Recently, the Sundian village of district Hoshiarpur witnessed a violent communal clash over the burial of a Muslim man. The villagers – Hindus and Sikhs – protested against the burial of a dead person by his relatives in the common land.
Mushtaq Ahmed, a relative of the dead person, filed a complaint with the police and yet no action was taken.
Two years ago, a village in the Ludhiana district also witnessed a similar scene over the burial of a 13-year-old Muslim girl.
This tension over the use of Panchayat land for burial by Muslims is a major irritant between the community’s relations with the majority of Hindus and Sikhs, especially in border districts of Ferozepur, Gurdaspur, Fazilka, Hoshiarpur, and Pathankot.
The problem is unique: The Punjab Waqf Board has thousands of acres of land and yet there are no designated cemeteries for Muslims and the Hindus and Sikhs who cremate their dead are reluctant to allow a Muslim graveyard to come up next to a cremation ground due to superstition.
Mushtaq Ahmed told the media persons, “If a proper solution is not found to this recurring tension, we (Muslims) will approach the High Court and if needed, the Supreme Court too.”
Several such instances go unreported across Punjab, especially in the border belt.
ADGP Punjab Police MF Farooqui is also the chief administrator of the Punjab Waqf Board
The reality is that the Punjab Waqf Board has thousands of acres of land in all the border districts, but it has not allotted the land for a single burial ground. At present the situation is so dire that the relatives of the deceased have to plan a secret burial of the body.
It may be mentioned that despite the blood-letting that accompanied the partition of Punjab, Muslims have enjoyed normal social relations with the Sikhs and Hindus of the state. The district of Malerkotla is Muslim dominated district and there the Muslims are treated with a lot of respect by the Hindus and Sikhs.
Even in 1947, the local Sikhs and Hindus ensured the security of Muslims In Malerkotla and neighbouring Sirhind amidst rioting all over Punjab. Due to this no Muslims from these areas left for Pakistan.
This social harmony comes from a historic event when the Nawab of Malerkotla, a Muslim, had openly opposed the decision of the Nawab of Sirhind ordering the burial of two sons of Sikh Guru Guru Gobind Singh and left the court in protest.
Recently, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) honoured the last Begum of the Nawab dynasty.
Despite this traditional bonhomie, tensions arise at the time of burials. The problem has become so acute that many a time, people prefer to bury their dead inside the premises of their house.
Akhtar Ansari of Hoshiarpur says that several complaints have been lodged with the police about certain incidents where people are barred from burying the dead in cemeteries but no action has come.
He says that although all matters related to land etc have to be sorted at the level of Panchayats since the elected body is a party to the dispute it cannot be solved.
The last begum of Malerkotla honoured by SGPC
A sarpanch of a village in Hoshiarpur who doesn’t wish to be named said through the panchayat land is earmarked for the dead, there is no way the people will allow the cremation ground to become a graveyard.
Sarpanch says the villagers are objecting to building a wall around the land designated for a cemetery due to superstitions.
This trend is spreading fast and there is fear that political elements would take advantage of this.
The State government has been sending instructions to the deputy commissioners to ensure that graveyards are built on the common land in villages.
Sensing the seriousness of the problem the government had appointed senior IPS officer MF Farooqui as the chief administrator of the Punjab Waqf Board. Farooqui, who is a well-known poet, is holding dual charge of Additional Director General of Police and head of the Waqf Board.
Farooqi told media persons that he is determined to bring reforms in the functioning of the Waqf Board by rooting out misuse of land, removing squatters, and dealing with rampant corruption.
He says there is a cemetery on the land owned by the State Waqf Board for some villages of Hoshiarpur, but people do not prefer it.
Farooqui admitted to several cases of Muslims being prevented from burying their dead in the border districts are coming to his notice. He also holds regular meetings with the Police and community on this issue.
Farooqui however is confident that this issue will be resolved soon.
Significantly, Punjab has a large Muslim population. Due to the migration of Muslims from many states for livelihood, the population has risen significantly. For many Indian Muslims, Punjab offers good wages and plenty of work. So they gradually shifted along with their families requiring graveyards and mosques.
Though the Muslim community considers Punjab a safe place yet they face problems while burying their dead. The Punjab Waqf Board has thousands of acres of land but doesn’t know why cemeteries are not being made as per the policy and Muslims have to wander from place to place carrying dead bodies and that too secretly.