Grave Problem: No land for the dead

Pointing to the irony of fate, noted poet Khumar Barabankvi wrote: Do gaz zameen mil hii gayi mujh gareeb ko, Marne ke baad main bhi zamindar ho gaya. The loose translation turns out as, “Two square yards of land at last this pauper has found/ It is after my death that I too have become a landlord.”

The couplet is a dark commentary of how the landless become landlords, but, only when they are buried in the dank grave. But while this may have been true many years ago, the grave reality is quite different now. It appears that very soon, the two square yards of land which Barabankvi, and also Bahadur Shah Zafar spoke of, will not be available unless things change fast.

There is undoubtedly shrinkage of grave space in the city. This has happened for a number of reasons. While some of these reasons can be controlled with concerted efforts, others not so much. One of the main factors leading to this stunting of grave space is the fact that there is little or no space left for expansion. The problem can soon turn acute. Most of the major graveyards, usually associated with a dargah or a takia, were on the outskirts but are now, within the city limits. The spatial expansion of urban living spaces on account of an increased population has led to this.

Little wonder that burial grounds like the Shiite Daira Mir Momin, in the heart of Old City, among a couple of other Sunni institutions, in certain cases, have begun using the same grave to bury more than just one body. Instead of digging up a fresh grave, the term mutawallis (managers) of these graveyards now, use is “reopening”.

As the term suggests, the grave is opened up and reused for the recently deceased. A time period of a few years has been prescribed so as to allow the existing body to fully decompose. The reason for this multilayered burial is the fact that “one body, one grave” is fast becoming a luxury. And if no solution is found, “layering” of bodies will soon be commonplace.

The other factor is the skyrocketing of grave space prices. Those in the know point out that the charges for a six feet by three feet grave range from a few thousand to as much as a staggering Rs 1.5 lakh – a sum of money, most of which is pocketed by the mutawalli. In fact, in the interest of the general public, a petition was filed at the high court of undivided Andhra Pradesh in 2012 with a prayer to give an appropriate order on the ‘atrocious’ charges. However, the practice by a few unscrupulous mutawallis continues on account of weak wakf laws and the lack of monitoring.

Interestingly, on account of lack of grave space within the city, the concept of the ‘haadwaad’, a burial ground exclusively for members of a family, is reemerging after decades. There have been around half a dozen instances in the recent past when Muslim families of considerable social standing have bought small plots of land both inside and outside the city, which will soon serve as their final resting place.

It appears that there are broadly three options left for the community. One: Accept the multi-level approach. Two: Move to graveyards outside the city. Three: Buy a plot of land which will serve as a ‘haadwaad’. The first option is likely to encounter stiff resistance on account of theological and cultural reasons. It is a practice followed in Arab countries where, usually, the grave is unmarked and with no epitaph. The haadwaad may not be feasible as not all can afford it. The common man is unlikely to raise enough funds to buy a plot of land. A burial space outside the city seems a plausible solution. But this requires the government’s will, intervention and political lobbying.

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