for The Times of India on Aug. 6, 2011
BHUBANESWAR: After Jagannath temple, the Swargadwar crematorium in Puri is mired in controversy when an American tourist, who died on Wednesday, was denied cremation on Thursday.
Some local social activists forced the bereaved family of Carlos Nunez Mendez (50) to take back his body from Swargadwar on grounds that he was a non-Hindu. Carlos, whose last wish was to be cremated at Swargadwar, was buried at another place in Puri. He died of cancer at Puri. "As per tradition only Hindus should be cremated at Swargadwar. Carlos was a Christian," said Priyadarshan Pattnaik, convener of Jagannath Sena, a social outfit.
Rukmini Mandal, wife of Carlos said, "He is not Christian. He had converted to Gaudiya Vaishnav Sampraday long ago. He was a staunch believer of Jagannath." "Both of us married as per Hindu ritual nearly seven years ago and have a four-year-old son. This was unfair to prevent us from cremating his body at Swargadwar," said Rukmini, a Bengali woman. Some foreigners, who turned up to participate in the funeral rites of Carlos, urged the social activists to allow them to cremate his body. However, it failed to yield any positive result.
"We did not disrespect the body of Carlos and his family. We simply requested them to abide by Hindu tradition," Pattnaik said. "We took his body to another crematorium in Puri where he was buried with full respect," he added.
The incident reminded of the cremation of Hildegard Jacob (47), a German woman at Swargadwar in December 2004. Jacob, who had been residing in Puri, died of breast cancer. She too had wished to be cremated at the hallowed Swargadwar.
"There was absolutely no protest that time. We had informed the German Embassy, which asked the Puri police to provide security. Her mortal remains were consigned to flames smoothly at Swargadwar," said Yugabrata Kar, a Puri-based tour operator. "She was my guest. I arranged tour packages for her," Kar said.
Some Swargadwar functionaries said, "There were many instances in the past when we burnt the bodies of foreigners here. People should not raise a issue about someone's religion after the persons death."