The Punjab government claims to have earmarked land for both Muslim and Christian graveyards in rural areas in compliance with the Punjab and Haryana high court directive but the ground reality is different.
In its letter to the relevant authorities, the state government had also claimed to have raised signs at these graveyards. Punjab's 4.5-lakh Christians and 7.50-lakh Muslims, in most rural areas of the state, have to bury their dead at Shamlat (common) land.
The problem is acute in Gurdaspur district that is home to nearly 2-lakh Christians. Acting on the Punjab and Haryana high court directions after a public-interest petition by National Christian League president Jagdish Masih in December 2010, the Punjab government framed a policy for allotting burial land in rural areas to Christians and Muslims. However, till date, nothing much has been done.
In a recent letter to the petitioner, the Punjab rural development and panchayat department director had stated that the burial land had been allotted in all districts and even the signs were up. "The Punjab government is playing with the sentiments of minorities. Even two years after framing the policy, no land is allocated, and the claim is just an election stunt," said Masih.
Parkash Masih, a member of the National Christian League from Hoshiarpur district, said: "For a decade, we have been fighting for land to bury our dead. We can't comprehend how the government can be so insensitive."
Former Punjab Waqf Board chairperson Razia Sultana said: "The state government has failed to provide us with even burial space. It can make tall claims in newspapers but the truth is different, and at most places in the state, Muslims don't have final resting place."
Gurdaspur deputy commissioner Abhinav Trikha claimed the issue had been resolved at most locations and, at other places, efforts were on to lay it to rest. "I'm unaware but I will look into it," said Hoshiapur deputy commissioner Tanu Kashyap.