The recent torrential rains have not spared anyone and anything in the metropolitan city.
While the administration and municipal authorities could do little to mitigate the suffering of the living, they ignored the dead altogether. "I am talking about the graveyards and the cemeteries in the city which were also submerged in rainwaters," said Asfand Sattar who has mobilised community resources to repair damaged graves.
As per the caretakers of graveyards across the city, water seeped into graves causing many to cave in. The gaping graves exposed the mortal remains of those buried inside. But the authorities concerned perhaps were too busy taking care of the living to spare time for the dead. People then started repairing the graves of their deceased loved ones on their own.
More than 1,000 graves have been badly damaged by the monsoon rains at the sprawling graveyard of Steel Town. Mostly, the deceased employees of Pakistan Steel Mills and their families are buried here. The condition of some of the graves, especially those built over the past few months, is beyond description. Local residents blame the PSM management and local government departments for turning a blind eye to the cemetery during the downpour. They did not do anything to drain or pump out the rainwater from the cemetery to save the graves.
Stagnant rainwater has seeped into the graves causing some of them to collapse to expose the mortal remains buried inside. While most cemented graves developed huge cracks, the earthen ones have been turned into deep pits.
Asfand Sattar, a young social worker from Steel Town, has taken it upon himself to repair the damaged graves to save those buried here from posthumous humiliation. What spurred Sattar into action? He said that he had come to recite Fateha at the grave of his grandfather at the cemetery where he was shocked to see the condition of the graves.
"Hundreds of graves were destroyed. You could clearly see the dead bodies in the freshly dug graves," Asfandyar told The Express Tribune. "Some of the damaged graves were very old, but the bodies inside appeared to be completely intact," he claimed. "Perhaps these graves belong to some good people and the soil could not eat away their flesh," he added.
Asfandyar tried to reach out to the relatives of the deceased with the help of numbers written on the graves. "Only some of them came to repair the graves of their loved ones," he said, adding that he and his friends have started repairing the rest of the dilapidated graves.
Asfandyar has so far repaired more than 70 graves by himself. Some families who cannot come to the graveyard are contacting them to seek help for repairs. "We are repairing 10 to 15 graves daily with the help of a team of labourers and volunteers, and the families pay for it," he added. "We cover with a plastic sheet the graves that could not be repaired immediately."
Asfandyar cannot complete the huge task all by himself. So, he has started a social media campaign to raise funds. "People are sending us donations and we use the funds thus raised to repair and cement the damaged graves here," he said.
A rainwater drain runs alongside the Steel Town cemetery, which was blocked in the monsoon rains, causing the water to swamp the cemetery. Local residents alleged that the rainwater drain of Steel Town which falls into the main drain leading to the sea was deliberately blocked on the backside of the graveyard.
"A local influential landlord, who is also an MPA of the Sindh Assembly, wanted to save his lands by blocking the rainwater drain," one resident alleged. "The drain is being used to store water so that the landlord can use it to irrigate his lands," he further alleged.
The residents claimed that they had reported it to the PSM management and the District Municipal Committee, but they did nothing. The PSM management refused to take responsibility by saying that the cemetery was not within the limits of Pakistan Steel Mills.
The resident undertakers are taking advantage of the situation to make money. Labourers from outside are not allowed inside the cemetery, while the resident gravediggers demand exorbitant charges for repairs.