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             Volume 11 |Issue 11| March 16, 2012 |


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Photo: Amirul Rajiv

Grave Concerns

Akram Hosen Mamun

Death of a loved one is always a benumbing experience. Yet, often enough, someone or the other has to put aside the grief and focus on the immediate practicalities of burying the deceased. It may seem simple enough but the whole process involves a series of activities carried out by different groups of people.

In a city of 1.2 crore people, an overwhelming majority of whom are Muslims, the authorities at graveyards are having a hard time in keeping new graves ready all the time. Although Azimpur Graveyard is not the largest in the city, it alone receives an average of 25 corpses everyday, informs the in-charge at the Azimpur graveyard, Moulvi Mizanur Rahman. Due to its location and availability, more people come to Azimpur. Than to Mirpur Buddhijibi graveyard, which in the largest in Dhaka.

The City Corporation has five graveyards and two smashans (Crematorium for Hindus). Khandakar Millatul Islam, Social Welfare and Cultural Officer at Dhaka City Corporation (South), says, “The Corporation currently has no graveyard for the Christians living here. But we have decided to prepare a burial ground for the Christians somewhere between Gulshan and Badda.”

To cope with the growing need of space in graveyards, the government is allocating more space for them. More lands have reportedly been bought at the outskirts of Dhaka to be used as burial ground. Moreover, the government has understandably put a ban on selling graves permanently to the wealthy families.

The City Corporation has no graveyard for Christians. Photo: Amirul Rajiv

Near the gate of Azimpur Graveyard, there are a number of shops that sell kafoner kapor (a large white cloth used as a burial shroud), scented soaps, korpur (napthaline), ator and other things necessary for the burial. There are also city corporation employees—both men and women—who are assigned to wash and prepare the corpses for burial. Although the cost of all these varies significantly, a majority of the people can get all these for less than Tk 1,000. The gravediggers and contractors also charge Tk 200-2000 or even more, depending on the locations of the graves.

“We are totally unaware that some corrupt individuals are taking extra money from people for the graves,” says Khandakar Millatul Islam says, “We are trying to dissuade people from paying anything to anybody without getting any receipt from the Corporation.” The City Corporation's charge for each grave is Tk 20.

“The graveyard has a vast area of 29 acres, but it needs more,” says Mizanur Rahman, the in-charge of Azimpur Graveyard. Since no one is allowed to buy graveyard spaces permanently, the graves are constantly being reused. Rahman adds, “We usually wait for 18-24 months before we reuse a grave. It takes about that long for a body to decompose.”

However, some people complain that the people who are unable to tend, maintain, and most importantly, pay the authorities to take care of the graves of their loved ones, often find the graves destroyed or reused well before 18 months. A Gardener-cum-Security Guard, who prefers to remain anonymous, says, “Sadek Hossain Khoka, the ex mayor made it a rule that no graves will be reused before two years of burying somebody. But the rules are not always followed,” he adds, “If the grave belongs to somebody who is from a poor background, they may destroy and reuse it in six months.”

Since a corpse does not decompose in six months they just dig another hole somewhere around in the ground and dump the old corpse in it, informed another gardener on conditions of anonymity. He also informed that people who regularly visit the graves of their closest ones and pay a 'fee' of Tk 200-500 per month to the caretakers to keep the graves untouched. But they also need to be vigilant in order to save the graves. “If you keep paying exorbitant sums to the concerned officials, you will be able to keep the grave of your loved one untouched for 10-20 years,” they echoed.

Some people also get cheated by paying money to gardeners for tending graves. Mofizuddin, a visitor at the graveyard says, “I have given Tk 1,000 to two gardeners to tend and maintain my mother's grave. But judging from the look of the grave after only about a month, I understand that they did nothing.” He also adds that he has been looking for the people who took the money in vain.

Another guard informs that the money they take from the visitors is divided among the officials of the graveyard authority.

The in-charge could not be reached for his comment on this allegation.

In the graveyards of Dhaka, it costs approximately 300-350 taka to bury a child. “The cost of burying varies according to the size of the graves,” says Kazi Ahsan, a sub-contractor, who works at Azimpur Graveyard. The cost of pieces of bamboo, chatai and the grave digging does not exceed Tk 1000 for an adult.

The people of Buddhist and Hindu communities have the bodies of their departed members cremated. Dr. PK Barua, Secretary General, Bangladesh Bouddha Kristy Prachar Sangha says, “When somebody from the Buddhist community dies, the family calls the deceased person's friends and relatives. They all gather in the evening in a meeting called antesti sabha.” The presence of Buddhist monks in the meeting is a must. The monks pray for the soul and contemplate on the transitory lives on earth. Dr. Barua adds that after the meeting, the body is taken in a coffin to a smashan for cremation.

Since the Buddhists do not have smashan of their own, they share the ones belonging to the Hindus. “Funeral rites are pretty expensive for Buddhists. Weekly prayers, Sraddha, the expenses of the monks, providing meals to the visiting friends and relatives cost a lot. Sometimes when a family can't afford all the costs, other affluent people of the Buddhist community help them,” says Dr Barua.

Buddhist communities usually spend one to thirty lakh taka for a funeral. “For us, death is not a matter of sorrow. We rather celebrate death because it sets us free from all the petty emotions of mortal life,” he concludes.

The City Corporation has two crematoriums for Hindu people in the city. Like Buddhists, the Hindu people do no cremate the dead body of children. Amaresh Ratan, who is in charge of the Postgola Smashan, informs that there are some sects of the Hindu community who bury their dead. “We get a lot more corpses every month than we can bury in the small piece of land in the smashan.” He lamented that despite repeated appeals, none of the governments since independence has taken any steps regarding the matter.

The Christians living in the city also face difficulties in burying their dead. They have two graveyards: one in Tejgaon and another in Wari. Father Parimol Rozario at Tejgaon Church says that he feels terrible to have to refuse to accept corpses as the graveyard often does not have any room for new graves. “It is very difficult for working class Christians to bury their dead. In many cases, they have to carry the corpse to their villages,” says Rozario.

Nothing is more agonising than having to face a series of hurdles in order to bury a beloved member of the family. Regardless of which religious community the graveyards are for, the authorities governing them hope that the government will do something to allocate more land for the dead.


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