BANGKOK, Thailand -- Hindus and Christians in eastern India refused to allow the burial funeral of a woman who converted from Hinduism to Christianity, and her body remained in dispute until police found a neutral site on government property.

The confrontation is one of the latest in Hindu-majority India where Hindus suffer problems after converting to Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or other religions.

Kanti Lakra, 60, died of kidney failure on August 12 in a hospital in Hazaribagh, in eastern India's Jharkhand state, according to the Times of India.

Last Rites

She had converted from Hinduism to Christianity several years earlier because her husband, Shiv Prakash Ram, was Christian.

Ram wanted to bury her body according to Christian tradition in Kesura, their village near Hazaribagh.

But the family were the only Christians among the village's Hindus, and Ram could not find a local cemetery.

Distraught and grieving, Ram tried to dig a grave in their village's funeral "ghat" area, where Hindus build outdoor pyres to cremate their dead.

"We can't allow burial of a body in the burning ghat [area], although Ram could have carried out the last rites as per Hindu norms," said Balram Mahato, the village head, according to the Times of India.

The district superintendent of police confirmed to Ram that the ghats permitted only Hindu cremations, and suggested that Ram cremate his wife there.

Instead, Ram then tried to bury his wife's body in their own orchard, but Hindus again stopped him.

"The villagers refused to let Ram use his residential plot as a graveyard because the house has an old Shiva temple," a police source told the paper, referring to a shrine dedicated to the Hindu deity.

Police tried to negotiate with Hindus in the village to find a grave site for Ram's wife, but they failed.

Senior police and a magistrate also asked four churches in and around Hazaribagh -- including the Church of North India, Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Society Of God, and All God Church -- for space in their cemeteries.

All four churches refused because Ram's wife had converted to Christianity and had not been born a Christian, the Times of India reported.

Thirty-six hours after Ram's wife died, the local government administration found a plot on government land where he was allowed to bury his wife according to Christian rites on August 14, protected by a "strong police presence," the paper said.

Since ancient times, religious conversions have resulted in clashes which continue to disrupt India.

Hindus in some states have enabled "anti-conversion laws" to require, among other things, that people receive government permission before they can change their religion.

Critics say that inhibits religious freedom, and makes it more difficult for people to convert.

Increase in attacks

Hindus insist the laws are needed to stop what they describe as "forced conversions by fraudulent means" which induce impoverished, uneducated, desperate Hindus to become Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or other faiths.

Anti-Conversion Laws History


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

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Asia Correspondent


(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)