Ambala Christian cemetery in ruins amid battle for possession
Ambala’s Christian Cemetery on Jagadhari Road is in a state of ruin as two parties remain locked in battle over its possession.
Built in 1844, the 20.54 acre burial ground in the Cantonment assumes historic importance as it has an estimated two lakh graves, including those of around 66 World War I (1914-1918) soldiers, 20 Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) prisoners who fought in South Africa and those of a number of Britons from the pre-independence era.
Monuments of different regiments of the British Indian Army and cemetery angels, some damaged and others fallen, can be seen here.
Everything is in a sad state of disrepair, overtaken by long wild grass and weeds, some spots inundated by sewer water.
Father Patras Mundu, secretary and treasurer of the Ambala Cemetery Committee, insists this is common property belonging to the Christian community and does not belong to any church or individual.
Mundu alleges that Shaukatt Masih Bhatti of Alexandra Road, allegedly a self-declared Anglican bishop, has claimed the property saying it belongs to the Church of England.
Claiming that he has the documents to prove that the government of India is the landlord and the British High Commissioner holds the occupancy rights, Mundu says the cemetery is a state protected site, but illegal encroachments have come up along the boundary wall.
Father Anthony, priest at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, alleges some graves had been damaged by a demolition machine “while he (Bhatti) was cleaning the land to sell it.”
“In July, he brought in the machine and (damaged) many graves, including war graves. We complained to the police and have shown them the damaged graves too. Teams from Commonwealth War Graves (CWGC), British High Commission and Haryana Archaeology Department have visited the site and have expressed sadness at its unfortunate situation,” says Anthony.
Responding to the charges, however, Bhatti refutes the claims, saying “I am the chairman of the Cemetery Committee from the last 15 years and Patras Mundu is not my secretary. I have a registry from 1864 to prove that the cemetery belongs to the Church of England along with some documents by the ministry of defence and other papers to prove my case.”
On the allegations of the graves being damaged by machinery brought by him, he adds that the claim is baseless and that the police have investigated the case and found nothing amiss.
Commenting on the matter, Rajesh Kumar, secretary of the Ambala Sadar Municipal Council says the land is disputed between two parties that have their own set of documents to prove they own it.
Police, meanwhile, say they are investigating the allegation of damage to the graves. “We have received two complaints related to the cemetery. The other party says that the JCB (demolition machine) was brought in to clean the area. We are investigating the claim. Any FIR on the matter is yet to be lodged,” says Vikas Kumar, station in-charge, Ambala Cantonment police station.