The ashes of thousands of Hindus, placed in small clay pitchers and covered with red and white clothes, are gathering dust in various towns of Pakistan.
In a country where there are just three crematoria for Hindus and Sikhs, and where relatives of the dead minorities travel hundreds of kilometres to perform the last rites, the ashes are accumulating.
Their families have been waiting to get visas so they can travel to Hardwar in Uttarakhand to immerse the ashes in the holy Ganga and fulfill the last wishes of the dead.
(Above and below): Clay pitchers containing the ashes of Pakistani Hindus are stored in many towns and cities. The ashes cannot be immersed in the Ganga due to stringent visa laws and expensive travel.
Governments of both countries may not have the time to address the woes of the family members, but there is one person who has been taking up cudgels on their behalf for the past 24 years.
Swaran Singh Gill (52) of Amritsar, who travels to Pakistan gurdwaras for religious services three times a year, is also a social worker fighting for the rights of Hindus.
Gill, who heads Nankana Sahib Sikh Teerath Yatri Jatha, told Mail Today: “The ashes of thousands of Hindus are lying in various Pakistan temples and crematoriums. Most Pakistani Hindus are poor and cannot pay for the journey to India to immerse the ashes in the Ganga. Those people who can afford the journey across the border have been denied visas.”
The ashes of more than 300 Hindus are lying in Radha Krishna temple in Mirpur Mathelo in Ghotki district of Sindh province.
Some ashes even date back to 1947 when restrictions were imposed on Pakistani Hindus from visiting India.
“When our group visits Pakistan, Hindus seek help to get visas. I met Kunti Lal from Narwal area of Sialkot, Pakistan. His brother Banarasi Lal passed away in 2014 and his last wish was that his ashes are immersed in the Ganga. Eleven members of his family want to visit Hardwar and have applied for visas. I have taken up their case and they will get the same soon,” said the head of the Nankana Sahib Sikh Teerath Yatri Jatha.
Some ashes even date back to 1947, when visiting restrictions were imposed between Pakistan and India
Compelled to bury
Amritsar-based Sikh historian Surinder Kochar, after visiting Pakistan, said cremation grounds in the neighbouring country have vanished and Hindus and Sikhs are compelled to bury relatives.
“There were about a dozen cremation grounds in Lahore before Independence but not a single exists now. There are just six Hindu families there, down from 1,200 in 1947,” Kochar said.
He told Mail Today that cremation grounds are also missing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province) where 35,000 Hindu- Sikhs live.
According to him, Hindus in Swat Valley, Tirah Valley, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Kohat, Malakand, Bunair, Naushera and Peshawar pay Rs 40,000-70,000 to travel hundreds of miles to Hasan Abdal for performing cremation.
Kin are stopped and asked to get a no-objection certificate.
Kochar said: “The poor place a hot coin on the right palm of their dead and then bury the body.”
The land of almost no cremation
Swaran Singh Gill had first visited Pakistan in 1990 and his last trip was from November 10 to 19, 2014. He noticed that minority Hindus and Sikhs are being denied the right to perform the last rites of their beloved relatives.
It is with the efforts of Indian Sikhs that the Pakistan government restored three crematoriums in Nankana Sahib, Panja Sahib (Hasan Abdal) and Thokar Niaz Baig, Lahore.
Apart from Pakistan, cremation is banned in Afghanistan
Hindus and Sikhs are not even allowed to cremate bodies.
While some travel 1,000 kilometres to perform rites, some are compelled to bury the mortal remains, which is against their religion.
Hindus and Sikhs are stopped from immersing ashes in Pakistan’s rivers by locals, who say burning bodies leads to pollution.
Cremation is banned in Afghanistan and relatives travel to Nankana Sahib for the rites, which cost a bomb.
Pakistan temples face mafia threat
By Manjeet Sehgal in Chandigarh
Only two temples are maintained in Rawalpindi nowadays. Some others are in a bad condition and may be demolished soon
The saga of the Pakistani land mafia targeting Hindu and Sikh shrines seems never-ending.
The mafia has destroyed hundreds of shrines in various parts of the country while some others have been encroached upon by swindlers.
According to Amritsar-based Sikh historian Surinder Kochchar, the land mafia is now eyeing an old Hindu temple in Rawalpindi. The swindlers had earlier encroached upon the Gurudwara Singh Sabha in the Raja Bazar area of the city.
“The land, on which the Hindu temple is housed, bears the Khasra numbers U-1310, U-1311, U- 1330, U-1331 and U-1332. The mafia has constructed a Madeena market, which houses 103 shops and Al-Umar Plaza with 22 shops at the site,” Kochchar said.
A Khasra is a legal document that specifies land details. The historian said the local administration had dismantled the old Sikh haveli and other buildings a couple of years ago after a fire broke out in the area. A mosque and a madrasa have come up in their place.
Presently, Rawalpindi has only two Krishna and Valmiki temples which are being maintained. Around a dozen shrines in the city were razed as retaliation to the Babri Masjid demolition.
The city also has the remains of an old temple in Sarwar Road, Lal Tansukh Rai temple on Tipu Road and Kalyani Das temple in Kohati Bazar.
The Mohan temple in Landa Bazar, Jain temple in Kasai Bazar, Arya Samaj temple at Bohar Bazar and three other temples lie in a dilapidated condition and may be demolished anytime soon.