PESHAWAR: Twenty-one-year old Raveena’s all efforts to come out of the profound sense of deprivation for not being able to get the desire of her nonagenarian grandfather fulfilled have badly failed.
The desire was buried in a graveyard in Peshawar’s Nothia Qadeem area along with her grandfather Surpanj Tulsidas on 20th January.
“Being a practicing Hindu, it was his [Tulsidas] desire to get cremated [a religious practice of Hindu community]. But we buried him instead.” Raveena tells the Peshawar Today.
The non-availability of crematorium, Shamshan Ghat, for Sikhs and Hindus in Peshawar left the family of Tulsidas with no other option but to bury him in a local graveyard
In Peshawar Hindu community, in gross violation of the injunctions of their faith, is forced to bury their deceased in local graveyards for so many years. But at least in the case of Tulsidas, Raveena and other local Hindus did not want to follow the suit. “He was our religious leader [at least his funeral rites should have been performed in accordance with the Hindu faith],” Raveena remarks.
The non-availability of crematorium, Shamshan Ghat, for Sikhs and Hindus in Peshawar left the family of Tulsidas with no other option but to bury him in a local graveyard.
The only nearby crematorium is on the bank of River Kabul in Attock district of the Punjab province, over 80 kilometres from Peshawar. At times it becomes impossible to afford the cost to shift the body of the deceased and transport the attendants of the funeral rites to the crematorium. “We wanted shift our grandfather to the Shamshan Ghat in Attock. But we could not afford the expenses to hire at least four to five pick-ups to transport his body besides making travel arrangements for the attendants of the funeral,” says Raveena.
“We have requested the authorities time and again to provide us crematorium, but their response to our requests was confined only to making announcements,” says All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement Chairman Haroon Sarbdiyal during a brief chat with the Peshawar Today.
Though the provincial government, he says, set aside a handsome amount in the budget for minorities, but practically there is no progress even on acquiring land for crematorium let alone starting spadework on the project.
In September 2017, Aquaf, Hajj, Religious and Minority Affairs Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa issued directives to the district government to identify a suitable land measuring about two kanal for a Shamshan Ghat in Peshawar.
The Religious Ministry sectioned Rs 5 million for land and construction of a Shamshan Ghat in Peshawar.
In the current fiscal year — 2017-18 — the Khyber Pakthunkhwa government allocated Rs 155.6 million for the welfare of minorities. Out of that, Rs 16.7 million were earmarked for skill enhancement schemes, Rs 14.9 million for renovation of mandars, gordawaras and churches, and Rs 18.9 million for improvement and rehabilitation of residential colonies and worship places.
Moreover, the government allocated Rs 20 million for the provision of security measures at worship places and more than 13 million rupees for uniforms and scholarships for students at minority educational institutes. Thirty million rupees were approved for land acquisition and construction of two Shamshan Ghats, one each in Peshawar and Nowshera, and four Christian cemeteries, one each in Peshawar, Kohat, Mardan and Swabi.
Out of the total Rs 30 million, the ministry sectioned Rs 5 million for land and construction of a Shamshan Ghat in Peshawar.
The official data available with the Peshawar Today, nevertheless, narrates a totally different story. In the first six months of the current fiscal, the government released Rs 24.7 million out of the total budget of Rs. 155.6 million while only Rs 1.3 million were disbursed by the end of the first half year.
Talking to the Peshawar Today, Advisor to Chief Minister on Minority Affairs Ravi Kumar says that the government constituted a six-member committee, comprising representatives of Sikhs and Hindus, to identify a suitable site for crematorium.
Sarbdiyal, on the other side, is not satisfied with the performance of the committee. “The committee is least bothered to address this fundamental issue.”
The present government’s tenure is going to end after three months and how is it possible to identify, finalize and build a crematorium in such a short time, he questions.
About their demand for a graveyard as there is no concept of burial in Hindu faith, Sarbdiyal says local religious leaders of the Hindus and Sikhs have issued a decree that those who cannot afford to cremate their deceased they can bury them. However, it has been made mandatory upon them to put a burning coin on the hand of the deceased, ensuring that some part of his/her body has been cremated.
“The government does not even provide us a vehicle to shift bodies of our deceased for cremation to Attock,” complains Sarbdiyal.
Gurpal Singh is Provincial Youth Assembly minister for Youth Affairs and a member of the six-man committee constituted to identify suitable places for crematorium. He tells the Peshawar Today that Advisor to Chief Minister on Minority Affairs Ravi Kumar is not interested to address their long-lasting issue of Shamshan Ghats.
The committee, he says, was given clear instructions to find a site for crematorium not exceeding the limit of Rs. 100,000 for per marla. “We identified a number of sites in the city but their price was much higher than the limit set by the government,” says Gurpal.
He goes on to add that they requested Kumar umpteen times to take personal interest to address this genuine problem of the Hindu and Sikh community, “but all our requests were meted out with a cold-shoulder response.”
Gurpal says that they identified a number of sites for crematorium at suburban areas on Ring Road but the community rejected all of them, insisting on a site inside the city.
“We held several meetings with Peshawar district administration and one with commissioner who assured us to help find and finalize the site for Shamshan Ghat inside the city.”
Peshawar Deputy Commissioner Islam Zaib tells the Peshawar Today that they recently identified three sites and asked the committee to finalize one of them. “They have yet to make consensus on it.”
The Advisor to Chief Minister on Minority Affairs finalized land for a Shamshan Ghat in Nowshera and cemetery in Swabi, but Gurpal is skeptical that the former had some “vested interests” which made him take these decisions.
According to representatives of the Sikh and Hindu community, there were at least six Shamshan Ghats in Peshawar at the time of partition: one each in Ramdas, Asia Park, Chacha Younas Park, Qauidabad and two in Nothia. But now they are either in the control of Evacuee Trust Property Board ((ETPB), city government or occupied by the people who are using them for residential purposes.
A government official in the Aquaf, Hajj, Religious and Minority Affairs Department confides to the Peshawar Today that representatives of the Sikhs and Hindus, instead of making efforts to point out suitable sites, are blaming each other for corruption. He wished not to be named.
Giving official version, Ravi Kumar informs the Peshawar Today that the provincial government is making serious endeavours to resolve the issue of crematorium. “We want to have a suitable site of two kanal land so that they [Sikh and Hindu communities] don’t face the problem of shortage of space in future.”
The government, he says, has assigned a committee to identify site for Shamshan Ghat and graveyard in Peshawar, “but they have yet to come out with a feasible proposal.”