Come winter and flip to the page 3 or 4 of all local dailies, the page is full of obituaries. Every human being is borne to die. After a day, a week, a month, year, years, decades or even a century, one has to bid farewell to this place of transit. Here it is transient, but up there it is permanent and this is the ultimate reality. Human beings during their lives try hard to see themselves in the best they can, be it their homes, their surrounds or selves. After demise a major proportion of world's population (Christians & Muslims) is laid down to rest in a graveyard/cemetery. Graveyards are visited mostly at the time someone close is buried and infrequently to pay obeisance to the dead, be it a Jinazah or a Fatheha. During this time most of us have a glimpse of the graveyard, otherwise it is nobody's concern. Kashmir unlike rest of the world has a different set of rules as far as the graveyard management is concerned.
Unlike Middle East and most of India, we here do not have a government owned/ organized burial site. It is a norm outside to just inform the concerned authorities about the death of someone and rest of the things is taken care of. But here in Kashmir it is the responsibility of the individual family to get the things done on all fronts with help rendered by neighbors' or relatives. Most of the burial sites earmarked in a graveyard are sharply demarcated, are ancestral or brought afresh by the family at the time of shifting to a new colony. It is an inherited property, registered within the family, wherein no one else has any rights. An inherent inhibition doesn't allow anyone else to be buried in a graveyard that has an ancestral patronage. So has been the meanness of people that like their houses they have demarcated their portion of the graveyards so that nobody else infiltrates. Most of the famous old graveyards have now been divided into honey comb type areas demarcated and woven by concrete mess/r barbed wire/ fence to clearly define the clan to which they belong to. No incursions allowed. Very few realize that the earth is everyone's and not limited to anyone special or specific. Much to the dismay of all, that death and burial also now is fixed into designated areas much akin to the alive world. We don't want anybody to infiltrate our portion in life and not even when dead. Perhaps the only exception to this is the scores of Martyrs graveyards that have come up in last 3 decades to bury those who have died in the conflict and in whose case nobody objects.
There is no authority, governmental or private which is responsible to take care of the graveyards. It is left to the locals or to the mohalla committees. But for very few, like the Naqshband Sahib Martyrs graveyard, none of the hundreds and thousands of the graveyards in Kashmir valley is a responsibility of anyone. Most of these places have a somber and unworldly look, which is quite different from the equivalents in rest of the world. All graveyards give a pathetic look versus the surrounds.
Throughout the year these places are laden by dirt and mess, while as during the summers the foliage growth is unchecked, with thorny bushes and high grasses growing haphazard. The people who live in the vicinity of graveyards have encroached in whatever little or big way they could. Also graveyards have become a garbage dump as all and sundry put in their share of garbage in or near them, as no one is there to complain from the graves and the live owners are too busy in their worldly affairs. A site too frequent in the past and perhaps still is that the graveyards have been gamblers nest as well as drunkards bay; these errands/loons find the graveyard a place where they can escape the authorities. It sometimes turns as a cricket pitch for kids while others utilize it in any which way they want to. No surprise, once someone has to bury his near and dear one he has first to get a handful of men to clean the place of dust, dirt, garbage, weeds, cactuses, empty cough syrup bottles and more.
There are people employed by the municipalities to clean the roads, lanes, by-lanes and the people themselves who are responsible for their vicinity cleaning, but there is no one to do the cleaning of these ultimate to-be places. Even though we have a full fledged department of Wakf and the Wakf board as part of the administration but their role in Kashmir is nil vis a vis Jammu. In Jammu they have taken much of the responsibility of many a religious nature but here nothing, it would be prudent to have Auqaf do that job if only it has that enthusiasm or leadership.
We need social activists to make people realize and understand to have the sense of taking care of the graveyards and also stress the government to have the places registered with Wakf and then accordingly ask the municipal or the local bodies to take care of them. Regarding the Middle- East type government take over it seems that idea will not work here as the idea of an ancestral/self brought graveyard is stuck up in the minds of people and to have them reverse the same is a herculean task. But with rampant growth of mosques in all areas, an alternative is having a God's acre as part of the mosque which may help to do away with the present norm. Till then let us keep these places as clean and proper as possible, because anytime it can be anyone of us, and nobody would like to be send for his ultimate destination from a messy place.
(Dr Muzafar Maqsood Wani is Consultant Nephrologist SKIMS, Soura, Srinagar, Kashmir)