Death is the great leveller. But the tragedy following it is not experienced equally in Muslim-dominated Pakistan.
While some Hindus and Sikhs travel hundreds of kilometers just to perform the last rites as per their religious practices, others have no option but to bury the mortal remains of their near and dear ones.
Cremation grounds are vanishing fast in Pakistan, and the minority Hindus and Sikhs are compelled to bury the dead, Amritsar-based Sikh historian Surinder Kochhar claimed.
Final journey: Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan have to travel long distances owing to the dearth of cremation grounds
“In Lahore alone, there were about 12 cremation grounds before Independence. But not even a single facility exists at present. After Independence, there were 1,200 Hindu families living in Lahore which now has come down to six families,” Amritsar-based Sikh historian Surinder Kochhar said.
Kochhar told Mail Today that the situation is no different in other Pakistani towns.
He said cremation grounds are also rare in areas lying in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly called North-West Frontier Province), where about 35,000 Hindus and Sikhs live.
Hindus in Swat and Tirah Valleys, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Kohat, Malakand, Bunair, Naushera and Peshawar are forced to travel long distances to reach Hasan Abdal (Panja Sahib) to cremate the dead, the historian said.
Each of these journeys can cost anything from Rs 40,000 to Rs 70,000, he said, and the danger of robbery during these travels cannot be ruled out.
The law of the land provides no succour to the distressed families. They are stopped at every district and asked to get a no-objection certificate.
At times, the grief-stricken families wait for hours to get the NOCs as the district magistrates are not available.
Besides Hasan Abdal, another cremation ground is located at Nankana Sahib, some 86km from Lahore.
Although the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa administration had allowed Hindus and Sikhs to perform cremation near temples, most of the temples, agricultural lands and commercial areas have already been encroached upon by land mafia.
Kochhar claimed some Hindus and Sikhs try unsuccessfully to cremate the bodies of their relatives on the banks of the Ravi at midnight.
According to Kochhar, the two communities face a similar problem in neighbouring Afghanistan, where relatives are asked to carry NOCs with them to cremate the dead.