Salma Jehangir

Death of Ram Lal’s 16 years old daughter Poonam due to meningitis brought the grief-stricken man face to face with stark choices. Lal, a resident of Peshawar, wanted to cremate her daughter in accordance with his religious beliefs. Since Peshawar has no cremation ground, therefore, Lal had to take his daughter’s body out of city for her final rites. However, he had no money to do this.

Lal told TNN that they waited whole day long and took his daughter body to a local cemetery, where they buried him silently.  They went to Poonam’s grave the next day and shocked to see her body parts lying around. Stray dogs has dug up the fresh grave and badly mutilated the body.

Lal’s said that he never manage to forget the desecration his daughter’s body and his own inability to perform her last rites according to his beliefs.

Hindu community of Peshawar, of which Lal is a part, is facing problem due to the absence of cremation grounds in the provincial capital.

Radesh Singh Tony, Chairman, Minority Rights Council, said that cremation ground in Peshawar has been longstanding demand of Hindu and Sikh community of Peshawar. “We raised this issue in 1985,” Mr Tony said.

He said that on their demand, deputy commissioner Peshawar purchased land on the banks of River Indus in Attock and set up a cremation ground there. However, he said that over past three decades, due to increase in population, it has become difficult for them to take bodies to Attock.

He said that for past one decade, they are demanding for construction of cremation ground in Peshawar. However, he added that the issue was still unresolved despite their efforts.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Sikh and Hindu population and cremation grounds

Radesh Singh Tony told TNN that there around 8000 Hindus and 20,000 to 25,000 Sikhs were living in the province. However, he said this number could go up to 40,000 if unregistered Sikh children in merged districts and other areas of province are taken into account.

However, official figures of the population are not available.

On the other hand, Mr Tony said that there cremation grounds in Khawazkhela and Mingora area of Swat, Pir Baba and Daggar areas of Buner, Tirah area of Khyber and Mardan. In addition to this, there was an old cremation ground in Orakzai district.

He said that besides Peshawar,  Dera Ismail Khan and Nowshera districts also lacked cremation  grounds. “Though funds were allocated for the purpose; however, the cremation ground were never built,” he said.

He said that Sikh and Hindu community of Nowshera do not take their bodies to Mardan crematorium and are demanding for setting up a cremation ground in their district.  Mr Tony said that cremation ground in the district on the land selected for the purpose was never constructed after dispute started the land.

“These days, Nowshera Sikhs and Hindus take their bodies to Attock for last rites,” he said.

Voices of the community

The absence of cremation ground in provincial capital, which houses a large portion of province’s Hindu and Sikh population, is bothering many people. Mumta Kumari, a resident of Peshawar told TNN that they take their dead to Attock cremation ground for their last rites. She said that they face great trouble in taking bodies to Attock, which was situated at considerable distance from Peshawar.

“If someone dies after 4pm, then we wait for the day for last rites; however, face no such problem when someone dies in the morning,” she said.

Ms Kumari said that there were separate cremation points for Sikhs and Hindus in Attock and Hindus worship after the last rites. She said that in the past, their elders used to the take the ashes of their dead to India to immerse them into holy waters of Ganges River.

“When this become impossible due to worsening relations between India and Pakistan, our religious leaders decided to immerse the ashes in the Indus River on fourth day of death,” she said. Ms Kumari said that delay in getting visas often resulted in delaying the final rites and they could not keep the ashes in homes for long.

There are few families belonging to the scheduled castes live in the Jhanda Bazaar area of provincial capital.  Karam Chand told TNN that it has been more than a decade since they have started burying their dead.  He said that cremation of the dead cost up to Rs 20,000. He said that they needed 12 maunds of firewood alone for cremation. Expenses incurred on transportation of the body and other things also added to the bill, which forced them to stop cremating their dead.

Attock distance from Peshawar is adding Sikhs and Hindus woes

Mr Tony said that Attock distance from Peshawar was about 90 kilometers. Even a bus charges us about Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 for the transportation of the body.

He said that poor people of both communities could not afford to pay huge sum of Rs 70,000 to Rs 100,000 incurred on the last rites.  Mr Tony said that at times allocated budget lapsed due to the department’s failure to utilize it on time.

Baba Gurpal Singh had submitted a petition in the Peshawar High Court regarding the absence of cremation ground in Peshawar. Many places were shortlisted after the PHC decision for setting up a cremation ground; however, none of them materialized due to one or other reasons.

On the other hand, Mr Tony demanded that there were large tracts of government land on Ring Road available, where government can setup a modern crematorium.  He said that such a crematorium would be a blessing for both the Hindus and Sikhs of Peshawar.

When approached for comments, special assistant to chief minister for minority affairs Wazir Zada said that the cremation ground issue was pending due to the high cost of land. He said that often the allocated amount was less than price of land.

Mr Zada said that government was trying to setup a cremation ground in Peshawar since 1996. “Construction of cremation ground in Kohat was in final stages while land acquisition was in process for Bannu and Nowshera,” he added.