Thursday, March 6, 2014

Religion gets in the way of human rights

This is my sincere belief, religion should be used as a shield (to comfort the afflicted) and not as a sword (harm the powerless). Since this is not the way things are, it is desirable that religion (and religious doctrines) be banned from the public place.

I understand the difficulty of doing away with age-old traditions, but still the question needs to be asked: why does the Bheel community not cremate the (dead) bodies? Is it not a win-win situation, no unnecessary offense given to the majority, while satisfying criteria set by your own religion (presumably one cant escape by being an atheist). Finally cremation with assistance of electric furnaces are probably a better deal for the environment. Of course in extremis (and that will come for sure in a few decades time) the only possible options will be to convert or to migrate.

But that day, as Bhoro Bheel’s relatives were digging his grave, his elder brother Moti Bheel says, “Some people warned us against burying Bhoro in Haji Faqeer graveyard.” He says he was told that the cemetery was reserved for Muslims and that the Shariah did not allow the burial of non-Muslims in a Muslim graveyard.

As news of the problem over the burial spread, many locally influential people, including the Muslim landowner who employs Bhoro Bheel’s family as farm workers, got involved. Together, they ensured that the burial took place.

But, as the Bheels were leaving the graveyard, says Moti Bheel, a few people turned up and told him and his relatives to exhume Bhoro Bheel’s body and bury it somewhere else. “They threatened us. They said they would exhume the body themselves if we did not do so on our own,” Moti Bheel tells the Herald. The next morning, the Bheels informed the local police of the threats. This, however, did not deter the other side. “In the evening, a member of the Bheel community informed us that some people were digging Bhoro’s grave,” says Moti Bheel. “When we reached there, a charged crowed of 300 to 400 people had gathered and Bhoro’s body was lying outside the grave,” he adds.

The crowd had come together through the efforts of one Qari Abdul Basit, the administrator of a madrasa in Pangrio. Working through local mosques, he had distributed a fatwa against the burial of non-Muslims in Muslim graveyards. He also had prayer leaders announce that those who had exhumed Bhoro Bheel’s body had discharged their religious duty and had not committed any crime.

Perhaps deterred by such massive mobilisation, Shaukat Khatyan, the senior superintendent of the local police, did not take any action against those who had dug up the body even though he reached the graveyard immediately after the exhumation. Instead, says Moti Bheel, he told the Bheels to bury Bhoro Bheel elsewhere.

For the next eight hours, Bhoro Bheel’s body lay in the open because the landless Bheels did not have any place to bury it. Their employer came to their rescue again and donated a six-acre plot of land to them for a graveyard. Some of the Bheels, however, say they do not know how long their landlord will allow them to bury their dead in the donated plot.

Two months later, a similar incident took place in another part of Badin – in Goth Yar Mohammad Lund in Tando Bhago subdivision – where a recently buried body of a Hindu was exhumed because it was buried in a graveyard said to be reserved for Muslims. The only difference, this time around, was that the exhumation was undertaken by the dead man’s own family under severe pressure from the local Muslim community.

Allah Dino Bheel, an old Hindu man, had died in Goth Yar Mohammad Lund on December 23, 2013, and was buried in Bachal Shah graveyard, near Tando Bhago town. The next day, Allah Dino Khaskhaili, a Muslim prayer leader at a local mosque, approached Allah Dino Bheel’s sons – Laung, Ramchand and Dano – and told them to exhume their father’s body and bury him elsewhere. The prayer leader told them that the Islamic Shariah did not allow the burial of non-Muslims in a graveyard for Muslims. Khaskhaili said his followers would exhume Allah Dino Bheel’s body if the Bheel brothers refused to. With Bhoro Bheel’s example still fresh in their minds, Laung Bheel and his brothers decided to retrieve their father’s body and bury him elsewhere.

When Aftab Aghim, the deputy superintendent of local police, received information about the exhumation, he rushed to the spot and ordered the Bheels to stop. This angered Khaskhaili so much that he called for a shutdown of Tando Bhago, leading to the immediate closure of all local businesses, while some of his supporters blocked all entry and exit points of the town. Aghim, then, held prolonged discussions with the elders of both communities and proposed to build a wall within the graveyard to separate the graves of the Hindus from those of the Muslims. Luckily, say eyewitnesses, the two sides agreed to his proposal and the situation was defused. 

regards