When a friend lost her parent recently, the first people she reached out to were neither her immediate family living far away from the city of her parents nor the neighbours and friends who were the support system for her parents.
As the only child, she turned to a local charity that handled the last rites for people who were unfamiliar with the procedures in a country that they had left years ago for the expat life.
Besides the statistical requirement of birth and death certificates, the end of a life calls for certain rituals that help console the bereaved.
I remember, despite my parents having lived almost continuously in Mumbai for over three decades, when my father passed away, we, the expat children too turned to the same last-rites charity for a humane and dignified farewell.
In Bahrain, the family of an expatriate who dies will require paperwork from his/her own government as well as the Bahrain government before last rites of any kind can be carried out.
Besides a death certificate from the Ministry of Health, duly registered at the concerned embassy, one also needs clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition, the immediate family back home needs to send a notarized waiver – at least in the case of Indian citizens – that allows the last rites to be carried out in Bahrain.
The process, despite its potential for red tape, is usually carried out with utmost respect by the Bahraini authorities – I remember a Ministry official pulled out on a Thursday evening to ratify a death certificate for a friend’s mother, expressing genuine sympathy and commiseration for her loss.
Which is why, I was surprised to read that a Bahrain councillor thought the Hindu crematorium in Askar, where last rites for Hindus are carried out, could be a place where “human bodies are being cremated without permission or monitoring or the presence of officials concerned.” He also painted a gory picture of the human remains of victims of crimes being burnt either after death or burnt alive.
Clearly, this gentleman knows zilch about the system because at the crematorium, you have to present all the paperwork before the body is cremated. It is an insult to the community to say that the crematorium can be used for criminal activities.
Let’s look at the second point: the option of disposing the dead in an electric medical waste disposal facility is insensitive. After all, we would never suggest burying the dead in a landfill, would we? A Hindu cremation is a sacred act of farewell and not just about disposing the dead body.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that times have changed. Both, the Hindu community, which is the one that uses the facility most, and the Southern Municipal Council, must work together to find a lasting solution that will answer the environmental concerns of the community, while continuing to offer the dignity of a final ceremony to the dead.
The Hindu community says that an electric crematorium is prohibitively expensive to manage since only about 25 bodies are cremated each year.
In that case, the government must help to underwrite the cost of a proper facility that meets all environmental and sociological challenges and get the Hindu community to manage it with a supporting fund. That would demonstrate the real spirit of harmony and understanding of the Bahrain we all respect and love.