LAHORE, Pakistan, Dec. 24 (UPI Next) --
Hindus in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, will get a cemetery by Thursday, reclaiming a Partition-era graveyard in this Muslim-majority area, following an August decision by Pakistan's Supreme Court.
The cemetery, adjacent to Christian, Muslim and Bahai graveyards, will open on schedule, a city official said.
The court ordered the country's four provincial governments to dedicate land for Hindu burials. The national decision specifically ordered Punjab officials to expel squatters from 14,200 square feet of land designated for the Hindu cemetery. The decision followed a petition for the land by Lahore Hindus' representatives, who said that without a cemetery their dead can’t be buried close to home.
Although Hinduism was the majority faith in Lahore before the 1947 partition of British India that created Pakistan, the Hindu population here is now so small the Muslim cemetery had expanded, while a leather factory and car showroom were built on the rest of the Hindu cemetery land.
Pakistan Balmik Sabha, an organization that works for equal rights for Hindus, estimates there are 230,000 Hindus in Pakistan, 400 of whom live in Lahore. The organization's president, Amarnath Randhawa, told UPI Next that during the last 25 years Hindus were buried throughout the region rather than at home.
"With the death of any Hindu in Lahore, there used to be less grief for his death and more grief for his burial," Randhawa said. Hindus often cremate adults, while children and the elderly are generally buried.
Muhammad Abbas, Lahore's engineer, said the Punjabi provincial government is funding the $30,000 project and that the cemetery would be ready by Thursday. He said the cemetery has a prayer hall, boundary wall, a water pump, restroom facilities and an office for maintaining records.
Muslim elder Abdul Salam, who lives a few yards from the Hindu graveyard and was named a trespasser in the Supreme Court verdict, said he has "no problem" with the Hindu cemetery.
Area Hindus say they are overjoyed.
"I'm glad that the state takes care of us," Hindu leather worker Ramesh Chand, 45, told UPI Next. "We are not like orphans, not like second-class citizens in our own country."
Aashiq Masih, 80, who spent 50 years as caretaker of the Christian graveyard, expressed pleasure over the restored Hindu graveyard.
Masih said that before the partition, all sects buried their dead on communal land, much of which has been sectioned for the Hindus.
Pakistan's Constitution recognizes the rights of religious minorities. The Supreme Court decision called for the four provinces to make religious accommodations as necessary.
Raza ul Mustafa, the prayer leader and caretaker of the nearby Muslim mosque and graveyard, said some local Muslims complained about the construction of a Hindu graveyard among the majority-Muslim population.
"Since the Hindus' graveyard is located in a Muslim-majority area, we will not allow other religious ceremonies of the Hindus in the graveyard like the ones they do perform in their temples, their place of worship," Mustafa told UPI Next.
As far as the graveyard is concerned, Mustafa said, "I will participate in the inaugural ceremony of the graveyard as Islam teaches brotherhood with other communities."
Hindu housewife Raj Kumari, 70, is enthusiastic about the new cemetery. "I have said in my will that I should be buried in this graveyard," she told UPI Next.
Heera Lala, a Hindu elder, 80, who owns a tire shop in Lahore, praised the decision as helping to fulfill the dream of Pakistan's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, for full religious freedom for minorities.