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The die is cast(e)

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The marital vow says man and wife would remain wedded to each other “till death do us part”. That may have to be rephrased if...

The marital vow says man and wife would remain wedded to each other “till death do us part”. That may have to be rephrased if Rajasthan’s desert town Jaisalmer is able, or allowed by the State government, to perpetuate caste and community of its people even after their death. A Government agency for urban affairs in the western Rajasthan district is reported to have sanctioned separate and clearly marked cremation grounds for different castes and communities. The Urban Improvement Trust (UIT) proposes to develop 47 crematoriums, and sanctioned Rs. 5 crores for the project.

The amount is mere peanuts when viewed against the background of the nature and size of the project. In life many castes are discriminated against in all matters like drawing water from the common village well and, in some cases, even segregated, and thus forced to live in their own ghettos. If at least in death they can be together with members of their respective castes, they could not ask for more! That the project is to be launched on the eve of elections to the State Assembly is neither here nor there.

What if they got nothing in life? If they are assured of togetherness in death, members of every caste and community would probably believe that they have earned credits negotiable in the other world. Moreover, “post-death apartheid” is not new to the town. There are already separate cremation grounds for different communities like bissa and maheshwari. Several makeshift grounds have been developed by a few other communities.

Indeed, after tenders were invited by the UIT through advertisements in local newspapers, public representatives reportedly brought to the notice of authorities that three or four communities had been left out. The authorities have since accommodated them also in the scheme for crematoriums. One official has reportedly explained that the practice of cremating people in “their caste grounds” has existed since Jaisalmer was a princely State, and even today these crematoriums are registered in government records.

Even Indians with a modern outlook would not be able to deny that the project shows the government’s concern for people even after their death. It is based on the logic that it is not only man and wife who wish to be together till death parts them; every man and woman wants to be with members of his/her caste even after death. After all, having abided one another in life, they cannot bear to be separated after death, can they? Yes, some persons have warned that such an action by a government agency would violate the Constitution and scientific temper that it seeks to promote, but that reckons without the “herd mentality” that characterizes every caste and community in India.

Rationalists like Rajiv Gupta, former head of Sociology Department of Rajasthan University, may argue that when one is born one’s caste identity is established, but it is irrational to think that the dead body of a person also carries the stamp of his/her caste/community. That is, of course, a very vital question but one that needs to be posed to the khap panchayats which swear by caste. If a government that has failed to do much for different castes and communities in spite of their having voted overwhelmingly for it tries to salve its conscience by providing for their after-life, nobody can crib about it!
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