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In Meerut, PM Modi’s ‘shamshan’ remark meets grave silence

Those managing Meerut’s Soorajkund cremation ground — the city’s biggest about two kilometres away from the Nauchandi graveyard — are not complaining.

assembly elections Updated: Feb 24, 2017 07:25 IST
Gulam Jeelani
Gulam Jeelani
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Uttar Pradesh elections,Assembly elections,Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi.(PTI Photo)

Kabristan Hazrat Bale Mian is as silent as any graveyard can be. Spread over 33,000 square metres in Nauchandi of Meerut, the most-preferred final resting place for Muslims in the town in Uttar Pradesh betrays no signs of disquiet over Prime Minister Narandra Modi’s controversial “kabristan-shamshan” statement.

As the country debates Modi’s remark at a rally in Fatehpur on February 19, accusing the ruling Samajwadi Party of religious discrimination — spending crores on constructing boundary walls around cemeteries while neglecting Hindu crematoriums — those managing burial grounds and crematoriums in Meerut are mostly unperturbed.

The oldest and the biggest, Kabristan Hazrat Bale Mian, received a Rs20-lakh grant for constructing a 500-metre-long boundary wall. The 5-feet-high wall has been built and the graveyard has been secured from encroachers.

But those managing Meerut’s Soorajkund cremation ground — the city’s biggest about two kilometres away from the Nauchandi graveyard — are not complaining. “We never felt short of money. We have enough philanthropists who are always ready to lend a helping hand,” said Dinesh Chand Ram, secretary of Ganga Motor Committee that manages the crematorium.

“We never applied for government assistance,” he said. The municipal corporation, though, is working on laying tiles along the path leading to the premises.

Since 2013, when the Akhilesh Yadav government launched the boundary wall scheme, Rs35.5 crore has been spent on 374 big and small graveyards of Meerut district. In state capital Lucknow, 250 graveyards have got Rs21 crore.

No cremation ground of the city has, however, applied for government grant though money as been earmarked for it.

The state government’s 2012 announcement to allocate Rs200 crore for constructing graveyard walls triggered a wave of criticism. Two years later, the chief minister sanctioned Rs100 crore to construct 775 new cremation grounds. Last year, the state also earmarked Rs270 crore to 170 urban local bodies for new cremation grounds, pointed out SP Singh, officer on special duty at the minority welfare and urban development.

The PM’s remark on “Muslim appeasement” has blown into a political controversy. But on the ground, caretakers of graveyards still complain of neglect and apathy. “The government allocates money, but it doesn’t percolate down to those who need it,” said Mufti M Ashraf, the caretaker of the graveyard in Nauchandi. Ashraf now wants the government to ensure boundary walls are built around three other graveyards of the town.

Locals say the parallel being sought to be drawn between cemeteries and crematoriums is misplaced.

According to Zainus Sajiddin, former dean of theology at Aligarh Muslim University, graveyards need to be protected. “With time, as the cities shrunk, we need more space to bury the dead. This is not the case with crematoriums which don’t have the space issue,” he said. A majority in Meerut therefore is unmoved by Modi’s remark.

Many feel politicians should leave the dead in peace. A board at the gate of the dargah adjacent to Nauchandi graveyard put it succinctly: “Yahan par siyaasi muddon par baat na karen” (please do not discuss politics here)”.

First Published: Feb 24, 2017 07:24 IST