By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: May 11, 2014
The peace-loving Swamis of Tharparkar’s Chachro district are being forced out of their own graveyard, where they have been burying their dead for the past 250 years.
A group of encroachers are standing on the doors of the graveyard, threatening the locals. “This graveyard is 250 years old,” pointed out 90-year-old Satram Das, a retired school teacher. “It is part of our faith to come here.”
Swamis believe in harming no one, even in death
Unlike most people of the Hindu faith who cremate their dead, the Swamis in Tharparkar follow a unique ritual when a person in the community dies. “We make the body sit in the grave and cover it with salt,” explained a local Utam Gur. “We are a peaceful people and we do not want to harm the environment, the underground water, the soil or even the insects. So we feel it is best to allow the body to decompose in a way that harms no one.”
Some ‘saints’ of the community who attained a higher spiritual status have even opted to be buried alive in salt. “It is a stage when they do not want anything to do with the mortal world anymore,” Gur said. Ever since the encroachment on this cemetery started, the community is facing a tough time visiting the graveyard to pay respects to their deceased. Gur’s wife, Dheli, had been visiting the graveyard frequently to pay respects to their 13-year-old grandson, who died nearly a month ago of a congenital heart defect.
Dheli used to pay regular visits to the shrine of a local religious leader for as long as she can remember – sometimes every week on the days assigned by their religious leaders, and at other times, according to sighting of the moon.
Their peaceful rituals came, however, to an end around 10 days ago when she was stopped by armed men from entering the graveyard. “There are armed men there now,” complained Gur, adding that the encroachers have placed those men there with pistols and axes. “But I will go as it is a holy place and I am afraid of no one.”
Apart from demands to reclaim the land, the community wants the authorities to address issues such as mismanaged wheat distribution, poor governance and lack of educational facilities in the area. They gather outside Chachro Press Club every day and are supported by a local civil society organisation, the Association for Water Applied Education and Renewable Energy (Aware). The local Muslim residents also stand alongside their Hindu neighbours.
The community members have approached the courts and submitted an application to the district and sessions judge of Tharparkar. “The court issued orders in our favour,” said Utam Gur, a resident. “The encroachers were told to evacuate the graveyard but they are still there.”
The residents named the alleged encroachers as Daim Rahimoo and Hashim Rahimoo, who apparently enjoy the support of a political party. The two men have issued several threats to the community.
A social activist in Chachro, Ali Akbar Rahimoo, claimed the encroachment has to do with urbanisation in Tharparkar that has picked up in the last 15 years. “Chachro now has a road leading to it, electricity and more water supply,” he said, adding that more and more people are moving here now. “The encroachers actually are like a qabza group [land mafia]. They take over plots of land by force and want to build houses on them.”
Another social activist, Gotam Rathi, has also joined the protesters. “The destruction of graves is despicable and we demand the culprits be punished,” he said. Also at the protest, Anwer Ali Bajeer appealed to the Tharparkar SSP to set up a police picket near the graveyard to drive the encroachers away.
‘Not Hindu land’
For the local police, the protests do not pose a major threat. “I don’t think it is such a big deal,” claimed the SHO of the area, Hamid Mari, while talking to The Express Tribune. “The land does not even belong to the Hindu community to begin with. It is government property,” he said.
“The graveyard is so old that it has almost became flat land where the animals graze,” he pointed out, adding later that he was unaware of the court orders. “I don’t think there are any encroachers there anymore,” he added.
When The Express Tribune tried to ask one of the respondents, Daim Rahimoo, for his side of the story, he cut the call as soon as he heard the word ‘graveyard’.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2014.