Lahore’s only Hindu and Sikh cremation ground, spread over an expanse of 34 kanals and located near Babu Sabu Chowk, has served the purpose of cremation of only five bodies since its inception in 2000, according to a caretaker and ETBP employee, Benyamin.
As per Benyamin’s account, no Hindu or Sikh body has arrived in the Shamshan Ghat for nearly two years.
The caretaker also told The News that government employees designated by Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) to clean and maintain the cremation site had not visited the property for more than a year.
This scribe visited the Hindu and Sikh cremation ground on Friday. Conditions observed were poor and demonstrated clear government negligence.
The 2005 earthquake had brought down part of the boundary wall, which divides the 35-kanal property into Hindu and Sikh cremation grounds and is yet to be reconstructed.
Last year’s floods had also left deep trenches in parts of the cremation site, which is additionally infested with insects. The house of Benyamin on the site was also partially destroyed by floods.
Talking to The News caretaker Benyamin, the only ETPB employee present on Friday afternoon, said that the obsolete property was now serving nearby farmers. Against ETBP rules governing its properties, these farmers openly let their livestock, including cows and goats, graze on the grass of Lahore’s only Hindu and Sikh cremation ground.
Benyamin claimed ETPB Deputy Secretary-General (Shrines), Azhar Sulehri visited the site often but failed to take note of the deteriorating conditions.
He said the site also lacked proper storage facility for ashes of burnt Hindu and Sikh bodies; instead they were usually disposed of in garbage.
To a question on the Shamshan Ghat’s location, caretaker Benyamin said the Punjab government should have chosen to build a Hindu and Sikh cremation site on a riverbank so that the ashes of the cremated body could be disposed of into the water soon after cremation ritual, in accordance with Hindu and Sikh religious custom.
Responding to claims of negligence, ETPB’s Azhar Sulehri denied caretaker Benyamin’s account and said ETPB workers had regularly visited the site, performing cleaning and maintenance operations. He said the land of the cremation ground was rugged and thus prone to insect infestation.
On the question of bodies, Sulehri said most Sikhs preferred cremating the dead in Nankana Sahib; the birthplace of Guru Nanak located 45 kilometers from Lahore.
The ETPB Deputy Secretary-General declined to comment on the location’s inconvenience for Hindus, who ideally prefer a river-bank cremation site, as well as the illegal pastoral grazing witnessed by this scribe.
According to Pandit Manohar Chand, President of Pakistan Hindu Welfare Council, approximately 300 Hindu families currently resided in the city.
The figure is estimated to be one million in the whole of Punjab. Organizations such as Pakistan Hindu Welfare Council, Pakistan Balmik Sabha and Hindu Balmik Sudhar Sabha have campaigned for a Hindu cremation site in Lahore since 1947 yet the only Hindu and Sikh cremation ground in the City is facing neglect and lying unutilized.