Shrinking space for dead in Hyderabad

Rapid urbanisation, burgeoning population, escalating land prices etc have virtually left no place to bury the dead in Hyderabad.

Hyderabad: "Mar ke bhi chain na paya to kidhar jayenge? (If there is no peace in death, then where will I go?" This Urdu couplet from Ibrahim Zauq aptly sums up the problem of the dead in Hyderabad.

In this booming metropolis, where thousands struggle for a place to live in, even death offers no solution. Rapid urbanisation, burgeoning population, escalating land prices and shrinking graveyards due to encroachments have virtually left no place to bury the dead.

Some graveyards have already hung "no space available" boards while others are refusing to allow the burial of "outsiders" or those residing in other localities.

The burial in any graveyard costs no less than Rs.10,000. Those attached to dargahs are charged anywhere between Rs.15,000 and Rs.50,000 for two yards. Still, in places such as Yousufain dargah at Nampally in the heart of the city, it comes for a whopping Rs.100,000.

Non-allocation of land for new graveyards, encroachments on existing ones, construction of concrete tombs by people and a high demand for burial grounds attached to dargahs have only compounded the problem.

The issue has religious, social as well as economic aspects. Some people consider it sacred to be buried near the tomb of a saint. It was due to such beliefs that the demand for such spaces increased and some custodians started taking advantage of the situation.

The management officials of some graveyards, however, justify the collection of money.

"We have only rocks left in the graveyard, hence we ask people to pay for the expenses we incur in clearing the rocks. This amount works out to anywhere between Rs.5,000 and Rs.6,000 for each grave. We also accept donations," Mohammed Jahangir, secretary of the management committee at Jamia Masjid on A Battery Lane, told IANS.

The committee displays a board saying the graveyard is not for the burial of those from other localities. But people from several localities come here with recommendations from MLAs, Wakf board chairman and others. "They even fight with us," said Jahangir, who has been heading the committee for 42 years.

The management committee has fatwas from Islamic seminaries which say after a grave turns old, one can dig it up to bury another body. However, people don`t allow this and even build concrete structures on graves.

Wakf board chairman Syed Ghulam Afzal Biyabani alias Khusro Pasha, however, says people are not coming forward to complain against `mutawallis` (custodians) charging money. "We will definitely take action in such cases," he said.

"The mutawallis tell us they have to collect the money to protect and maintain graveyards. We agree that charging Rs.2,000 to Rs.4,000 is fine, but it should not be more than this," he told IANS.

"We are doing our best to address the space crunch by identifying new lands at a distance from the city," he said.

"This problem is not of the Muslim community alone. Even Hindus and Christians are finding it difficult to cremate or bury their dead," said Syed Amin Jafri, legislator of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM).

He pointed out that the number of graveyards or cemeteries has not increased in proportion to the population over the last four to five decades. From just 1.25 million in 1971, the population has gone up to 7.7 million.

"The problem is reaching an alarming level. Unless the government intervenes and provides land for new burial grounds the issue can`t be solved," said Jafri.

"The government should allot 100 to 150 acres of land about 40 km away from the city for free burial," said Syed Vicaruddin, chief editor of Urdu daily Rehnuma-e-Deccan. He blames encroachments on hundreds of acres of land belonging to the Wakf board for the present crisis.