By Dolphy A D’souza*
A human chain was organised on May 22 between 10.30 a.m and 11.30 a.m., where over 3000 citizens participated from all over Mumbai against the unjust demand of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation or BMC to demolish the Heritage Cross / Graveyard of the Heritage Church of Our Lady of Remedy which has a history of over 450 years. On one side the BMC because of a lack of governance and corruption has already disturbed the living, while on the other, they want to disturb the dead by demolishing the graveyard. We condemn this.
Brief details of the history, issue and why we are upset:
This has reference to the proposed demolition on 21st April 2016, whereby the local ward office (R South Ward) threatened the Parishioners of Our Lady of Remedy Church, Poisar, Kandivali (West), Mumbai 400 067, to demolish the Holy Cross inside the compound wall of Church and also construct road on the graves situated in the said compound. Our Lady of Remedy Church (Padroado Church built 1550). Our Lady of Remedy High School is one of the oldest schools in Kandivali West and was established in 1926.
At the very outset we wish to state we are extremely pained by the step motherly treatment meted by the successive State Governments including the Mumbai Municipal Corporation to the members of the Christian Community of Mumbai in general and the Parishioners of Our Lady of Remedy Church, Poisar in particular. The Mumbai Municipal Corporation is hell bent on trampling the rights of the minorities in the State, which are guaranteed under the Constitution of India.
We hereby record our displeasure that on 23rd February 2016, a chawl on the church’s property was demolished. Further, on 21st April 2016, the Sub-Engineer of the BMC came with officers and threatened the church employees. When the locals met the Assistant Municipal Commissioner R South Ward, he was adamant and told them no action will be taken till 26th April. We hereby state that the said heritage church has a heritage cemetery wherein there are the graves which are still active and cannot be dug up as per civic rules.
We also state that there is a religious sentiment as far as the dead are concerned in the graves and the bodies are semi-decomposed and desecrating and opening them on the intended road will disturb the religious sentiments of the families of the deceased and can give rise to law and order problem. Also currently the parishioners number 2800. There are at the moment approx 100 graves. If the unwarranted demolition is carried out the Church stands to lose almost 50 percent of the Graves which will leave hardly any burial place for the parishioners of the Church.
It is notable to observe that inspite of several agitations and protests in the past, the BMC has not been able to allot land and construct a Cemetry since the last 15 years on the western express highway for the Christian Community that numbers almost 3 lakhs. Time and again BMC has made promises but nothing concrete has happened. Hence the Christian community has to transport their beloved deceased members as far as Sewri / Sion/ Oshiwara for burial purposes putting them to tremendous hardships and expense while they are grieving for their departed. That shows BMC’s callous attitude towards the Christian minorities.
The said Church has already been included in the proposed heritage Category II A List published by Mumbai Municipal Corporation.
We submit that, the said Church along with the Holy Cross would qualify to fall under the definition of the said ‘ancient monuments” as defined in Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 and thus need to be preserved and protected.As per the Development Control Regulations for Greater Mumbai, 1995, particularly, the Heritage Regulations for Greater Bombay, 1995 framed under Regulation No.67, lists some of the Churches in Grade II A of the Heritage Regulation and contribute to the image and identity of the City.
We further learn that many builders in the city who are seeking to develop the properties in vicinity of religious structures in BMC are finding it difficult to remove the said religious structures on the road/footpath, including to the Holy Crosses, are now conniving with the officer of BMC and are hell bent on removal of such religious structures. Why we say because even in case of Our Lady of Remedy Church is not an exception to this unholy nexus between BMC and the builder. There is Tower consisting of 32 storey constructed very close to the church and there are no flat purchasers for the said building and the said building is lying mostly vacant due to the fact of narrow passage which leads to the said building. As such the flat purchasers are shying away from buying any flats in the said building. Therefore it is apparently clear at whose instance the BMC is acting in the matter to widen the SV Road in front the church.
We do mention of the fact the hutments near Raghuleela Mall, Kandivali and S.V. NL High School, Malad, which are very close to the said Church and which encroaches on the road are causing hindrance to the smooth flow of the traffic have been spared since the slum dwellers constitute the vote banks, however the church is being unnecessarily being targeted by BMC at the alleged instance of the builder.
The Constitution has made provisions for the Fundamental Rights in Part III, which the State has to comply with and these are also judicially enforceable. The various Articles of the Constitution providing rights to the minorities, clearly and firmly point out to only one direction: that of a multi-religious, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-racial Indian society, interwoven into an innate unity by the common thread of national integration and communal harmony. The principle of non-discrimination and the concept of common citizenship are enshrined in all provisions of the Indian Constitution.
The Mumbai Christians just want a fair system to fulfill their basic needs and a chance to live an honourable life which can only be provided by the institutionalisation of minority rights in general and those of the Christian minority in particular for long ignored by the powers that be.
Therefore any attempt to demolish the graves and Holy Cross would amount to defiling the religious sanctity of the Holy Place and hurt the religious sentiments of the Christian community and as such the BMC should come up with some alternatives so that no law and order situation arises.
*Spokesperson, Save Our Land [SOUL] Team