16th century cemetery falls prey to 21st century greed

Vote bank politics, land mafia, druggies vandalize Malkha; People concerned, Govt looks the other way

16th century famous saint Shah-e-Hamdan(RA)’s son would never have it in his imaginations that 800 kanal land he dedicated to the people of Srinagar for burials –the Malkha –would one day be victim of illegal constructions  which would even bury the gravestones beneath. Over five centuries on, this is the reality of City’s biggest cemetery, which has been witnessing vandalization of sorts, particularly encroachments in the post ’47 era.

 The typical smell of smoking Charas hangs thick in the air in this cemetery in the heels of Koh-e-Sulaiman hills in north Srinagar, a stone’s throw from Kashmir’s historic Jamia Masjid. Mourners are assembling to offer a congregational Fateha Khawani. While negotiating the uneven slopes dotted by bushes, muck and stray dogs, they happen to see among the mourners some senior officials and politicians in the state government.
 Taking it an opportunity to draw on-the-spot attention of the government towards the cemetery neglect, the locals speak their heart out. “Malkha has been a victim of government neglect and vote bank politics, alike. The land is being encroached upon, illegal constructions allowed while drug abuse has become a routine,” the concerned start to shout.
 Finding it hard to take the public outcry, the Babus and Netas cut-short their condolence visit and leave the place in a jiffy. “This has been a routine here, whenever we find any one from the government top brass at Malkha, we try to draw their attention but they always give us a slip,” the complainants say while pointing towards some nearby houses which have come up just next to the cemetery.
 “These illegal constructions in the form of residential houses and business ventures have not only come up next to graves but right over the gravestones,” the locals complain adding “all sewage and other waste coming out of these houses lands straight into the Malkha.”

 The role of Malkha custodian, the Muslim Wakf Board, has been dubious over the years. It is believed that initially, in ‘70s the open portion of the Malkha land towards the Mughal rampart, the Kalai side was sold out by a particular political party. “Wakf Board had been a source of feeding their cadres and they(politicians) didn’t even mind to suck Malkha,” recaps a retired Revenue official requesting not to be identified.
 “Besides, as a part of vote bank politics, the government allowed migration in the Malkha neighborhood where illegal constructions were brazenly allowed over the years,” he adds.
 But the Muslim Wakf Board scams seem to be an unending story. Forget selling several patches of Malkha land for illegal constructions over the years, the board didn’t even mind to check the recent constructions undertaken by the government itself.

 Malkha vandalization looks nobody’s concern, at least in the government circles. In July 2014, the Housing and Urban Development Department (H&UDD) started construction of residential houses right next to the Malka graves on the Sheikh Colony side of the cemetery.
 Sources say the development which the H&UDD Commissioner Satish Nehru has been tight lipped on, aimed to facilitate “vote bank politics.” “Some Netas pressurized us to go for constructions on the graveyard otherwise why would we undertake work without proper building permissions?” says an official in the Housing Board, requesting anonymity.
 He says the Housing Board was so pressurized that it never approached the Srinagar Municipal Corporation(SMC) for grant of formal building permission. The SMC, on the other hand, seems to have developed as blind-spot over the cemetery issues. “Over the years all the constructions including government buildings which have come up in the area are without building permissions,” shares a former Ward Officer.
 While the land grab, “land mafia” role and illegal constructions continue to rise in the election year, drug abuse too is swelling with each passing day as druggies are often seen thronging the graveyard fenced by tall bushes all around.
 The drug menace exposes the alleged police slumber. “Police is aware that a particular colony in the Malka neighborhood is a hub of drug trafficking but political interference and vote bank politics hinders requisite action,” shares an official who was previously posted in the area.
 Like the SMC and police, the district administration looks equally unmoved. Sources say in the past around half a decade, office of District Development Commissioner rarely reviewed the grave Malkha concerns.

 Nestled in north Srinagar, in the heels of Koh-e-Maran with fort atop, this big cemetery has been serving the City for centuries. The vast Malkha land is believed to have been purchased by Mir Muhammad Hamadani(RA) son of Mir Syed Ali Hamadani (RA) the 16th century saint popularly known as Shah-e Hamadan from then ruler Sultan Sikandar Shah.
 But if 16th century people were so concerned about Srinagar and its people, what prevented successive governments, particularly in the post ‘47 era, from taking measures for Malkha conservation? And what has been the role of stakeholders including pro-freedom leadership, civil society and Islamic scholars?

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