The Jewish Cemetery in Chennai, which has always remained in obscurity, is battling dog menace and trespassing by locals. The cemetery which houses less than 10 graves, has been under the care of a resident Jew, who has been maintaining it for many years now.
The decrepit lanes that crisscross the locality, leads one to a rusted gate. A plague carved on a wall is inscribed with the ‘Star of David’ and the words ‘Jewish Cemetery’.
Less than a dozen graves are housed here. The cemetery was initially in the Northern end of Mint Street, along with a synagogue which later made way for a school, and the cemetery was moved to Kasimedu. It was then shifted to its current location in 1983 on the land allotted by Port Trust. The last burial the cemetery has witnessed is that of Eileen Joshua, wife of Isaac Joshua, in 1997.
D Kumari, who has been maintaining the place, tells us that she has just cleared the place. “I burnt those tall grasses that made this place look like a forest,” she declares, shooing a couple of stray dogs that dart across the graves.
Kumari has been visiting the place ever since it was shifted to the current premises. Her mother was initially the caretaker. “Sir pays me whenever he visits the place. They are planning to build a compound wall to protect this place,” she says pointing to the missing wall. “Sometime people from the other cemetery use this place as a short-cut.”
‘Sir’ is one among the six Jews in the city and he requests anonymity. Another member of the community Davvid Levi, whose forefathers had initially come to India by 1700 from Portugal and were dealers in diamonds and corals, explains the neglect. “The maintenance is entirely on us. A few of the graves are 300 years old. About 25 tombstones were originally moved out of the first cemetery. When it was shifted again in 1983, 17 of them didn’t make it. Now, the remaining ones have to be guarded with great care. The star of David on one of the graves has been smeared with red paint,” he points out.
He says that as the community doesn’t have a representation, none of the authorities have been showing any concern. “We don’t even have a Jewish federation in TN. An MLA promised to trace the other missing graves. But it’s sad to see our legacy lying in neglect. If this apathy continues, I am considering shifting the graves of those from my family to Israel. We have been promised help there,” he adds. Tara Murali, co-convenor, INTACH- Chapter Chennai, says that the cemetery is a part of the city’s social fabric. “There has to be a recognition of it. The local community and the government should look at the historical significance and protect it,” she says.