The Northeast constituency has more than the usual bijli, sadak, paani (power, roads and water) issues on its mind ahead of this election. The Muslims voters of the constituency this year would cast their votes for a candidate who promises to improve the burial grounds in their neighbourhood.
Poor condition of the graveyards in Mustafabad and Babarpur has slowly turned into big a election issue this year. For local Muslims, it is a sensitive issue and Muslim candidates are ready to cash in on it.
They are not only promising better facilities at the existing graveyards, but also talking about putting pressure on the land owning agencies to earmark land for new graveyards.
Mohammad Alam (29), a carpenter, who buried his mother recently at one of these graveyards, said he was shocked to go back there after three days. “The grave was partly dug up. The sight of a dog feasting on bones near the grave and smell of rotten flesh shook me up,” he said.
Alam said he narrated his story to Dilshad Ali, the Bahujan Samaj Party candidate from the Northeast Delhi, seeking help.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate Dilshad Ali said people were really emotional about the issue, especially in Babarpur.
Babarpur is Ali’s stronghold and has over 35 per cent Muslim votes. Ali had contested last assembly elections from Babapur in 2008 and got over 28,000 votes.
“In every meeting with workers and voters in Muslim-dominated areas of my constituency, especially in Babarpur, people complain about the poor condition of the graveyards. Since I belong to this community, addressing this problem will definitely be my top priority,” said Ali.
He said broken boundary wall, encroachment, filth and street dogs digging out remains from the graves were some of the problems residents have complained about.
“The committees that manage graveyards have no separate fund for their maintenance. I will ensure that a separate corpus is created for regular upkeep of burial grounds,” he said.
In Mustafabad, locals complain that they don’t even have a proper approach to the graveyard. About 500m long approach road to the graveyard from residential area is full of muck. There were also complaints of garbage being strewn around and dogs digging out bones of the dead.
“We cannot offer the kind of respect the dead bodies deserve in their graves. It is definitely a sensitive issue. I have told the electorate to vote for me so that collectively we could put pressure on the government for development of graveyards,” said Israr Khan, candidate of the Republic Party of India (E).
BSP candidate from East Delhi Mohammad Yunus said condition of the graveyard in Okhla was no better.
“Each grave in the graveyard near Okhla has been used for at least 6-7 bodies. There is a scarcity of space and it is an important election issue for me,” said Yunus. “A new graveyard for Okhla is part of my election agenda,” he said.
According to Delhi Waqf Board Chairman Mateen Ahmed, it is not just Northeast or East Delhi parliamentary constituencies, but the entire Capital faces the problem of lack of space at burial grounds.
“With an increasing population, demand for graveyards is also increasing but space is limited. Delhi has about 30 lakh Muslims, which has spread out in all directions. Encroachment and construction of concrete grave, which is not allowed in the Islamic law, also contribute to the problem,” said Ahmed.
According to Delhi Waqf Board officials, there are about 500 graveyards, big and small, in Delhi. The number of graveyards, which are operational, is just about 50, he said.