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Chowkundi controversy

August 18, 2011

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IT appears that some influential people even have a fetish for graveyard land, as revealed in a recent report of a burial in the historical Chowkundi cemetery outside Karachi. Two years ago, it was the Makli necropolis, a heritage site in Thatta, through which a water channel was dug to apparently water the fields of a relative of the Sindh culture minister. That incident, too, was brought to the attention of the culture ministry, the official custodian of Sindh's heritage sites, but nothing came of it. In the latest bizarre incident, it was reportedly the Sindh Assembly secretary whose kin violated the ban on burials at the protected site and forcibly buried the body of a deceased relative, resisting the two watchmen on duty. The secretary contends he had taken permission from the antiquities department. He now seeks approval to construct a concrete structure over the grave. A further twist in his account, making it suspect, is that permission was sought for 'temporary burial'; the body was to be relocated to another burial ground. The secretary, culture, however, says that even if such permission was granted, it was in breach of the rules and has no validity. The chief minister has rightly ordered an inquiry.

The death of a member of a community is a sobering event that must not be brought into controversy out of respect for the deceased — and much less be seen as an opportunity to grab land. The culture secretary is right in being firm in his stance as this burial could become a precedent for granting further burials at the protected site, which houses the tombs of Sindh's 15th-18th-century rulers. Chowkundi, Makli and other heritage sites deserve better — especially now that after the devolution of such monuments to the provinces, there is no longer any federal oversight.