Ashes In Waiting
The sad and tragic stories of the living Hindus in Pakistan are often heard and lamented upon. However, few know that even the dead are not spared. The Hindus are driven to miserable deaths, and even in their deaths, the persecution does not stop.
Throwing the ashes of the dead into the holy Ganges River in India is an important last rite for Hindus. The Vedic belief that the bodies of the deceased must be cremated and then their ashes immersed in the holy water for eternal transformation is age old. But thousands of Pakistani Hindus are forced to wait for decades for visas to enter India and carry out the post-death rituals for their dear ones.
Before the Partition, there were dozens of shamshan ghats in the cities of the erstwhile states of Punjab and Sind. Post-Partition, most of the Hindu community moved to India and the number of ghats diminished. Today, the lone crematorium in Karachi shares space with Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Parsi graveyards. At a time when Pakistan is facing increasing inter-religious conflicts, this graveyard is a rare place of harmony. The crematorium has a room called the ‘library’ where there are no books. There are just bundles of ashes of Hindu men and women who have become memories, dead souls who are waiting for salvation. These ashes will stay here, sometimes for years, until the relatives are granted visas to let immerse their remains in the Ganges. Many of the urns have been there for more than thirty years; many have also lost the identification tags attached to them.
Many more such urns are still kept at homes of the departed souls. One can well imagine how difficult it must be to keep earthen pots for many years with the fear of them being damaged or lost. It must be like living with a disabled person of the family. Many people consider these ashes to be curses from their bereaved ones and bad omens are attributed to the presence of these urns.
For years the Hindus of Lahore had been demanding land for a pyre. The land was given recently and the cremations take place by the banks of the River Ravi. Balmiks, the lower caste Hindus, had mostly converted to Christianity or Islam, but after the crematorium was made, they have started burning the dead.
The Hindus of Pakistan are angry with the Indian government, which is issuing visas for watching matches, but denying visas to perform essential religious and filial duties. Last year, Devothan Sewa Samiti from Pakistan got the ashes of 4,743 unknown dead persons, who had been cremated across 344 various cremation centres in Pakistan, to Haridwar, where they were finally immersed in the holy Ganga. It was a very sentimental moment at the Ganga ghat in Kankhal, as rituals were offered prior to immersing the ashes by saints and pundits, who prayed for peace for their souls. During the event, the Vishwa Sanatan Dharma Parishad national chief Mahant Surendra Avadhoot said that these “wandering 4,743 souls of our Hindu brothers living in neighbouring Pakistan have now been given the ultimate peace”.
The Devothan Samiti has, since 2002, been collecting ashes from across Pakistan of unidentified, unknown people, who were cremated in the various cremation centres, and also of those whose relatives could not immerse the ashes for one reason or the other.
The Indian government should lift visa restrictions for such emotional matters, and the conditions should be mutually relaxed by both countries. Visa problems should not stand in the way of salvation. The bereaved have been battling visa and travel restrictions for years to bring the ashes to India for immersion. The MEA should, in fact, establish a special cell in the consulates, which should look into all such applications. In fact, establishing depositories for such urns in the consulates would not be a bad idea. These can be sent to India where there are many organisations who would be only too happy to offer yeoman service to the brethren across the border.
The Hindus of Pakistan have been called the living dead, forgotten by us and the world community. The least we can do is to ensure that the dead stay dead.