Christians in tribal districts seek suitable burial grounds for their deceased loved ones

Wilson Wazir was elected as a member of the Provincial Assembly in July 2019 on the sole minority seat of the merged tribal districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He says that he made several trips from Bajaur to Waziristan to know the problems of the minority community of the districts and tried to solve the problems, but the Christian community constantly complains about the deprivation of basic facilities.

The population of non-Muslim minorities in these districts is very small, due to which many of their problems are very special and unique. One of which is the burial of the dead, which is a very sensitive matter for every community.

Who will release the possession?

Malik Samson Michael of Jamrud Tehsil of Khyber District prays standing near a pile of debris in the Christian cemetery near his home. He went closer to the pile and pointed to a spot, saying: “My parents are buried here”.

According to Michael, the British government allocated sixteen acres of land as a Christian cemetery in 1909, but there are only about 150 graves because the local people have occupied the rest of the land and built buildings. The construction has been completed and now a total of two kanals of land is left for the cemetery. He told that a case has been filed in the District Sessions Judge’s court to transfer ownership of the land.

Only two kanals of land are required

Bajaur is located in the extreme north of the tribal belt of Pakhtunkhwa. Jameel Bismal, the leader of the Christian community here, has been trying for a long time to arrange a cemetery land for forty families in his area.

He said that nowadays they have to take the dead body to Malakand, 100 km away, or Nowshera, 170 km away, for burial. “I had to pay Rs 35,000 as rent, while the cost up to Nowshera is double that and then there is a separate cost for staying there for one or two days.”

He said that we had demanded only two kanals of the land but despite the promises of political parties and district administration, no positive progress has been made yet.

Had to shift the graveyard to Cantt

In North Waziristan, near the Pakistan market of Miranshah Bazar, the ‘Gora Graveyard’ was reserved for Christians, but due to unrest in the area, burials stopped here after 1999, so the government allocated four kanals of land inside the cantonment as graveyard.

Khalid Masih belongs to the same area and he is working as a representative of more than two hundred families there to solve their problems.

He said that the old cemetery was quite wide, but the local people occupied it in 2017 and built markets and now there are about eighty (80) graves of Christians and Hindus in addition to an inch of land.

He told that several requests have been made to the district authorities that the sanctity of the graves of our loved ones is being violated and not only should they be protected but we should be given another place instead of the occupied land of the cemetery.

The graveyard is getting smaller

The Christian cemetery of Tehsil Landi Kotal of Khyber district is becoming too small for the community. Social activist Malik Arshad Masih says that he is trying to acquire more land for the old cemetery. He said that in the coming few years, the remaining area of the cemetery will also be filled while the adjoining land is owned by the security forces. We have requested the higher authorities many times for more land.

He claimed that the population of the Christian community in the merged districts is one lakh. They believe that the problems of the minority community are increasing because the correct number is not revealed in the census.

According to the 2017 census, the total population of the merged tribal districts was 5 million, of which only 3,100 people were identified as Christians.

The place has been found but not the wall

Seventy Christian families live in Mohmand district and due to lack of proper facilities in the area, they have to take the dead two hundred kilometers away to the Gora cemetery or Wazir Bagh in Peshawar for burial. From here, for taking the deceased to Peshawar, up to one lakh rupees, only the vehicle fare has to be paid and the other expenses of this process are separate.

A local leader of the Christian community, Malik Shehryar Masihiya, told that two years ago, the district authorities had allocated eight kanals of land at the foot of the mountain near the Ghalnai headquarters for the Christian community’s cemetery and had also provided formal documents. But due to the lack of enclosure, people do not want to bury their dead there.

According to him, despite repeated demands from the district authorities for the boundary wall, no progress has been made so far.

No four walls, no other facility

Christians have settled in Wana since the pre-partition of India and are serving in various government institutions. This district is the headquarters of Lower South Waziristan where more than 150 Christian families live.

Akash Masih is a local political leader – he explains that the Christian cemetery is located between the bypass road and the airport wall where more than four hundred graves are present. Some time ago when the wall was built, heavy machinery damaged the graves and desecrated them. “After complaining, the debris was removed, but until a wall is built around the graveyard, it is not possible to protect it.”

He said that no official board has been installed to identify the cemetery.

Akash says that there are no facilities in the graveyard. “There is no provision of water here. There is no water or shade in the extreme heat and cold during the burial of the dead or the repair of the graves.”

Deputy Secretary of Awqaf and Religious Affairs Department Rizwana Dar Khan told that after the merger in May 2018, the responsibility for the affairs of the minority community in the tribal areas has been handed over to the provincial Awqaf and Religious Affairs Department.

He said that so far he has not received a single application from these districts that mentions the issue of a cemetery or crematorium, while other projects such as scholarships, skills, business loans, etc. Young people approach. He assured that if the minority leaders of the merged districts come to their office with any problem, they will try to solve it on a priority basis.

Leave A Reply