The dying business

When you drive through the MRR2 heading to Sungei Besi, you will probably notice the infinite number of Chinese graves on the side of the highway. You would think, how so well-planned having adequate space for a highway besides a cemetery the size of a town. It surprises me that most drivers are surprised to be told that they are in actual fact driving on what was part of the cemetery.

As land use becomes more intensive and extensive – accelerated by a Malaysian notion of building roads and buildings irrespective of need – more graves will have to go.

In Semenyih as of late 2007 grave plots of 216sq ft are raking in about RM42,800 each. While at the Penang Island Catholic Cemetery things stay at a modest RM1,500.

These figures make me glad for my cremation. But dying in Malaysia is not a dying business.

Reading, even in Sarawak they have land scarcity for development. It is a large state, more than the Peninsula in size, but when it comes to land use – strategic spots lead demand, not availability.

Look at the property market, and you can see the inner cities and suburbs are reaching peak development, so the quandary is – do we sacrifice burial grounds for development?

Rephrase it – are you ok with no burial grounds within city limits?

The problem of land

Any state will have space for burials, just not the ideal spot everyone intends to be buried on. I recollect the grave plot adverts in Tokyo trains. In a country with 7% arable land, burial grounds are always at a premium.

The Klang Valley debacle is double layered- on deciding if burial can be sequestered and making that comparison based whether it is a Muslim or non-Muslim plot. The adjoining problem is of the issuing of new burial areas.

Taking away land

We have to decided whether land use should be practical or do our discourses allow for emotive persuasions.

Cemeteries are not really commercially attractive, unless of course if we price them commercially – factor the plot at current market price for freehold lease. However states would be tempted to place taxation on the land since, it is not going to be transacted anymore after it is purchased.

But a Malaysian population would go agog if we go down this path now.

So what do we do with cemeteries that hold people who are not interested in them – literally?

There is a slight double-standard where authorities pursue non-muslim burial grounds. Many claim that Muslim cemeteries are off-bounds.

‘What is good for goose is not good enough for the gander?’

The state has to streamline its views on cemeteries sitting on prime land and not differ on the basis of faith. There cannot be a basis that one dead body is better than another.

The notion that most non-Muslims are open to cremation through their faith or personal belief does not remove the rights of those who do want to be buried – whence some of their fellow citizens are allowed to.

There has to be parity in the issue, and the state must adjudicate fairly.

Because the issue of relocating bodies is highly contentious for all groups.

Therefore, and in lieu of political developments in the country – where political parties trample on minorities and risk severe repercussions – governments, state or federal cannot afford to trivialise the matter.

It is a matter that affects all so most of society should be involved in the prescribing of a solution. Not in typical backroom discussions of the incumbent government. Your electorate is too vocal now for decisions to be made without its tacit involvement.

The interest of developers and the community’s attachment to these revered plots must be factored and a meeting must be facilitated by the state. The centralised nature of Malaysia must change if there is ever going to be acceptable solution to tacky problems.

New plots

People don’t stop dying despite the population density in cities, and plugging for a solution is key.

The trend is to look for Muslim plots in new developments and to keep the Muslim plots in the city area despite any development.

DBKL’s plans for KL in terms of cemeteries: presently there are 21 Muslim venues with a 69.58 hectares average and 16 for the rest which average at 231.96 hectares. The city plan for 2020 will have the development of 6 new Muslim sites with 21.67 hectare average, and a single one for others in the relatively smaller size of 7.87 hectares. And this does not factor the ‘filled-up’ rates of these old non-Muslim cemeteries since they have been about for more than a century and the erosion of space to other developments.

For the non-Muslims it is the shrinking of their acreage in the city and the promise of new space in the suburban or even fringe localities like Semenyih and Nilai.

The concept of multi-denominational cemeteries is unpalatable to many, even if there are no scriptural requirements opposing people sharing burial space for both Muslims and Christians – so why not?

It seems there is far more concern in zoning non-Muslim cemeteries away from residential zones, and being quite lax with Muslim cemeteries adjacent to mosques – like in Kota Kemuning.

Summary

The issue is far from having a resolution. If anything it is stuck in reverse mode.

The issue of old cemeteries in prime zones and new cemeteries for new development are all about accepting parity in the issue and then seeking just solutions with everyone’s interest equally weighed.

The theme is the same – the need to talk and resolve. The issue however is urgent. And it is test for all governments including the Pakatan ones – as land is primarily a state issue.

It cannot be a piecemeal strategy, there has to be a principle determined by the dialogue exercise. The actual solutions may be piecemeals in accordance or trying to adhere to the principle.

The principle must go in the line of, in the Federation of Malaysia, we respect the dead.

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