Unearthed: The shrine where a thousand poppies bloom

Published: May 6, 2012

Those responsible for maintaining the spiritual site appear to be using it for a side narcotics business. PHOTO: FILE

MIRPUR: 

One visits the shrines of holy men where internal seeds are planted and blossom into intoxicating spiritual nourishment … and so on.

Alas, this type of flowery mumbo-jumbo has become, with a twist, literally true in Mirpur district. At the mausoleum of Tahli Waali Sarkaar, poppies are growing in the lawn.

Locals have accused Taj Jalib, contracted to maintain the shrine and provide food and facilities to visitors, of using the fertile grounds for a spot of illicit horticulture. Jalib apparently refutes the allegations, though the facts on the ground seem to contradict this version of events.

Those who live in the area are convinced the situation is far from rosy. “Since poppy cultivation is an offence, the contractor should be taken to task and sent behind bars,” demanded senior members of the local community, including Sajid Hussain Bhatti and Raja Gulfraz Khan, who are united in one voice on the issue. The local business community also expressed outrage.

Ghazenfer Ali Raja, a local freelance journalist, told The Express Tribune that the entire field of the  poppy crop beside the mausoleum has been camouflaged with decorated flowers, so that pilgrims are blind to the side business. According to him, the existing poppy crop will soon be harvested. Raja added that thousands of pilgrims from various parts of AJK, as well as other parts of Pakistan, visit the mazaar of the famous spiritual leader every year.

The contractor, Raja says, “claims complete ignorance about growing of poppy crime in the premises of the mausoleum.”

The shrine of Tahli Waali Sarkaar is in the village of Ban Barutiyan, about two kilometres from Chakswari town, and 45km from Mirpur city. Chakswari and its environs are where tens of thousands of UK-based expatriates come from.

The mazaar comes under the supervision of the Auqaf Department, a government-run initiative to look after shrines in Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK).

The continued silence of the department and law-enforcement agencies over the growing of what is essentially the raw material for opium and heroin certainly raises questions. The local community have taken the perceived insult to their revered saint to heart.

The police, at best, are claiming they’ve seen no evil and heard no evil. Raja Irfan Salim, an additional superintendent, told The Express Tribune that the police could only take action on the basis of a written complaint. He says they have received no such report.

Salim says there is no specific anti-narcotics force in AJK, so the police are accustomed to cracking down on drug cultivation – but only after receiving an official complaint.

Despite repeated attempts, no official from the Auqaf Department, nor the contractor, could be contacted to offer their views.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2012.

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