There is not a single crematorium (Shamshaan Ghat) for the Hindu and Sikh communities in the whole Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to which they are forced to bury the bodies of their near and dear ones.

Most of their temples, graveyards, agricultural lands and commercial areas have been occupied by different mafias while many sacred sites have been turned into schools, picnic spots and hotels.

A large number of their sacred sites, including old temples, are also in the possession of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB).

The remaining few are in dilapidated conditions owing to the apathy of the authorities concerned.

The Hindu and Sikh communities from Tirah in the Khyber Agency, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Kohat, Malakand, Swat, Bunir, Nowshera and Peshawar spend thousands of rupees on taking the corpses of their relatives to Hasanabadal for cremation.

But most of them cannot afford the expensive religious rites. Some time back, the Sikh community in district Buner’s Ghurghushtu village acquired a 15-kanal land for crematorium after collecting donations from their well-off community members.

The KP government also rebuilt a rundown Hindu temple at Khawazakhela, Malakand, which could serve as a crematorium for the Sikhs and Hindus in Mingora, Swat.

But a large number of their community members living in Buner and the adjacent areas are still deprived of the facility of a space where they can perform the last rituals.

Amar Chand told Dawn that in the Buner district, the Sikh community acquired a land on self-help basis which was used for cremation purposes but still it does not fulfil the condition of a fully-fledged crematorium.

“Most people still take the dead bodies to Attack for the last ritual which is very expensive,” he regretted. Surjeet Singh from Tirah Valley said they spent Rs20,000 to Rs40,000 to perform the cremation rituals in Hasanabdal, adding poor people were compelled to bury the dead bodies.

Parkash, a resident of Peshawar, narrated another story.

He said though their Hindu Dharam does not allow burial of dead bodies but being poor some people adopt a strange way to satisfy their religious feelings.

“A coin is burnt in the fire and then its shape is stamped on the right palm of the dead person which symbolises cremation of the corpse. It is done simply because of the unavailability of Shamshaan Ghat.”

Amrik Singh in Kohat said there was a small crematorium away from the city but it was not in a good condition and being on the roadside insecure from public interference.

The Hindu community in Dera Ismail Khan complained that an old temple - Kali Bari Mandir spreading over 12 marlas - in the main city had been acquired on rent from the ETPB about 25 years back.

However, it was now being used as a hotel. Garbage is dumped on its premises by its users.

Kishore Kumar, an MPA of JUI from D.I. Khan, told Dawn: “Being a parliamentarian and member of the standing committee on minorities, evacuee and Haj, I have taken up the issue on the assembly floor and also with the committee but to no avail. The historic temple is being used as a hotel where its users only pay a rent of Rs1,600 per month to the ETPB but earn thousands from their business. Precious idols are also missing and they have disfigured the temple.”

In the standing committee meeting last month, he added, it was decided that the federal ETPB members would be called for further discussion because the temple is under their control. “We have our lands and sacred sites in almost every district of KP which are in the illegal possession of various mafias. Some of them are either in provincial ETPB’ possession or under the control of the federal ETPB,” added Mr Kumar.

It has also been learnt that some graveyards and scared places of Christian, Hindu and Sikh communities are under trial in courts by different groups of their own communities.

Amir Chohan, a Hindu social activist, said Hindu temples in Kali Bari, Jhanda, R.A. and Gora Bazaars remain dysfunctional since long due to disputes by various groups while a sacred Hindu place on Warsak Road, Peshawar, has been occupied by land grabbers.

The unavailability of Shamshaan Ghat is yet another big issue. It is like to force a Muslim to cremate a dead body instead of burial. “What awkward and sinful a Muslim would think it to be,” he argued.

A historic Sikh temple located in a fort at Pir Sabaq, district Nowshera, came into the public notice when flashfloods washed away a portion of the structure recently. Built by famous Sikh warrior Sardar Phula Singh in 1800, the temple covers an area of 44,000 kanals and used to have a hostel, dining hall and washrooms.

This building has been occupied by the KP agriculture department for the last 30 years. The historic Sardar Phula Singh fort at Pir Sabaq is under the use of the Cereal Crops Research Institute (CCRI), KP.

The Sardar Phula Singh fort had also a shamshaan ghat but now it is in a shambles.

Also, till recently a government primary school existed on its premises when an NGO got it removed. Local Sikhs complained that the over 200-year-old structure should be revived as a national asset and be opened for the community religious services.

When approached by Dawn, Christian minority MPA Asif Bhatti added: “We have recently built and launched a Shamshaan Ghat at Attock Khairabad from which Hindu and Sikh IDPs from Tirah valley can benefit.

Also, the KP government has rebuilt and made functional about 10 churches in Kohat, Bannu and Peshawar. A Hindu graveyard at Nauthia Qadim, near Peshawar Cantt, was recently retrieved from land grabbers through court orders.”

He added that after the 18th amendment, the federal government had not yet devolved the control of the archaeological and minorities’ scared sites to the province.

“The historic Sikh fort and temple at Pir Sabaq is not in my knowledge. The KP government is trying its best to resolve all issues being confronted by different ethnic groups living in the province.”