have happened had we not had a family tomb that we inherited. Our tomb was given free by our church to my father’s grandfather more than 115 years ago because he had given the land to construct the church free of cost,” said Mathew Roy, 45, who resides near Kottayam.

Lack of space is the main reason for the price of vaults skyrocketing and while a tomb is bigger, it would cost about half a million rupees in the cities.

“Today it appears that many who wish to ‘rest in peace’ among their family members have to shell out a fortune. Hindus are lucky because now electric crematoriums do not cost much,” said Kurian Thomas, who has returned after a two-decade stint in the Middle East.

Kiran Abraham, a Roman Catholic who hails from Kanjirapally, said the church to which he belongs comprises more than 600 families and there are around 200 families who have their own family tombs, while the rest use the common vaults.

“Five years ago a tomb would have cost Rs.5,000 and today it is more than Rs.40,000. And for those who use the common vault it is free. My advice to those who want a family tomb is to buy at the earliest because the price of the tomb is directly related to the soaring real estate price in the state,” said Jose.

Spokesperson of Syro Malabar Church Paul Thelekkat admitted that this was a growing concern, especially among the middle class and lower middle class sections. Around 23 percent of Kerala’s 32 million population is Christian.

“We have now asked that churches should stop selling tombs and vaults to families and instead ask people to opt for a common one, but this being a touchy affair, we are not sure how people will take it,” Thelekkat said.

“In Europe, I myself have conducted a cremation service for Catholics and one of the main reasons why many in the West opt for cremation is because of the exorbitant costs involved in burial,” Thelekkat said.

George Tharakan, 89, who lives in Kochi, said: “I think I will have to opt for a cremation because I don’t want to bother my daughter to buy us a family vault.”

(Sanu George can be contacted at [email protected])