KOTTAYAM Madhu Jyotsna Akhouri, formerly Mary John-- maternal grandmother of Bollywood queen Priyanka Chopra and a former member of Bihar Assembly as well as the wife of late Congress stalwart Dr Manohar Kishan Akhouri-- was hardly a household name in tourism hot-spot of Kumarakom up until her death. After she passed away aged 93 in Mumbai on June 3, a row erupted when it emerged that her last wish, which was to be buried at St John the Baptist Church at Attamangalam in Kumarakom, was denied by the parish authorities.
It made headlines after Priyanka expressed her disappointment and displeasure over the issue in a chat with the media.
Mary John belonged to Kavalapara family in Kumarakom and she had migrated to Bihar at the age of 20 to join a nursing course. Later following her marriage to Dr M K Akhouri, a former medic at Tata Main Hospital, Jamshedpur, and one-time Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president, she changed her name to Madhu Jyotsna Akhouri. Her relatives back home said even while Madhu Jyotsna was living in Bihar and engaged in public activities, including the freedom movement and later as an MLA, she was in constant touch with her family members in Kumarakom. Her last wish was to be buried at Attamangalam Church, where she had been baptised. She also wanted to have her final resting place among her near and dear, who were buried there. And this was what prompted her children,including Madhu Chopra (Priyanka’s mother),to contact the Church authorities through their relatives seeking permission for the same.
The family brought Madhu Jyotsna’s mortal remains to Kottayam on June 5, expecting the parish authorities to grant them the necessary permission. However, in an unfortunate turn of events, the Church Committee turned down the request of Madhu Jyotsna’s relatives and denied permission for her to be buried in its cemetery. Though, the relatives approached the top hierarchy of the Church, including Baselios Thomas I, Catholicos of the Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church in India and Bishop Thomas Mar Themothios, Head of Kottayam Diocese of the Church, the parish committee refused to budge. Later, following the intervention of Bishop Thomas Mar Themothios, the funeral was held at St Thomas Jacobite Church, Ponkunnam in Kottayam.
Interestingly, Attamangalam parish committee cited the reason that Madhu Jyotsna had ceased to be a member of the parish, after she married a man outside her religion.
“The rules of the Church clearly state that a person ceases to be a member of the parish, when that person engages in a marriage without the knowledge of the Church. In this case, she married a person outside our community as well. The parish committee held a detailed discussion on the request made by the deceased’s relatives and reached a conclusion that since she had not rejoined the Church when she was alive, we decided to turn down the application,” says Fr Simon Manuel, the priest of the Church. There would not have been any confusion had Madhu Jyotsna regularised her membership while she was alive, he adds.
According to Stephen J Bachen, a relative of Madhu Jyotsna, whatever might be the rules, the Church should have shown a humanitarian consideration to the deceased person.
“Though, she married a man outside the religio n she lived all her life as a Christian. She often visited her parish, whenever she came to Kerala. Moreover, she had spoken to the former priest and had expressed her last wish to him, during her final visit some two years ago. He also promised her that he would do the needful. Unfortunately, she could not submit a formal request in this regard, which was just a technicality,” he says.
Meanwhile, Bishop Themothios termed the incident inhuman and un-Christian. “Burying a deceased person is a sacred act as per the rules of the Church. However, citing reasons like marring a person belonging to another religion as an impediment for the burial is not human, which does not suit Christianity,” he says.
Madhu Jyotsna’s husband Dr M K Akohuri had passed away on January 28, 2010. He was a PCC president of Bihar in 1967. Akhouri took part in trade union activities and led a strike in seven engineering companies in the steel city demanding pay revision in the late 1960s. Madhu Chopra, mother of Priyanka Chopra, is their eldest daughter. They have four daughters and a son. All of them had come down here for the funeral of Madhu Jyotsna and the family returned home after the funeral.
The rule says it all
Mary John aka Madhu Jyotsna Akhouri’s last wish was to be buried at Attamangalam Church, where she had been baptised. This prompted her children to contact the Church authorities seeking permission for the same.
But, the parish authorities rejected the request citing church rules.