A recent incident in a village in the East Khasi Hills in Meghalaya, where local Christian residents allegedly refused to let a man be cremated according to traditional Khasi rituals, has drawn criticism from civil society organisations. People in Mylliem, a village close to Meghalaya’s capital Shillong, reportedly took to the streets to oppose the cremation.

The Thma U Rangli-Juki, a progressive people’s group from the state, condemned the opposition to the cremation in a press release. “It is incumbent on the Christian majority of Meghalaya that it does not behave in the same majoritarian ways as the Hindutva fascists are behaving in mainland India, Meghalaya may be a Christian majority state but it is not a ‘Christian State’,” said the group in a press release. “It is a state of (still) a secular republic called India. As a majority, Christians need to acknowledge and respect culture, faith and tradition of minorities of whichever persuasion they belong. We cannot let the virus of religious communal polarization spread in our society.”

The group claimed that it was not the first such instance of the Christian-majority population in the state refusing to give space for cremations, according to traditional Khasi rites. It said: “This was not an aberration. This has been happening in that area for the last 20 odd years. This climate of intolerance has meant that most adherents of Niam Khasi in this area have had no choice but to bury their dead going against their deeply held religious belief of Cremation.”

The headman of the village, however, told The Shillong Times that the dispute stemmed from an old agreement which stated that no cremation would take place in residential areas. The agreement was reportedly signed between the Seng Khasi and the local Dorbar Shnong in 2010.

Dorbar Shnongs are local governance bodies in Meghalaya, akin to panchayats. However, unlike the traditional village panchayats, their Constitutional status is dubious. The Panchayati Raj Act does not apply to Meghalaya.

The draft Village Administration Bill of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, which has sections on powers and functions of the Dorbar Shnong, is expected to make their role clearer, but the Bill is currently with the Union home ministry, pending approval.

The Seng Khasi is a religious socio-cultural organisation that represents Khasi people in Meghalaya who haven’t converted to Christianity, and still follow traditional Niam Khasi rituals. The Seng Khasi unit in Mylliem has alleged that they signed the agreement of 2010 under duress.

The cremation finally took place amid tight security on Friday.