New Delhi: Smt Draupadi Murmu is all set to become Bharat’s youngest and 15th Rashtrapati. She would be the first tribal politician and the second woman to hold that office in India’s history. When the discussion is about a person from a marginalised Scheduled Tribe community occupying the Rashtrapati Bhawan, it is worth recalling an RTI involving former President K R Narayanan, who allegedly hid his religious identity to establish a false claim- India’s first Dalit President.
When Shri Ram Nath Kovind was elected as the 14th President of India, the media reports hailed him as the second president belonging to the Scheduled Caste community. For popular media, K R Narayanan was the first president of India from a Dalit community.
Kocheril Raman Narayanan was a diplomat and politician who served as the tenth president of India (1997–2002) and ninth vice president of India (1992–1997). Born in Kerala’s Kottayam district, Narayanan was elected as vice president in 1992 and President in 1997. He was said to be the first person from the Dalit community to hold either post.
However, there is compelling evidence to substantiate that this popular belief is far from the truth. As per the law of the land, one cannot claim to be a Scheduled Caste status if he or she was already converted to any Abrahamic religion. Dalits who convert to Christianity are no longer Dalits.
Strange though it may seem, in the heart of New Delhi, a Christian cemetery maintains a tomb in the name of the same former President of India! K R Narayanan’s grave can be found in Delhi Christian Cemetery, near Prithviraj Road, New Delhi. The epitaph on the gravestone reads: “KR Narayanan, a gentle colossus Former President of India (1997-2002)”. An Ashok Stambh, the Lion Capital of Ashoka, is engraved on the gravestone.
Tale of two tombs: How did K R Narayanan get a Christian burial if he was a Dalit Hindu?
According to a report, dated November 10, 2005, in The Times of India, KR Narayanan was cremated on the bank of Yamuna. “The last rites were performed by Dr S Ramachandran, his nephew, at a spot between ‘Shanti Van’, the memorial of Jawaharlal Nehru, and ‘Vijay Ghat’, that of Lal Bahadur Shastri”. The Sannyasins of Santigiri Ashram, who conducted the last rites of KR Narayanan in 2005, reaffirmed that his last rites were performed according to Hindu customs on the bank of Yamuna. However, The Times of India reported that his funeral was amid chanting of prayers of all religions.
According to the Christian Canonical laws, a non-Christian cannot be given a Christian burial. Only those who were baptised can be given a Christian burial. According to the secretary of the Delhi Cemeteries Committee, the mortal remains of Narayanan were brought to the Cemetery in 2008, at the time of the burial of his wife Usha Narayanan.
In 2017, following a controversy, Narayanan’s daughters Chitra and Amrita Narayanan, in a statement to The Indian Express, said: “K R Narayanan was a Hindu and respected equally all religions”. But, according to J Rebello, chairman of Delhi Cemeteries Committee, the cemetery “does not bury non-Christians”. Acknowledging that he had been getting repeated phone calls inquiring about Narayanan’s religion, he said, “I do not know if K R Narayanan was a Christian or not. At the time of his wife’s burial, someone had brought the ashes and claimed that he was a Christian, not a Catholic.”
The post-mortal journey of former Indian President from Ekta Stal (now Rashtriya Smriti) to a Christian Cemetery
Further investigation revealed that the cemetery supervisor also confirmed that the mortal remains of the former President was brought to the cemetery in 2008. They were buried there, and a tomb was erected in the name of the former President, resting next to his wife Usha Narayanan (born as Tint Tint in Myanmar), who was a Christian believer. The VHP leaders like Ashok Singhal had often alleged that KR Narayanan was a Hindu only on papers.
Quoting an interview given to the Rediff, the Frontline Magazine dated Nov. 1 – 14, 1997 has accused former VHP president Ashok Singhal of levelling false allegations against KR Narayanan, the then president-elect. “Narayanan is a Dalit Hindu only on paper. His bent of mind, philosophy of life and his life-long activities are all distinctly anti-Hindu.” The evidence? His Burmese-origin wife, Usha Narayanan, who the VHP claims was a Christian who changed her name. Papers that purport to show that the President’s parents had longstanding contact with Christian groups in their home district of Kottayam, Kerala. And the claim that Narayanan, who rose from humble origins, received financial aid from missionary organisations to study for his bachelor’s degree,” thus went on the article. Now, what supplementary evidence is needed for the Frontline to establish that the allegations of Ashok Singhal are not baseless?
The guidelines inscribed in the front of the cemetery itself clearly suggest that “This is a sacred place for Christian burials only”! So the Church allows or conducts the burial of the mortal remains of a baptised man or woman only. And it must have been followed by the Christian rituals and practices which are not supposed to give to non-Christians. If K R Narayanan was a Hindu, as claimed by his family members, then on what religious ground a Hindu was given a Christian burial, violating the ‘eternal’ and unbending canonic rules of the Church.
There are umpteen incidents wherein the Church denied Christian burial to many born Christians, including celebrities. For instance, the Church denied permission for the funeral of Mary John, the grandmother of famous actress Priyanka Chopra. According to a Times of India report dated January 27, 2017, Mary John, a Christian from Kerala, had always expressed a desire to be buried at the St John’s Attamangalam Church in her hometown, Kumarakom. However, the church authorities denied permission for the funeral on the grounds that she had married a Hindu!
If it was a handiwork of the Church, against the will of KR Narayanan, then it is another conspiracy of the Church whose motives and objectives have yet to be unveiled. A question looms large over the Church: was it a ploy to raise a political claim over ‘India’s first Christian President, stating, “Here sleeps India’s first Christian President?”
RTI reply from President’s Secretariat
Four queries, including those related to the caste and religion of the former President, were asked to the President’s Secretariat, under the RTI act in 2017. They are:
1, Whether Late Sh. K. R. Narayanan, during his term in office as the President of India, was a Dalit or a Christian?
2. Where is the official resting place of the former President of India Sh. K.R. Narayanan?
3. Whether the mortal remains, such as ashes or bones of former President of India Sh. K.R. Narayanan were buried in a Christian Cemetery in New Delhi after the official cremation? If Yes, was it with the consent of either Government of India or President’s Secretariat and who sought the consent?
4. Is there any Will by Shri K.R. Narayanan? If Yes, is it a public document? “Cremated or buried?”
However, the President’s Secretariat refused to answer these questions. They chose to return the RTI queries unanswered. With the President’s Secretariat refusing to confirm if K R Narayanan was a Dalit or Christian, the crucial question remains unanswered till now!