Much of the three cremation grounds grabbed
The Hindus living in Dhaka city are facing a severe shortage of cremation grounds due to wholesale encroachment over the years.
The cremation grounds are also weighed down with numerous problems such as water shortage, worn out building, lack of sitting arrangement and toilet, coupled with the drug peddlers gathering after dusk.
Only one cremation ground has been established since independence taking the number to just three for the city's growing number of Hindus. No statistics are available on the Hindu population in the capital, but the community leaders claim it to be around 20 percent of the city's total population of over one crore.
According to Hindu religious custom, bodies of adults are usually cremated while the bodies of children under eight are buried. However, some of the Hindu castes bury the deceased, both young and adult, instead of cremating. Baishnobs, for example, are buried.
Established over a hundred years back, the two cremation grounds located in Postogola and Lalbagh are maintained by the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) while the one established in Sabujbag some 10 years ago is maintained by Sabujbagh Borodeshwari Kali Mandir.
Postogola Mahasmashan, recognised as the national cremation ground, was set up on some 180 kathas of land. It has now been reduced to only 40 kathas as some re-rolling mills and iron sheet cutting factories have encroached a large portion of the land, said the general secretary of Postogola Jatiya Mahasmashan Committee Babul Das.
DCC Mayor Sadeque Hossain Khoka knows about the encroachment problem. Talking to The Daily Star, he said DCC also recovered parts of the encroached land during the last caretaker government's tenure.
“A committee was also formed with Major General (retd) CR Dutta as the convenor to recover the rest of the encroached land. But the committee didn't continue its work,” he added.
The one in Lalbagh was originally established on 100 kathas of land but now only half of it remains because of gradual encroachment over the years.
Sabujbag ground also faces similar problem with its burial ground. However, in general, it is in a better condition in terms of other facilities, Hindus say.
The burial ground at Postogola has capacity to bury only 70 bodies. Due to the space constraints, graves are replaced within three months and the authority is no longer permitting bodies of adults to be buried there.
"The main problem is to bury children as every single inch of the burial ground has already been used," said Babul Das.
Mongol Ghosh, secretary general of Lalbagh Smashan Unnayan Committee, gives a grimmer picture. “The situation in Lalbagh is so depressing that shovelling up to just one foot brings out bones of previously buried children,” he said.
To add to the sufferings of the Hindus, the cremation grounds are too far away for many residents across the city's newly developed residential areas.
“This grave problem has been overlooked in the city plan," said Kajal Debnath, a presidium member of Bangladesh Hindu Buddha Christian Oikya Parishad.
Community leaders said they have time and again raised the issues like establishment of new burial grounds, modernisation of funeral pyre with gas furnace and ensuring hygiene of the people living around the cremation grounds to the authority but did not receive much response.
Khoka, the city mayor, however says the Hindus never brought it to him that the issue of burial ground is so severe.
He also said an electric incinerator worth Tk 3 crore was installed in Postogola to modernise it but is now lying idle because it is not cost effective for the users.
The DCC is now thinking of a gas burner, he said.