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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Graveyards — a neglected social issue By Faiza Ilyas

Graveyards — a neglected social issue

By Faiza Ilyas

Among the jigsaw puzzle of graves lie pye-dogs and drug addicts, spoiling the sanctity of cemeteries. While there exists no authority to protect these places from unwanted elements, the graveyards are vulnerable to all sorts of illegal activities. People fear visiting these cemeteries as they are in the control of different mafia including land-grabbers and drug sellers, writes Faiza Ilyas

“Who cares about the dead in a society where human life itself has no value. Buried with profound grief, the deceased are forgotten in no time. Later on, only a few manage to take out time to visit the last resting place of their loved ones, which is one of the reasons that many graveyards, declared closed years ago, do not disappoint those looking for burial space. With government and society taking no responsibility of the dead, the mafia of undertakers exploit people and make money out of the misery of the common man who is duped even after death as he finds himself sharing his eternal abode with an uninvited guest.”

Beginning on a sad note, Hasan Ali, an office worker, laughed sarcastically when he said the last sentence. A regular visitor to the graveyard located in Shah Faisal Colony, Ali begins his day by offering prayers at his mother’s grave in a cemetery along Shahrah-i-Faisal, one of the oldest in the city, which he regards as his ancestral graveyard as many of his relatives are buried here.

“What is the government doing to alleviate the sufferings of the living? The poor are barely surviving hand-to-mouth with the persistent price-hike. Even a burial costs so much money now. The gravediggers are charging thousands of rupees for a grave already used for burial. And yet not a single penny is spent on the premises which is evident from the dilapidated conditions of cemeteries in the city.” His complaint can hardly be challenged.

Never on the list of government priorities, graveyards are a true reflection of the chaos existing in the society. Excluding the ones looked after by some associations, communities and institutions, such as the Gizri Graveyard in DHA under the Cantonment, almost all of them are devoid of proper planning and management. There is no system of registration of the dead either. And, if people avoid visiting the graves, they have strong reasons to support their action.

“In most graveyards there are no walkways. Those present in densely populated areas reached their maximum capacity years ago and were officially closed such as the ones in PECHS (along Tariq Road), Paposh Nagar, Sakhi Hassan (North Nazimabad) and Essa Nagri (Hasan Square). But, still, burial practices continue at these cemeteries due to shortage of space. Hardly any new cemetery has been set up with the mushrooming growth of new localities. Hence, in an overcrowded graveyard, one is compelled to desecrate other gaves by trampling over them to reach the resting place of his or her loved one, which is obviously not an appropriate thing to do. Besides, the graveyards do not have basic facilities such as water and electricity, according to Zia Jamshed, a retired banker residing in Gulshan-i-Iqbal.

People are also critical of the filthy conditions existing in and around the graveyard, which are sometimes used as a garbage dumping site. A case in point is the Azeempura graveyard in Shah Faisal Colony where alongside the boundary wall lie heaps of garbage and buffalo dung.

Owners of a cattle-pen in the locality as well as government refuse vans dump the waste in the open space adjacent to the cemetery. Later, when this garbage is set on fire, the smoke not only pollutes the environment but also causes hardships for people who come to visit the graveyard.

Voicing a similar opinion, Mohammad Hasan, a resident of Lyari who works in a newspaper office, said: “In contrast to western societies where graveyards are well maintained, and one would like to visit them for peaceful contemplation, here is a different story. Among the jigsaw puzzle of graves, lie pye-dogs and drug addicts, spoiling the sanctity of cemeteries. While there exists no authority to protect these places from unwanted elements, the graveyards are vulnerable to all sorts of illegal activities. In fact, some graveyards located in the under-privileged areas have turned into criminal dens. People fear visiting these cemeteries as they are in the hold of different mafia including land-grabbers and drug sellers.

For instance, he says that as the huge Mewashah graveyard, covered with wild growth falls into darkness, dacoits take refuge and operate from its vicinity. Incidents of robberies are common and there are instances when people who had come to visit the graveyard were deprived of their valuables in broad daylight.

Drugs and alcohol are openly sold in Mian Goth graveyard in Malir, according to Zarina Bibi who works as a maid in the same area. The illegal business goes on reportedly in connivance with the police which, at times, make false raids to apprehend them. She says that this is perhaps, to pressurize the drug barons to increase their weekly bhatta.

Narrating his experience with the undertakers, Mohammad Ilyas said that he had to pay Rs6,000 for his father’s burial in Mewashah graveyard a year ago.

“Notwithstanding the official records which declare Mewashah graveyard closed decades ago, it is still the preferred burial ground for many residing in the adjoining localities such as Pak Colony, Lyari, Keamari, Mohajir Camp and Pak Colony. The credit for this goes to the many undertakers working here who know which grave is seldom visited and is now ‘ready’ to take another body. Human bones found during digging are either buried in some other place or thrown in the garbage dump.

“In an under-privileged area like Lyari,” he says, “one is surprised to see that the poor pay exorbitant charges for burial. There are not one but many groups of gravediggers working here who demand money. When my father died a year ago, I had to borrow money from friends and relatives to pay Rs6,000 to the undertakers. Since that time, I have been paying Rs100 monthly to a mali to take care of the grave because otherwise it would be re-used.”

Some years ago a shocking incident was reported in the press about a naib nazim who allegedly demanded Rs25,000 from a man who had come to bury his father in a graveyard in Gulistan-i-Jauhar. The naib nazim accompanied by some police officials, said that the money was to be split between himself and the local police station. When the mourners refused to pay the amount, they were forced to take the body to another graveyard where it was finally laid to rest.

According to another report, the monthly income of some gravediggers amounts to Rs80,000. The citizens pay Rs1,500 upto Rs6000 plus (the figure varies from locality to locality) instead of the nominal charges mentioned in the bylaws approved by the city council last year. The gravediggers not only sell a grave to more than one customer, but are also involved in the sale of its parts including tombstones and sand blocks. This business has considerably improved their financial status and they own big houses and shops.

Endorsing this viewpoint, Syed Kamal Shah Ghazi, who was once the caretaker and owner of Mewashah graveyard, says that the gravediggers’ mafia has thrown him out of the premises of the graveyard, considering him a threat to their illegal activities. This land belongs to my great-grandfather who donated it to be utilized as a graveyard. The gravediggers’ mafia has taken control of the entire cemetery and are involved in all sorts of criminal activities.

However, he couldn’t verify the reports on grave robbers involved in the trade of human parts and said that he had read such stories in newspapers but he himself had never witnessed such an incident.

Besides the issue of a proper demarcation of graveyards, one practice which is prevalent in almost all graveyards is the construction of illegal structures which include mazars as well as mosques. Visit a graveyard and you can see a mazar named after a ‘spiritual’ personality, son or grandson of so and so. A glaring example in this respect is of New Karachi graveyard, where according to a report, 16 mazars have so far been established. These mazars which remain crowded throughout the day are actually dens of anti-social elements who have taken over the graveyard land in the name of mazars. Similar is the case with Mewashah graveyard.

Talking of land grabbers; there is another classic example. A major portion of the old Morraro graveyard near the Site area is now possessed by factory owners.

“Morraro graveyard is located on the other side of Sher Shah bridge. It’s more than 100 years old and the eldest daughter of Mewashah Baba was buried here. Actually, the land of Mewashah and Morraro graveyards has shrunk due to the increasing residential and commercial activities. If the premises of the houses located in the adjoining areas were dug, you would probably find human bones in them. Few people go to Morraro for burial now as it has almost been destroyed after the establishment of many factories there,” Syed says.

Though the situation is far better off in Christian cemeteries, they are still facing a host of problems. Father Joe D’Mello at St.Patrick’s Cathedral says: “Graveyards are one of the most neglected areas in our community, too. Some are not even fully protected by a boundary wall which makes them easy prey for encroachment. At times tombstones are broken or stolen, and then, there is the problem of water-logging and salinity, especially in a section of Gora Qabristan. We are running short of space. Sometimes old graves have to be dug, but for that permission is taken first. Nearly Rs800 to 1,000 are charged for a burial at Gora Qabristan which is reduced if the deceased is a member of the Christian cemetery board.”

According to supervisor Donald Pereira who has been serving there for 25 years, Gora Qabristan along Shahrah-i-Faisal, dates back to 1802. But despite being one of the oldest, it is still in a better shape as compared to other cemeteries. There are many ancient graves here and some are of the soldiers who died in World War I.

A portion at the back of the cemetery had been taken away by the army decades ago, which was also used as a graveyard. Now, it is closed for further burial. The cemetery’s land has been a target of commercial greed and attempts have been made in the past to install billboards and hoardings within the land that belongs to the graveyard.

At present, all Christian cemeteries in the city handle their affairs on their own with the help of area residents and there exists no central authority which can coordinate and oversee their work. This is a major problem which weakens their strength as a community to resolve their problems. However, work is in progress at different levels to sort out this issue.

Miani Sahib graveyard

Growing encroachments in the city’s largest historical graveyard — the Miani Sahib — may soon force Lahorites to find some other place outside the metropolis to lay the departed souls to rest. Buildings, houses, shops and even a marriage hall have been built on the land of the Mughal era Miani Sahib where scores of historical and religious personalities are buried.

The graveyard has a special significance for the citizens of Lahore as their ancestors are buried there. Spread over an area of 1200 kanals, it touches Lyton Road, Jain Mandar and Chauburgi. Several kanals from all the three areas have been encroached upon with the connivance of the government officials.

The encroachment reportedly started in the 1950s’ and the government filed a case against the occupants after it formed the Miani Sahib Graveyard Committee in 1962. “They have obtained a stay order from the court, therefore, the government cannot evict them from the land,” says a committee member. “We have recently demolished a marriage hall, illegally constructed on the premises,” he said.

Bibi Pak Damin Graveyard, the second largest in the city, has also been encroached upon. Other smaller graveyards in different localities like Badami Bagh, Township, Green Town, Gulberg, Begumpura, Shahdara, Shadbagh, Shalamarare also filled. The Christian graveyards in the city are, however, well maintained.

District Coordinator Officer (DCO), Khalid Sultan, says the government has selected land on Ferozpur and Baidian roads for the development of Miani Sahib II. “The Miani Sahib Graveyard Committee has been reorganized recently which is taking steps to retrieve the land from encroachers,” he explained. –– Zulqernain Tahir

Present status

There are 182 graveyards in Karachi. Of them, 163 are for Muslims and 19 for non-Muslims. Seventy fall under the control of City District Government Karachi, while 112 are looked after by associations. Seventeen including Mewashah, PECHS (Tariq Road), Paposh Nagar, Sakhi Hassan (North Nazimabad), Essa Nagri (Hasan Square), Shah Faisal Colony Gate (Colony Gate), Saudabad (Malir) graveyards have been officially declared.

Despite acquiring 579.89 acres of land and allocating funds in every budget, the last city government failed to establish any new graveyard. The encroachers’ mafia is also active on the land earmarked for this purpose in Malir and Gadap towns and once there was a report of city government officials being beaten up when they came here for demarcation. — F.I

An online graveyard
It is a fact that Information Technology and the Internet have changed the way we live our lives and carry on our day to day activities. However, this transformation is not limited to the living. Wadi-e-Hussain, a Shia graveyard, currently allows mourners to visit the graves and view the last rites of their loved ones online at

Founded in 1999, Wadi-e-Hussain graveyard is located off the Super Highway at a distance of 18 km from Sohrab Goth. The burial ground has a capacity of more than 50,000 graves and to date is the last resting place of almost 2,000 people. The graveyard is meticulously organized and reasonably priced. The graveyard charges 5,000 rupees per burial and when a new grave is added, as part of the graveyard services, it is photographed and the picture is uploaded along with brief personal details of the deceased. One can trace a grave online by either searching the website by entering the grave's ID number or the name of the deceased, or one can conduct a search by the month and the year of burial.

In addition to this, for an extra Rs1,500, an online video clip of the funeral is also uploaded on the website so that friends and relatives of the deceased, who were unable to attend the funeral in person, can virtually participate in the last rites. All the graves are identical and extra construction is strictly prohibited. Although the management takes orders from overseas Pakistanis, it prohibits advance bookings or attempts to secure land for an entire family or clan. –– Reba Shahid

A practical solution
True, more land should be allocated to cemeteries, but isn’t it time that we, as a society, debate this serious issue. The problem of over-crowded graveyards can be solved if some guidance is taken from religion. Islam has forbidden erecting solid graves and the wisdom behind this order is to avoid congestion in graveyards as well as turning them into monuments, displays of wealth or places of worship. This principle is followed in many Muslim countries.

Scholars agree that a grave of a Muslim should not be disturbed if flesh, bones, or other parts of the body remain there. But if the entire corpse has disintegrated into dust, then a new grave may be dug there. — F.I

Bylaws of graveyards
The only step taken so far to improve the condition of graveyards is the approval of Bylaws of Graveyards and Cremation Grounds 2004, which clearly mention the charges for gravediggers, their registration and responsibilities of different committees for the cemeteries. Unfortunately, the bylaws approved by the city council last year still remain to be implemented. This situation forces people to pay a lot to the gravediggers on the one hand and deprive the city government of its due share on the other.

The bylaws emphasized upon a proper layout plan for new graveyards, design and size of graves, provision of essential infrastructure and arrangements for proper upkeep and maintenance.

They also state that those associations, which have been allotted graveyards by the CDGK are answerable for maintaining cleanliness in the graveyard, proper arrangement of water and ensuring that the gravedigger is not overcharging.

In such graveyards, the allottee is bound to appoint a watchman, a gardener to remove garbage, animal faeces, trimming of wild bushes and watering of plants and maintenance of trees in the premises.

The bylaws also bind the graveyard workers to inform the relatives about any decay and damage taking place at any grave and to ask the relatives to get the grave repaired within the allotted time. It also directs closure of graveyards that have become crowded. — F.I

Mewashah graveyard
Mewashah graveyard is perhaps the only graveyard in the country which has graves of Muslims belonging to all the sects, members of minority communities such as Christians and even Jews. A place is also reserved for Hindus to perform their last rituals.

Named after Mewashah Baba (real name Syed Kabir Pasha who hailed from Afghanistan), the graveyard is located between Lyari and Pak Colony and is spread over 10km. Legend has it that while Syed Kabir Pasha was being taken on a ship to an island to be punished, he was saved by a big fish which helped him reach this place. The fish died just after reaching the shore whose bones are still preserved in a glass box in the graveyard premises.

According to Syed Kamal Shah Ghazi in those days the entire land up to Mithadar, Kharadar and Lea Market was under the sea. Impressed by the spiritual powers of Syed Kabir Pasha, the British gifted him this land which Mewashah Baba decided to use as a graveyard.

There are 130 small graveyards, many properly demarcated, within the graveyard itself, which are well taken care of by different communities. Despite its closure during the 60s’, everyday 15 to 20 burials take place here. Normally a grave costs between Rs2,500 to Rs4,000. With headstones and the use of marble, the cost can go up to Rs5,000 to one hundred thousand. However, charges for a katchi grave are comparatively less. — A.H


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I want to see my father graveyard who buried last month in wadi-e-hussain.

Ther is no such link in this web site and i have told that you can see everyone grave just by typing Grave number it will take you there.

Please let me know when and how i can see the proper graveyard.


kamal zaidi
from uk.

July 19, 2007 10:02 AM  
Blogger Aqeel Abbas Jafri said...

Here is the link of your desired website:

Aqeel Jafri

October 02, 2008 1:23 AM  

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