SIX FEET UNDER

The Buddhists have claimed the Bauddha Smashan Bhoomi for themselves against many odds, reports Rishi Majumder
Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

The guard, next to one of the first graves...

The guard, next to the first grave on the spot - that of Ramji Gaikwad

   In loving remembrance of Ramji Gaikwad, butler of O. Meyer. Died in Bombay on the January 19, 1912, aged 35,” reads an engraved sign at Bauddha Smashan Bhoomi, Carter Road, Bandra. Sometime in the late 1890s, Gaikwad’s mother passed away. “We have neither houses to stay in, nor graves in which to bury our dead,” the Mahaar Buddhist, holding his mother’s corpse wailed in front of his master Meyer, the British Collector of the area. So the collector led a procession of Dalits to the seaside and pointed out a vast area. “Our community then used rocks from the sea to mark out the boundary of the first Buddhist funeral ground in Mumbai – which till now, is also the only one,” B B Mohite, chairman of the Bauddha Smashan Bhoomi Trust, narrates. “And it is for Buddhists only.” More than half a century before provisions for backward sections were enshrined in the Constitution, these Dalit Buddhists had claimed their first ‘reservation’. 
 

B. B. Mohite, Trust Chairman

B. B. Mohite, Trust Chairman

   With Indians being inducted into the suburban municipality in the 1920s, a tar compound was laid out for the ground. “And post Independence, around 1975, when the Congress Government was in power, our community’s majority in the area ensured us cement walling,” Mohite continues. The compound has provisions for both burnings and burials: “Burning costs Rs 2500, Rs 1000 being just for the wood itself. The poor can’t afford that – so they go for a Rs 300 burial.” Of these costs, Rs 50 is for a stretcher-cumtrolley the trust provides for transporting the body. “We weren’t always this organised,” Mohite remembers. In 1978, the Municipality threatened to take over the land because of the way it was neglected: “The dead were being dumped here… and there was garbage from the neighbouring area.” So a management committee was formed, which promised maintenance. “The collector still asked us what proof of ownership we had! We retorted – The English, your predecessors had given us their zabaan! The buried bodies are the proof!”
   The committee today has organised a Corpus Fund via donations, the interest of which pays for the burial ground’s upkeep. They’ve built a shed, and grown a pretty park next to the graveyard. In addition, Mohite claims the salt in the seaside soil causes the bodies to decompose fast: “That’s how there’s always place for new burials. If we still come across a bone while burying a new body, it’s gently pushed aside.” The graveyard cannot however, accommodate Buddhists beyond Khar and Bandra: “The other Buddhists have to go to the Municipality crematoriums. But the state of our community is better today.” He’s shuffling through the register, for there’s been a funeral this afternoon. His name was Bhimabhai Satpal. He had a burning.

 

This article appeared originally in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/59xd

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