After six more burials, there will be no more space left in the Gizri graveyard, which is used by the residents of Defence Housing Authority and Clifton.
As it was the last graveyard for this part of the city, the authorities are in a race against time to find another plot of land. They are eyeing Qayyumabad in DHA Phase VII, but it is only 2,500 square yards – the size of an upscale house in DHA. The authorities wager that it could contain 6,000 graves but only if all encroachments are removed.
“We’ll have the space in a week’s time,” promised Kabbir Ali, who is the chief sanitary inspector of Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC), the body that manages municipal services for DHA and parts of Clifton.
But this is an optimistic outlook. Before burials can start at the Qayyumabad graveyard, the CBC has to clear the paperwork with the city district government in a meeting after Eid. Then the CBC will have to reach some kind of agreement with the people who have already been using Qayyumabad.
“I just hope the people of the area let us start work there,” said the CBC’s Ali. His office claims that the residents around the area have marked grave sites just to take over the land. “Our people have been harassed and stopped from working,” he said. They need a contractor to start levelling the ground. The people who have already been burying their dead here are angry with the possibility of sharing burial space with DHA and CBC. “They have built a wall, which cuts right through our graveyard,” said one resident. “Only the rich will be buried on the other side… what kind of justice is this?”
Even if the housing authority acquires the Qayyumabad space, it won’t last more than four years. On average, three people need to be buried every day from DHA and Clifton. There used to be a graveyard in Phase I, but that filled up 10 years ago.
Since then DHA has been pushing the limits on the Gizri graveyard, which technically filled up in 2004. But then the authorities managed to make more space by cutting into the hill where it is located in Phase IV. Part of the problem was that people had ‘booked’ spaces by laying down dummy slabs next to their loved one’s grave. “People had even built graves where none were buried just to occupy a special place beside their deceased spouses and parents,” added another CBC official. “That is the biggest problem even now. Residents offer us money to book them a grave in advance.”
Up to the year 2000, anyone from across Karachi could be buried at Gizri. But DHA stopped this a decade ago and since then it has been used exclusively for its own residents and people from lower Gizri, Punjab Colony, PND Colony, Delhi Colony, Chandio village and Jamhooria colony. An estimated 5,000 people are buried currently there, including many great personalities such as legendary singer Noor Jehan, actors Saleem Nasir, Hameed Wain, Shafi Muhammad Shah, director SM Yousaf and even former governor Mahmoud A. Haroon. According to gravedigger Hamid Naseem, who has worked there for 20 years, Gizri’s graveyard is about 200 years old.
“I can’t give you the exact number of graves but I can say that more than 300,000 people have been buried here,” he speculated. Because of its location, Gizri was considered the safest graveyard in the city where people could come to offer Fateha even at midnight. “We look after the graveyard,” said its watchman, Abbas. “Drug addicts and criminals do not come here out of fear. The gates are open 24 hours.”
The question now is if DHA has a long-term plan, one that would be needed given that Qayyumabad is likely to also fill up in about four years. “We would have no choice but to bury the dead in DHA City, being built on the Super Highway,” said CBC’s Kabbir Ali. “We are ready to offer residents our buses to transport the body and the burial procession.”