In Barelvi-Deobandi tussle, elderly woman denied burial

By Our Own Correspondent
Raipur/Chhattisgarh: Taar Mohammed (73) could have never thought even in his wildest dreams that following the death of him and his wife (who died just five months after him), their family would be forbidden by a prominent Muslim sect from visiting the community’s burial grounds or worse be cited as ‘kafir” by a lawyer during the hearing in the Chhattisgarh High Court.

Body of Zubaida being buried after high court order

The only reason for their dead bodies being shabbily treated was their reported belief in the Deobandi school of thought. And the Rajnandgaon administration whose role should have been to amicably settle the ‘needless’ dispute or deal sternly to ensure justice, remained a mere spectator.

On August 2, 2012, a resident of Rajnandgaon Taar Mohammed died after prolong illness. He was denied burial in his home-town and his body had to be taken for burial some 50 km away under police security.

“Its shocking and a matter of shame when the so-called Muslim ‘Mazhab ke Theekedar’ blatantly made mockery not just of the Constitution of India but acted in utter violation of human rights and dignity”, said Advocate Mohammed Waseem Khan who made all preparations to move the High Court but reportedly had to withdraw after he was threatened by those who were opposed to the Deobandi sect. “Those in influential positions refused to help the family which was given such shoddy treatment. So I was left with little option except to withdraw. Really very sad to find I am helpless”, Khan said.

In Chhattisgarh, the Muslim community remains divided into two sects: Barelvi and Deoband and in several districts of the state their places of worship usually are not the same.

On January 1, this year Taar Mohammed’s 64-year-old wife Zubaida Begum breathed her last. Again, the family was denied any space in the Muslim graveyard and was threatened with dire consequences if they attempted to bring the elderly lady’s body to the graveyard. The family this time with some local support took courage to fight for their rights. Her aggrieved son Hashim Memon knocked at the doors of the district authorities but owing to the political influence of the Barelvi sect in the state, the authorities again proved  of no help.

Aggrieved Memon decided to leave his mother’s body at home and file an urgent petition in Bilaspur-based high court seeking justice. “All I wished was a space in the Muslim graveyard for my mother”, Hashim said as tears rolled down his cheeks. According to Memon, their family had to face strong opposition from the chairman of the Gole Bazar mosque in Rajnandgaon Javed Ansari and the so-called  caretaker or Mutawalli, Haji Shafeeq. The duo were often found in conflict with anyone they believed are Deobandis and even prevented Deobandis from entering the mosque for prayer.  

The body of Zubaida Memon was kept for over two days at home. The Chhattisgarh court, listening to both the applicant and the respondents offerred a big relief. It ordered the immediate burial of the elderly woman on January 3, while directing the state administration and other respondents to ensure that the law and order is maintained in the region as tension kept mounting across the city. Ansari and Shafeeq stated that they didn’t allow the burial as the graveyard was allotted to the followers of Barelvi sect.
       A single bench of Justice Satish Agnihotri during the urgent hearing found in the state revenue record that the graveyard has been given for the purpose of burial of the deceased persons belonging to the Muslim (Sunni) community. “As per the record it was never meant for any particular sect (Barelvi or Deobandi) of Muslim”, the court observed.  
The state government had earmarked 7.10 acres of land long ago for purpose of burial of the deceased persons of Muslim community, said Prakash Tiwari, the counsel for Hashim.

       The body was laid to rest late evening after the court order. Even during the burial the Barelvis didn’t allow more than 15 people of Hashim family and friends to enter the qabristan and prevented them from performing Janaza prayer at the designated place in the graveyard.

It was really disgraceful and atrocious, said Faz-lur-Rahman an Islamic scholar in Raipur. Strangely enough, during the hearing counsel Prateek Sharma, who appeared on behalf of Shafeeq and Javed Ansari, reportedly referred to the deceased and her family as “kafirs” (non-believers) in the court. Sharma is also associated with Chhattisgarh Wakf Board which was one of the respondents against Hashim.

“The state wakf board headed by its Chairman Salim Ashrafi deliberately played a biased and suspicious role in the entire issue. Despite my repeated plea, he didn’t respond. So we made the wakf board also a party in the case”, said Prakash Tiwai adding that the court has given interim relief now and has given two weeks time for the other party to respond.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 February 2013 on page no. 10

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