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Malakhah Graveyard: Where dead fetch the living Rs 15k a day, and more

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Srinagar, Jan 03: Laying people to rest at Malakhah, the city’s oldest and the largest Muslim graveyard, may have turned into a lucrative business for the gravediggers.
Located at the foothills of Hari Prabat, almost in the centre of old Srinagar, the cemetery has become a money-yielding field for the gravediggers, who have acquired the skill of burials from their forefathers.
On an average, as per the elderly gravediggers, Rs 15,000 is the cost of a single burial at Malakhah.
“And Malakhah sees one to two deaths daily on an average,” a 60-year-old gravedigger, who has been in the business for the past 30 years, shares, wishing not to be quoted by name.
“The numbers fluctuate. I have even seen five deaths on a single day.”
The minimum cost, he says, is Rs 5,000, asked of the families that are extremely poor.
“However, there’s no fixed rate card,” he adds. “The maximum price depends on the financial condition of the family.”
He believes that all their actions, from charging hefty sums to fraudulently selling people’s ancestral graveyards, are “justified”.
The 16th-century saint, Hazrat Mir Syed Ali Hamadani (RA) may not have imagined this fate of the land he dedicated to the people of Srinagar for burials.
Mohammad Shafi Dar, a resident of Khayam whose father passed away recently, had to pay Rs 13,500 to the gravedigger.
“They charged Rs 3,500 for burial and another Rs 10,000 for putting the gravestone, and that too after much bargain. A middle-class family like ours had to pay such a huge amount. How could we even argue during the time of mourning?” says Dar.
“I don’t understand why even burying the dead has become so costly in Kashmir, especially in Srinagar.”
Zahid Rashid, a resident of Barbarshah, lost his father in January 2017, and paid Rs 12,000 to the diggers.
“My father was a shopkeeper. I was a student when he passed away due to a brief illness. Luckily, he had savings from me to pay from for the digging,” Rashid says.
Simultaneously, Malakhah is shrinking, having reduced from 1300 kanal to 700 kanal over the decades.
Allowed by the gravediggers who are the virtual custodians of the land, encroachment is the major reason.
Muzammil Siddiqui, a resident of Nishat, says his ancestral graveyard was sold by the gravediggers to some other family.
“They did because no one died in our family in the past decade. Should I have killed someone to preserve my land?” he asks.
“They just sold it to some other family, and we were not even aware of it. Although it was settled latter, how could they even do this?”
Siddiqui, who also comes from a middle-class family, lost his cousin a few months back.
“They charged approximately Rs 4,000 for digging the grave. They didn’t allow me to dig his grave myself. What option did I have other than paying the demanded amount?” he says.
Malakhah comes under the Jammu & Kashmir Board for Muslim Specified Waqfs, but the gravediggers say they do not tolerate any “interference” from the board.
“They are thieves. Neither do we interfere, nor do we let them interfere. They look after us just for the sake of it,” the elderly gravedigger says.
In 2012, a scam exposed how the Muslim Waqf Board, in gross violation of norms, secretly sold patches of the Malakhah graveyard for constructions.
The board has remained surrounded by controversies in the past, and has received endless criticism for failing to perform its duties.
Newly-appointed Vice-Chairman of the boars, Nizamuddin Bhat, didn’t want to comment on the Malakhah.
“I don’t even know who the gravediggers there are. I’ll have to keenly look into the matter,” he says.


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LOK SABHA ELECTIONS: 13.6% turnout in Anantnag district

Segment-wise %age: Bijbehara 2.04, Anantnag 3.47, Dooru 17.28, Kokernag 19.50, Shangus 15.10, Pahalgam 20.37

Syed Nashir Ali Gillani

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Srinagar, Apr 23: The Anantnag district Tuesday witnessed a low voter turnout of 13.6 per cent in the third phase of the parliamentary elections.

Tuesday witnessed the first phase of the 3-phased polls for Anantnag Parliamentary seat, which also comprises of Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama districts.

Once considered PDP president Mehbooba Mufti’s bastion, the Bijbehara segment recorded the lowest poll percentage of 2.04%. Pahalgam recorded the highest turnout at 20.37%.

 

Addressing media persons, Chief Electoral Officer, J&K Shailendra Kumar said that polling took place “without any untoward incident”.

Divulging segment wise details of the district, the CEO informed that the percentage of the total votes polled in Anantnag segment  was 3.47 per cent, Dooru 17.28, Kokernag 19.50, Shangus 15.10, Bijbehara 2.04 and Pahalgam 20.37 %.

Kumar said that out of 5.27 lakh voters (2.69 lakh males) and (2.57 females), 71777 voters cast their vote.

He said that 54,663 voters were to cast their vote for the first time, adding that 44,536 voters were in the age group of 18 -21 years.

In Kokernag as per Kumar, 18312 votes were polled with a polling percentage of 19.36% and in Shangus 13354 votes were polled with a poll percentage of 15.09%.

In Bijbehara, 1905 votes were polled with a polling percentage of 2.04% and in Pahalgam 17649 votes  were polled with a polling percentage of 20.37%.  

Kumar said that “total poll percentage of three phases held so far stands at 48.87%.”

He said that for the smooth polling, the ECI had setup 714 polling stations in the district. The ECI had also established 21 model polling stations, 12 all women model polling stations.

He complemented all those involved in the poll process including political parties and election staff.

The polling took place in 714 polling stations including 21 migrant polling stations and 71 model polling stations.

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Bleak turnout may hit PDP

‘My father’s workers will ensure my victory’

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Srinagar, Apr 23: With the overall voter turnout in the first of the three-phase polling in Anantnag Lok Sabha constituency settling below 10 per cent till 1 p.m. on Tuesday, the fate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti hangs precariously in the balance in what was till recently her party’s bastion.

The bad news for Mufti is that voters in her ancestral town Bijbehara and the neighbouring Anantnag showed very little interest to come out and join the poll process.

Mufti won this Lok Sabha seat in 2014 and resigned in 2016 to become the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir following the death of her father, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed.

 

She later won the 2016 bypoll for the Anantnag Assembly seat to get elected to the 87-member state legislative Assembly. Anantnag Assembly seat fell vacant due to Mufti Senior’s death in 2016.

In contrast to the less than 3 per cent voter turnout in Bijbehara and Anantnag segments that have traditionally been PDP strongholds, the turnout was better in Dooru, Kokernag and Shangus segments where her Congress rival, Ghulam Ahmad Mir has strong voter support.

The voter turnout has also been good in the Pahalgam segment, but it is believed that the PDP and the National Conference (NC) would cut almost equally here, again giving an edge to the Congress candidate.

Voting will be held in Kulgam district of the constituency on April 29 and in Shopian and Pulwama districts on May 6 and the voter turnout in these remaining districts may make or mar the electoral prospects of the PDP President.

Meanwhile, Mehbooba Mufti Tuesday said that the workers of her father Mufti Sayeed will ensure her victory in the Lok Sabha polls.

After casting her vote in Bijbehara area of South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, Mehbooba said that “this time my father Late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed is not with me but his workers who have worked for him are still there.”

“I hope the workers of my father will ensure my victory in this election,” Mehbooba told reporters.

Asked about low voter turnout in her hometown Bijbehara, Mehbooba said, “I am hopeful of good results.”

Mehbooba is among the 18 candidates who are in fray for South Kashmir Lok Sabha constituency.

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‘Mehbooba disowned her birth place; we just returned the favour today’

Firdous Hassan

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Bijbehara, Apr 23: Barely 100 meters away from the ancestral home of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) founder Late Mufti Sayeed, in Baba Mohalla Bijbehara, a group of seven elderly men were Tuesday drawing comparison between the ongoing and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Sitting on a pavement close to late Mufti’s ancestral house, they lamented the party’s downfall in the town particularly after the death of the PDP founder, which was followed by her daughter Mehbooba Mufti taking over the party in 2015.

As their arguments grew louder, a number of youth, who were sitting near the shrine of Baba Naseem-ud-din Gazi (RA), too joined in. They all justified the town’s “total boycott” of the Lok Sabha elections this year.

 

By noon, only 78 votes had been polled in the town which has 6,756 electorates.

Only 27 votes were polled in three polling booths closest to Mehbooba’s ancestral home.

All these men and youth were seemingly unhappy with the PDP chief for “disowning” her home town soon after taking over as the Member of Parliament (MP) and later Chief Minister of the state.

A man in his 60s said that Mehbooba during her speech soon after being elected as MP in 2014 claimed that she belonged to the nearby Akhran village.

“Her father Mufti Sayeed sahab lived here and she too managed to garner people’s support from here in 2014. How could she later claim that she never belonged to the town? The same day we started losing our hopes in her,” he said.

Abdul Salam, another elderly person, said that Muftis “have now even changed their graveyard from Baba Mohalla to Dara Shikoh Park.”

“People are very angry with them. Mufti Sahab could have been buried in his ancestral graveyard, which the family didn’t prefer. In 2014, we saw a large number of voters coming out of their homes to support the party, which is not happening now,” he said.

Regretting the loss the area faced with the death of Mufti Sayeed, the locals claimed Mehbooba “ignored the people of her town. That was the reason why people were showing their backs to PDP”.

“Mufti Sahab would visit to the town every now and then. But we haven’t seen Mehbooba ji after she won her elections in 2014. So people this time preferred to boycott the election,” said a youth supported by others.

One of the locals questioned the PDP’s approach towards the town by pointing towards a street, which was littered with garbage.

“Do you expect streets in a chief minister’s town looking like this?” he questioned, while pointing towards the street.

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