Who Is Human And Who Is Right?
“We’ve been denied our basic human right: to bury our dead in peace. Can’t Christians even rest in peace?” said Mr CB Gahatraj, Member of Christian Advisory Committee for new Constitution in Nepal. The “Coffin protest” deadlock is shows no sign of going away. Hundreds of Christians under the leadership of their religious leaders and human right activists continue to stage hunger strikes in the heart of Kathmandu, with empty coffins.
The crisis started in December last year, when a ban was imposed by Pashupati Area Development Trust, the government authority responsible for the maintenance of the world-famous pilgrimage place Pashupati Kshetra (Sleshmantak Van). This ban prevents public from burying their dead in Pashupati Kshetra. The number of Christian converts is increasing rapidly in Kathmandu, since the late nineties. Christians started burying their dead in the Pashupati area around April 1990. According to Narottam Vaidya, Treasurer, Pashupati Trust, in the last four years the Christian graves (in the Van) have multiplied by thousands.
There is no exact solution to social problems. Social problem is a by-product of instantaneous state of mind. Since, we know little about the dynamics of mind, it is difficult to address social problems in an amicable way. But, when one looks at the so-called human activists at coffin protest, one recollects John Orwell, “Now the institutions are acting as if their naming is diagonally opposite to what their act is.” The “Department of Peace” of the US is invading other countries with deadly weapons and creating chaos all over world. The communists (‘Non-Having’ Messiah’s) are killing poor farmers of Nandigram and Singur for big companies (Havings). It is no surprise that the “human rights activists at Kathmandu are shouting for the rights of dead”. Although, there is a little problem, if the so-called right of the dead inflict on the right of the living beings!
Eighteen years ago, a breakthrough research was carried out by Prof JFP Engelbrecht, Senior Scientist, Groundwater Programme CSIR, Stellenbosch, South Africa. His group had chosen a local municipal cemetery of Western Cape of Pretoria. Twenty-one well points were installed in the cemetery ground and one well point, far away from the cemetery ground, was used for sampling and quantifying the quality of groundwater. The data was collected 15 times, both during summer and winter. The sampled groundwater from certain well points in the cemetery was dark in colour and had an unpleasant, rotten odour. The groundwater was analysed for a range of chemical and microbiological parametres. The result of this pilot study showed an increase of colony forming unit (cfu) in sampled groundwater for all microbiological indicators used and that the groundwater in the cemetery is microbiologically extremely polluted, compared with the expected regional groundwater quality. It is worth noting that concentration of microorganisms in water is expressed in cfu units.
From the earlier studies by Prof S Bouwer in his book Groundwater Hydrology, published by McGraw Hill Inc, New York [page 423 (1978)], it is found that the human bodies self decomposes to generate poisonous fluid called leachate, that contains microorganisms which can contaminate groundwater. The pioneering work of Dutch scientist FWJ Van Haaren’s article in the prestigious international journal Water [Vol 35(16), page 167-172, (1951)] educates us that the human corpse takes nearly 10 years to complete self oxidation at a burial depth of 1-5m. Prof Pacheco and his group in the year 1991 revealed that the groundwater below cemeteries has a “nauseating smell” and loaded with photolytic and lipolytic bacteria. Prof Gregory and his group from British Geological Survey studied a graveyard in Wolver Hampton (Danes court) and found that groundwater was contaminated with bacteria—faecal streptococci, staphylococcus aureus, etc., to name a few. Prof Spongberg and Prof Becks while studying the groundwater quality under the cemeteries of Northern Ohio, found that these are also potential source of inorganic contamination. Potential contaminants include arsenic, mercury, formaldehyde, varnishes, sealers, preservatives, lead, zinc, copper and steel. Metal coffins could be responsible for this.
A similar study of Baheshte Zahra Cemetery at Tehran, Iran revealed the severe poisoning effect of cemeteries on groundwater. [See Chemistry and Chemical Engineering (ICCCE), page 414-418, (2010)]. Short-term impacts of burial grounds include problems such as noise, flies, odour, air pollution and unsightliness. Pollution of water and landfill gas generation are the long-term impacts. [See Dead in the Water by Prof JC Outfront (2005)].
This contaminated water is a potential source of the following diseases: cholera, hepatitis, heptospirosis, typhoid, paratyphoid, tularemia, amoebic dysentery, bacillary dysentery, gastroenteritis, ascariasis, conjunctivitis, leprosy, scabies, skin sepsis, ulcers, trachoma, schistosomiasis, malaria, onchocerciasis, sleeping sickness and yellow fever. If the balance between the body resistance in habitats and the concentration of microorganisms and chemical substances in groundwater get disrupted, due to some socio-economic-political dynamics serious problem for existence of human race in the cemetery area may be encountered.
Now the scientists are confident that due to contamination from cemeteries, higher incidence of typhoid fever was seen in people living near cemeteries in Berlin from 1863-1867. Looking back into history we can find that the Romans and Jews regarded cemeteries as hazardous and, therefore, established their graveyards far beyond city walls. In Asia and Africa also, the concern for sanitation influenced Egyptians and Chinese selection of place for cemeteries. Christians, however, used catacombs as mass graves and place of worship. They also used churches and churchyards to bury their dead. [See Encyclopedia Britannica, Embalming, Burial and Cremation; Macropaedia, Vol 6 (15/e), page 739, (1976)]. After the discovery of microbes by Louise Pasture and subsequent research it was found that the dead bodies are severely polluting the groundwater and soil, although the degree of pollution is inversely proportional to the distance from coffin [See WG Schraps, Mittcilungen Deutsche Bodenkundliche Gasellschaft, Vol 16, page 225-229, (1972)] and directly proportional to groundwater velocity [See JDM Abu-Ashour, JH Lee, HR Whiteley and L Zelin: Water, air and soil pollution, Wiley Inc, New York (1994)]. It is better to burn the dead body; else the burial grounds should be far away from the public place. The dead bodies thrown here and there during historic war periods were food for thousands of vulture-like species. But today, due to our human-centric attitude most of the wildlife is endangered.
It is worth noting that all the western nations have formulated a number of laws, which are subsequently amended as a result of new scientific developments. Even, the land of churches, Italy has revised a lot in relation to burial ground under Articles 82 and 83 of Decree No 295 of 1990. The hydrological characteristics of soil with regard to its ability to purify the contaminated fluid from corpse decomposition, its ability to avoid the infiltration of pollutants in groundwater and skeletonise buried corpses are taken into account while formulating the law. At this critical juncture faced by the historic civilisation around Kapilabastu (Nepal), stringent laws need to be formulated for burial grounds with a scientific spirit.
Everyday thousands of people come for pilgrimage to the Pashupatinath Temple. It is obvious that the water consumption is relatively more than other areas of this Himalayan Republic. The area which is being demanded by the “coffin protesters” is close to river Bagmati and only a half kilometre away from river Trishuli (nearly 40km long). It will be disastrous for the residents of central Nepal, if the land will be allowed for burial ground. The human rights of thousands of Nepalese, irrespective of their caste, creed and religion, will suffer a lot in the long run if any wrong decision is taken now by the government.
One recollects Comrade Mao Tse Tung’s last wish “Don’t bury my dead body, put it in fire”. Comrade Ho Chi Minh’s last wish too was to burn his dead body and throw the ashes in the cultivated land nearby. Their followers did the opposite! Their successor in Nepal, Comrade Rudra Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, is expected to support the decision of Pashupati Area Development Trust in the continuing political battle. Talks may be initiated between different political parties and Christian leaders for a new suitable place for burial ground, far away from people’s residence of Kathmandu. Peoples across the world sympathetic to human beings need to come forward to save the rights of human beings, denying the deadly rights of the coffins.
By Gourishankar Sahoo And Ranjan Pradhan