Stealers of the dead: Ratta Amral graveyard land being scooped up

The graveyard once covered over 300 kanals of land, which has now reduced to just 100 or 150 kanals.


Creative Essa Malik/fawad Ali August 13, 2013
Gravediggers claim district government turning blind eye to influential land grabbers. ILLUSTRATION: ESSA MALIK

RAWALPINDI:


Ratta Amral is home to a historic century-and-a-half year-old graveyard. In recent years, however, it has fallen prey to brazen encroachments and become a den of drug addicts and criminals.


Situated in the vicinity of Ratta Amral Police Station near the railway station, the graveyard is ‘one of the oldest in the city,’ according to 56-year-old gravedigger Muhammad Aslam.

Aslam said the graveyard is spread over a vast area which used to consist of large trees until they were chopped down by land grabbers, who have subsequently constructed homes on the land.

The district government-appointed committees are responsible for the graveyard’s maintenance but are powerless before the land grabbers, he added.

“This graveyard once covered over 300 kanals of land, which has now reduced to just 100 or 150 kanals,” said Aslam.



He said that ‘plot for sale’ notices can be seen clearly, pointing towards open spaces of land in the graveyard.

“I have been digging graves here for the past 30 years and know the name of each and every person that has been buried,” he added.

The situation has become so dire that one grave has to be used for burial several times. Aslam said he knew which graves these were.

Most of the graves — especially those adjacent to residential areas — aren’t visited regularly because land grabbers set up enclosures claiming to protect them. They then conceal the graves by dumping construction material around them.

“The district government’s plan to build a wall around the city’s graveyards was scrapped owing to a lack of planning. They have turned a blind eye towards the encroachments,” said Aslam.



Interestingly, the graves in which poor families have been buried are more vulnerable to encroachments, whereas those in which influential families have been buried are secure, in good condition and properly maintained, he added.

The land grabbers claim to have inherited the land — on which they have constructed homes illegally —from their forefathers, but the local revenue department contains no such records that substantiate these claims, said Aslam.

When contacted, Additional Deputy Commissioner (General) Ali Randhawa said he was unaware of the situation and requested that The Express Tribune contact Rawal Town’s tehsil municipal officer.

Rawal Town Municipal Administration Spokesperson Tahir Khan said the committees that were formed to look after the graveyard’s upkeep were responsible for protecting it from encroachments.

A sanctuary for addicts and criminals

The graveyard has also become a den of drug addicts and thieves. Gravediggers have claimed the criminals are responsible for stealing iron fences installed around the graves.

“People blame us for stealing the fences,” complained Aslam, adding that complaints have been lodged with the police to no avail.

Aslam said those involved in street crimes often take refuge in the graveyard, a situation the police are well aware of.

However, Ratta Amral Police Station House Officer Chuadhry Zulfiqar said no complaints have been received from area residents.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2013.

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