Thursday, April 22, 1999

This graveyard has no `room' for marriages, say Islamic elders

By Syed Akbar
Published in Indian Express on April 22, 1999
VIJAYAWADA, APRIL 21: A major controversy is raging in the Muslim community in coastal Andhra over the decision by a group of Telugu Desam Party leaders to construct a shadi-khana (marriage hall) over a piece of graveyard at Bhavanipuram in the city.
The move is strongly opposed by Islamic scholars on the ground that no structure should be constructed over any graveyard, which is a notified Wakf property. Construction over a graveyard, whether in use or abandoned, is against the principles of Shariah (Islamic jurisprudence) and established Wakf laws of India.
While the TDP leaders plan to go ahead with their move and invite Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu to lay the foundation stone for the `Shadi-khana-cum-ITI complex', a section of Muslim scholars threatened to launch an indefinite fast to lodge their protest.
Ever since the State Government announced that it would construct shadi-khanas in all districts for the benefit of Muslims, the district Wakf committees concerned have startedidentifying vacant Wakf lands, in some cases even graveyards. And as the State Assembly polls are drawing closer, some enthusiastic TDP leaders, particularly those in the party's minorities cell, are keen to launch the project, without thinking of the religious implications.
Senior Advocate Syed Ahmad Ali dashed off a letter to the Chief Minister urging his intervention against construction of marriage or community halls or any structure on Wakf lands, particularly graveyards. He appealed to him to issue instructions to all district collectors and the Andhra Pradesh State Wakf Board to implement the orders.
The Krishna district Wakf committee, represented mostly by TDP minorities cell activists, has drawn up a plan to construct a marriage hall over two acres of the 6.90-acre graveyard abutting the Vijayawada-Hyderabad national highway here. The land, a notified Wakf property, has been in use as a graveyard for several decades.
A part of the graveyard was encroached upon and it was used for agriculturalpurpose. However, the encroachments were removed with the intervention of the Wakf Board. A few months ago, a wall was constructed dividing the graveyard into two.
Krishna district Wakf committee president and TDP leader AR Afsar, when contacted, said the shadi-khana would be constructed at a cost of Rs 50 lakh. The State Government agreed to pay Rs 25 lakh, he said adding that efforts were on to bring the CM for the foundation-stone ceremony.
He disputes the contention that the land was never used as a graveyard, though some traces of graves existed.
Noted religious scholar and head-priest of the city's biggest Jamia mosque, Maulana Abdul Qadeer, argues that a graveyard is inalienable even after it has been closed. And a land dedicated for a graveyard will always remain a graveyard even if it has fallen into decay and even if traces of the dead are not left.
If anything is built on an obsolete graveyard the community has a right to get it demolished as it will be in contravention of theoriginal purpose of dedication.
Citing various judgments of Supreme Court, Abdul Azeez of the Muslim Minorities Forum, points out that the nature of a graveyard will not alter simply because it was not so used in recent years. Once a mosque or graveyard is created, they remain always as mosque or graveyard. They cannot be utilised for any other purpose even though prayers are offered or not offered in the mosque and graveyard remains as graveyard only though dead are buried or not being buried into it.

Monday, March 15, 1999

Reward us, not Naxal, wail AP tribal women

Published in The Indian Express on Tuesday, March 16, 1999
By Syed Akbar
Pedamallapuram (AP), March 15: The tribal women of Pedamallapuram, a far-flung hamlet in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, are furious once again. This time, their ire is directed at the state government for its decision to announce a reward of Rs 5 lakh to a Naxalite leader who surrendered recently.
Pedamallapuram captured newspaper headlines all over the country last year when its illiterate and ill-clad tribal women raised a banner of revolt against Naxalites. So strong was the women's movement that Naxalites of the People's War Group (PWG) did not venture to enter the village for a full six months. But, one night they attacked defenceless villagers and killed two Dalits including an MPTC member.
The attack notwithstanding, the tribal women continued to fight the Naxalites and even imposed a ban on alcohol. Men who violated the diktat were tonsured and paraded in public.
Today the Pedamallapuram women are angry with the state government. The reason: Announcement of a reward of Rs 5 lakh tosurrendered PWG East division committee leader Pilli Venkatesam alias Jambri, whom the women hold responsible for all the woes they face now. ``He is behind all the violent attacks on us. We lost two of our people because of him'', the women said arguing whether it was proper on the part of the government to reward a Naxalite leader responsible for the killing of innocent Dalits.
And what do the women want? They demand that the reward which the state government has announced be utilised for the development of Pedamallapuram.
``Let there be a hospital or a pucca road be laid with the amount,'' suggested tribal women movement leader Ramulamma and Bodoju Ganga, wife of slain MPTC member Venkateswara Rao. The women made it clear in unequivocal terms that they would not tolerate the government paying the reward to Jambri. ``We were the ones beaten up and we who lost everything. We have been living in fear. The money should come to our village and not to the Naxalite leader,'' the women pointed out inchorus.
They said they were least bothered about Jambri or his surrender. All they wanted was that the government should not reward those who caused harm to others. Recalling the promise of Jambri in writing that the Naxalites would do no harm to the village and if they did the villagers would be paid compensation, Ramulamma wondered how the Naxalite leader would accept the Government's largesse. They demanded that Jambri visit Pedamallapuram and explain his role.
Though the women are against the Naxalites, they seem to have no personal enmity with Jambri, who headed the Nagulakonda dalam. ``He may not be directly involved in the attacks, but as the Dalam leader he should own the responsibility,'' they said ridiculing the way the Naxalite surrendered along with his wife on `health grounds' and was seeking the reward, which the government announced as part of its general policy towards surrendered Naxalites. The tribal women also questioned the committees formed by Jambri.
The committees, mostlycomprising non-tribals, should leave the village, they demanded. The Naxal had earlier warned the villagers against accepting benefits from the government and his turnabout in accepting cash from the government in return for his surrender has understandably infuriated the women of the village.