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Big business destroys Sufi shrine graveyard

by Mahim Maher

March 20, 2014 | 8:20 am

This news is about how a real estate tycoon has been paying for 'renovations' of a Sufi shrine in Clifton, Karachi. But in the process his men have desecrated graves. No one can write about it because he's bought out many in the media.

A newspaper reporter I know investigated the desecration of graves upon my request. This is the story. It hasn't been published anywhere. I'd rather not name names so no one gets into trouble:

In Karachi, some problems don’t end when you die – they start at the graveyard.

Take the example of Nazir Ahmed. In the 1970s, he was laid to rest at the graveyard attached to the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Clifton. Today a ladder made of thick steel scaffolding pipes has been driven right through the middle of his remains for the construction, renovation and expansion of the shrine. His is one of over 20 graves, including a few empty ones, which have been buried under the rubble and debris. Many headstones have been smashed.

The Sufi saint’s resting place has been getting a facelift. The work includes the expansion of the main shrine, a new mosque, renovation of the area around the chashma or spring, work on the langar khana, a dispensary, rest house, a separate sewerage line, elevators and wheelchair-friendly access.

And while the dead may not have been able to protest the mess the expansion has created, their families have been vocal. “The desecration of the graves is very painful,” said Rubab Karrar, whose father Haider Karrar was buried here in 2004. (He was the son of Prof. Karrar Husain). The family went to pay their respects last week on his death anniversary to find that there was considerable damage done to many graves. (His was intact.) The family said that the construction company never informed them about the work they were about to undertake and that several complaints to the Auqaf department had gone unheeded.

A similar complaint was made by another family. “There was no consultation whatsoever with us before the construction plan was made,” said Shah Owais Noorani, whose father Shah Ahmed Noorani is buried there. “Heritage is being damaged. This desecration is extremely tragic.” They should have consulted religious scholars before doing anything, he added.

The general manager for works for Bahria Town undertaking the expansion work, Jalaluddin Akbar Butt, admitted, once he was shown the poles driven through Nazir Ahmed’s grave, that it should not have happened. He said they had issued strict orders to maintain the sanctity of the site. “The wrongdoing of contractors and labourers are regretted and things will be put in order within two to three days,” he promised, adding that their work was taking extra time because they were trying to be careful about reducing the damage and maintaining the sanctity of the graveyard.

For his part, though, the site’s engineer, Muzahir Hashmi, described whatever had happened at the graveyard as “accidental damage” as there had been no intention to upset anyone. He claimed that the company had acquired permission to work from the family members who had come for Fateha. He did not specify if everyone had been contacted.

The Auqaf department, which is responsible for such sites throughout the province, said it had very little input. The chief minister’s advisor on Auqaf, Ziaul Hassan Lanjar, clarified that they had nothing to do with the construction work. “Nobody’s feelings should have been hurt during the work,” he said, though. According to him, the company had been facing space constraints but that shouldn’t be presented as an excuse. He assured that he would visit the site and would ask the staff about the matter.

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