YET another decision of the government to allot a piece of land for a new graveyard for Muslims of Margao and vicinity is facing opposition from a section of locals in Shirvodem. Barely three days after Town and Country Planning Minister Vijai Sardesai announced that kabrastan (graveyard) would be built in Shirvodem bordering Margao and Navelim constituencies at a cost of over Rs 15 crore, some persons raised an objection. The opponents say the site was a low-lying area and located on the bank of the River Sal and a part of its catchment area. A large part of the site falls in the Navelim village. The Navelim panchayat recently passed a resolution opposing the burial ground. It remains to be seen how the government would tackle the issue. While some politicians have come forward to support the opposing locals, others including Margao MLA Digambar Kamat have supported the cause of the Muslim community.
The Muslims of Margao and vicinity have been waiting for a burial ground for almost two decades. The demand for a new burial ground has come from them in view of the entire area of the old kabrastan being filled up with graves. The Muslim community of Margao and vicinity has been petitioning every chief minister and every politician for a new burial ground. Every time the government identified a site for construction of a graveyard, certain sections of people living near the site opposed the idea and the government had to shelve it. Way back in 1999 the then chief minister Luizinho Faleiro had proposed a burial ground for Muslims in close proximity to the St Sebastian Catholic cemetery at Aquem. However, the Muslim community found the area too small. The government and local politicians succumbed to the unfair opposition. The government then chose a site at Sonsoddo, which too was opposed by a section on the ground that the place was meant for another purpose. The latest site at Shirvodem is also facing opposition from certain sections. The Muslim community finds it distressing that every site identified by the government has been opposed by certain sections of society on one pretext or the other.
The failure of the state government forced the Muslim community to take up the matter with the National Commission for Minorities (NCM). In its order delivered in June 2018 the NCM pulled up the state government for failing to allot land for a Muslim graveyard in Margao, saying it amounted to communal discrimination against and harassment and deprivation of the Muslim community on one pretext or the other. The NCM directed the government to complete the process of land acquisition for the burial ground within a maximum period of six months and file report of actions taken and progress in the matter by the 25th of every month till the conclusion of the case. Though the six months period got over in December 2018, there are no signs any land being allotted for graveyard.
Burial grounds are final resting places for the departed; and there is a culture among all the communities to honour and respect the departed soul, no matter which community he or she belonged to. There are occasions when people of different faiths participate in the funeral of a departed person regardless of his or her faith. By denying land to the Muslims for a graveyard on one pretext or the other, the opponents are showing disrespect to the departed souls and the Muslim community. All religious communities co-exist in India; ours is a country of diversity in which every community has equal constitutional rights for pursuing their way of life and manner of honouring the dead. It is sad to see that for two decades, a community has not been allowed to have a new graveyard. All political parties must join hands to resolve the issue. They have to evaluate whether the concerns raised by the opponents of the site at Shirvodem are genuine. If they are not genuine, their resistance must be thwarted. If they are really genuine, another site should be found where there are no objections. Goans have lived in amity for centuries regardless of diversity of faith. No sections of people should be allowed to impose their will on the basis of territorial privilege and social prejudice. All sections of people should appreciate that the Muslims of Margao and vicinity need a new graveyard and must work together to help them get one soonest.