Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mala Jewish Cemetery To Make Way For Congress Memorial

By Bala Menon

The centuries-old Jewish Cemetery in the town of  Mala, some 53 km north of Cochin (Kochi),  is slated for demolition, under pressure from the local Congress representative in the Kerala Assembly T.N. Prathapan, the online newspaper Marunaadan Malayali has reported. The plan is to build a memorial for former Congress chief minister K. Karunakaran. The cemetery is located in the heart of the town's upscale residential area.

The Mala Jewish Cemetery - the sign says Mr. Karunakaran is the Member of Parliament for Mala.
It was in 1955 that the entire Mala congregation emigrated to Israel, leaving the synagogue and the cemetery in the hands of the local panchayat (ruling body). The conditions of the transfer deed was that the properties could not be sold or altered. It was agreed that the synagogue could be used as a community meeting place for the residents of Mala, but that the sanctity of the cemetery be preserved. It is said that there are more than a hundred graves in the cemetery. Three tombs are visible and stands above ground.
A plaque on the cemetery wall, handing over the propery - dated April 01, 1955.
(Mala was one of the towns that the Jews sought refuge after being driven out from Kodungalloor by the Portuguese in the early 16th century.)

In clear violation of legal and binding documents, local Congress leaders first encroached on the 4-acre burial ground carving out one and half acres for a park and soccer field. One of the clauses in the title deed reads:"…there will be no trespass or molestation of the tombs. Nor shall any portion of the cemetery be dug or unearthed. The compound wall bounding the cemetery on all sides and the gate in it shall be preserved…"

The process began in 1994, but the Jews of Ernakulam heard about the plan and approached the Kerala High Court which granted a stay on all construction until 2005. However, the local governing body went ahead and constructed an open-air stage. Neither the Jews from the Mala congregation in Israel and the Jews in Ernakulam knew anything about this event until later.

The new plan, recently launched by MLA Prathapan and his supporters is to use the remaining 2 1/2 acres of land to build a memorial for  Karunakaran, who died on December 23, 2010. (Karunakaran was born in Mala in 1918 and represented the constituency for many terms.)
Workers and equipment on the cemetery grounds. - Pic: Marunadan Malayali.

The project - which has already commenced - calls for $2 million to be invested first in a Karunakaran Sports Academy in the cemetery. Two Ernakulam Jews Dan Elias and Aby Abraham have now approached the High Court again asking for an injunction against to all construction. The project also calls for the construction of a shopping complex and washroom facilities on the cemetery grounds.

Several residents in Mala and the town of Kodungalloor (the ancient Shingly of the Cochin Jews) have also banded together to oppose the project, saying it is a desecration and a move to erase an important part of Kerala history. It is also ironic that the project is being pushed through in total contradiction to the international publicity being given by the Kerala government to the Muziris and the Spice Route projects, it has been pointed out.

Mala was one among the eight major congregations of the Cochin Jews - the other seven being Chennamangalam, Paravur, two in Ernakulam and three in Mattancherry (including the Paradesi).

1 comment:

  1. The local Congress representative in the Kerala Assembly T.N. Prathapan, should understand the sentiments of the families of those who lie there, and should in no way think of creating a memorial for his excellency late Mr karunakaran on a cemetry land and also a playground there .he should immediately stop all this and abide by the rules laid down in the constitution of India..There is no where in the world where this sort of land grabbing is done .I feel the authorities there will take note of this and stop all the illegal construction immediately..we all stand in support of the cochini jews..