In a city where buying a dream home is getting costlier by the day, securing a final resting place is becoming harder for Muslims and Christians as graveyards are packed. The skyrocketing land prices coupled with unabated encroachments have led to a situation in which the dead have to jostle for the proverbial ‘two yards’ of land.
The city has three designated graveyards each for Muslim and Christian communities. The last time the state government allotted a graveyard for the two communities was 12 years ago during the Om Prakash Chautala-led government.
Fight for the proverbial ‘two yard’ space
For Muslims, comprising 4.65 % (70,842) of the 15.14 lakh population of Gurgaon as per 2011 Census, there are graveyards at Pataudi Chowk -- the oldest one -- and at the historical Sarai Alawardi mosque at Chauma village in Palam Vihar. The third burial ground that spreads across 2.5 acres in Sector 56 was allotted in 2004. The Sector 56 graveyard, mostly used by residents of new areas of the city, has space for over 2,000 graves.
As things stand, both Pataudi Chowk and Chauma graveyards have run out of space. In the absence of other options, these burial grounds have been refilled with sand and burials are conducted over the already existing graves. The two graveyards have space for 1,200 graves each.
“The population is increasing and so are the land prices. There is a graveyard in Sector 56, but people prefer to bury the dead in their vicinity. The government has not given us any space for graveyards in recent times. So, we were forced to refill the existing ones to find more space,” Mufti Mohammad Saleem, who has been spearheading a campaign to prompt the state government to earmark a piece of land to be used as graveyards, said.
Encroachments, a concern
Refilling graves have not solved the ‘grave’ concern as people eying prime land have already encroached upon some space of the Pataudi Chowk graveyard spread across two acres. Making matters worse, the newly refilled graveyard has caught the attention of local boys who use it as a cricket ground.
“The authorities are sleeping. They are doing nothing against the encroachments at this graveyard. That too when we do not have any other graveyard in the area,” Ismail Anwar of Khandsa village said.
Both Pataudi Chowk and Chauma village graveyards are managed by Haryana Wakf Board -- the custodian of Muslim religious properties in the state.
“After several efforts, we finally managed to refill the graveyards. We know there is a space crunch, but still, we have asked the state government to allot us some land to be earmarked as a graveyard for the community,” Mohammad Usman, estate officer of the Wakf Board, Gurgaon, said.
Some individual efforts
Several non-profit organisations such as Haryana Anjuman Charitable Trust have been interacting with government authorities for land.
“We got the Sector 56 graveyard after a long-drawn effort. Still, there is only one graveyard in the newly developed part of the city,” Mohammad Aslam Khan, chairman of the charitable trust, said.
Besides, there were efforts by residents too to earmark some land as a burial ground. In Badshahpur’s Darbaripur village, residents tried to demarcate a plot as a graveyard. The effort, though, has been facing resistance because of which the boundary wall being constructed around it was left midway.
“It is unfortunate that people in our community have been eying the land and wanted to grab it. We tried to construct a wall which is yet to be completed,” Mufti Saleem said.
The luxury of a grave nearby, however, does not come free. The cost of a grave, not earmarked by the government, starts from Rs 5,000.
The concern is no different for Christians. The two cemeteries near Police Lines have exhausted their space. People either go to Delhi to bury their loved ones or bury them over the graves of their relatives, subject to the consent of the family.
“The Christian community of Gurgaon is concerned about the lack of graveyards. It’s the duty of the government to provide space for laying our loved ones to rest,” Sunil Ghazan, pastor-in-charge, the Church of the Epiphany, said. The Christian population of Gurgaon according to 2011 Census is 0.64% (nearly 10,000).
A graveyard was allotted in Sector 56 with space for 1,500 graves in 2004, but people prefer the two graveyards near Police Lines.
“Christians are the second largest minority in Gurgaon after Muslims and live mostly in Old city areas. The two graveyards near Police Lines have exhausted the space and people generally do not want a burial at Sector 56 graveyard,” Eric Thomson, a resident, said.
The doubling process, in which a person can be buried in the same grave, is allowed only if there is a gap of at least seven years between two deaths. Besides, some Christians, like in Delhi, have also started the ‘burial of ashes’ after cremating the loved ones.
“If there is a consensus within the family, there is no wrong in doubling till we have enough space. This is usually done only after seven years of death of the first person,“ Ghazan said.
The oldest graveyard for Christians in Gurgaon, located near the Police Lines, is a testament to Gurgaon’s history. The burial ground houses graves dating back to 1856, well before the Church of the Epiphany came into existence.
People from foreign shores often visit the graves of their ancestors who were buried here decades ago. The practice of burying more than one person in the same grave is also avoided her because of the historic value of the graves.
Gurgaon is engraved as ‘Goorgaon’ on some of the oldest graves.
“We often receive people from the UK enquiring about the graves of their relatives. They ask us for the register containing information about their family members. There are graves dating back to 1856, and from the era of World Wars,” Ghazan said.
In some cases, people buy grave space in advance by paying a specified amount.
The Church of the Epiphany was built in the then Gurgaon cantonment in 1862 and consecrated by the Bishop of Calcutta in 1866. The Church was maintained by the government till 1942 when it was handed over to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Cambridge Mission in Delhi.