BUDHANA: For these Muslims, two yards of land for grave in cemetries of Uttar Pradesh has become a costly affair. They have to pay Rs. 1200 to Rs 2000 per graved,
Nearly 400 families like theirs are trying to build their lives afresh in Budhana but are largely seen as outsiders in their own community, and often even denied space for burying their dead in Muslim graveyards.
A few months ago when 65-year-old Mehrudin died in Kheda Mastan village in BUDHANA, his widow Asgari did not even get proper time to mourn. “We were running around finding space for his burial. The graveyard nearby for Qureshis has no space for us,” said Ahmed, his nephew.
Finally, Mehrudin did get a resting place, but only after the family shelled out Rs 1200. From the dhobi community, Mehruddin and Ahmed are among the hundreds who migrated to Budhana after the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013.
Several towns in western Uttar Pradesh, including Kairana that the BJP is trying to portray as under the siege of Muslims, have strictly different graveyards for different Muslim communities – Saifis, Ansaris, Qureshis, Kumbe,Abbasis, Sheikhs and others but none for the Muslims who have migrated to these places in the last few years. These communities have to be pay Rs 1000 to Rs 2000 to find a grave, or usually end up burying their dead on top of already existing graves in the outskirts of graveyards.
Death is an issue of dignity. Even mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar who was banished to Rangoon by the British had lamented that he couldn’t be buried in his own country. The same worry plagues the large number of the dhobis – mostly labourers now and the Bisatis – a clan of ‘moving traders’ of clothes,nail polish,Bindis and other items, among the dominant castes among displaced and migrant Muslims in western UP.
Graveyards are a political issue in western UP. As soon as the samajwadi party government took charge in 2012 it started implementing its poll promise of renovating and beautifying Muslim graveyards as part of a Rs 300 crore project that is being countered by MP Sanjeev Baliyan who is building crematoriums for the hindus with his MP funds.
In July last year, Muslims and Sikhs clashed in UP’s Saharanpur when a structure was being constructed on a vacant plot that the Muslim community claimed was a graveyard.
“My forefathers came here from Pakistan during the time of Shahjahan and settled in Panipat, We are sheikhs too with knowledge of the best karigari(artistry) but the qureshis don’t consider us as one of them. The muttawali (graveyard caretaker) told us to buy land for our own graves. Often when we dig to find graves we hit upon an already existing grave… ,” Abdul Kamal, a garment trader in nayi tehsil in Budhana.
The gram pradhan here recently had allocated six bigha land for a “common cemetry” for all communities of Muslims on the outskirts of Budhana but it is still not easy finding space. “Especially if you have the body of a dhobi or a low born muslim woman they straightaway refuse any land,” said Tamanna Rashid in Khanpur.
A km away from Abdul’s house is the town’s main cemetry, where the saifis bury their dead. “The large number of muslims who have come to Budhana after 2013 belong to different communities, mostly of labourers. They are not saifis or ansaris like us. A graveyard for them will be good. We are particular about being buried with our biradari,” said Sameen Saifi, a small time trader in Budhana.
‘Exodus’ among muslims?
At a time when the BJP wants pictures of locked houses of Hindus to capture the kairana exodus narrative, the story of displaced Muslims is stark too, also because many of the families that ET spoke with, have been on the move for several years.
In several villages of Shamli and Muzaffarnagar, walled muslim colonies identified by the crescent in the beginning are filled with empty houses, or those bought by Hindus.
“Khatra nahi hai abhi, par darr hai (there is fear but no danger here). It is like we have seen the scorpion emerge from the sands twice so we are just careful,” said Abdul Hameed, an 80 year old in Shamli, clearly referring to the Babri masjid demolition Muzaffarnagar riots.
Leaving his three storeyed house in kutuba was not easy but in Shamli, there is safety amongst relatives, he said. “I spend all my day time in the chowk here, chatting with other old men. The house is very small for all of my family members.”
Professor Sudhir Panwar,Member Planning Commission,UP who had studied the migration and its impact on socio-economic dynamics said migration of muslims in Western UP especially after the Babri masjid demolition & after Muzaffarnagar riots needs to analysed with care as it not only affected politics but also social relations in state.
Wearing of skull caps and keeping beards among muslims was not a regular phenomenon earlier. It was started as an attempt to increase solidarity among Muslims at times of insecurity, he said.
Panwar said the issue of the Muslim communities seeking graveyard space is deeply connected to their religious beliefs of Qayamat. “It is more important than every day routine matters of survival,” he added.
Hameed said the graveyard problem was also more acute because as displaced muslims many feel the honour they did not get in their lifetime might evade them even after death.
Jaggery mounds, heaps of cow dung, garbage are found in some of these graveyards in villages around Kairana that has left the muslims distressed who feel their graveyards are being taken over by others.
Salamuddin of Bhainswal village said he will leave the village if the graveyard problem in his area doesn’t get solved. The village that used to have at least 500 muslim families few years ago has fewer than 20 of them today.
“We say “ram ram” here to greet our hindu neighbours because we want to live here peacefully. There is no tension. But the question of ensuring ‘two yards after death’ is the biggest worry I have now,” he said.
“The existing graveyards should be freed from encroachment made through manipulation in revenue records.We are fighting legal battles in High Court with minimal resources that illegal possession should be removed from our graveyards be removed,” said the 70 year old, long time resident of the village.