A Demand for Justice: A dignified burial for Lajo Begum

Open letter to Punjab State Human Rights Commission (PSHRC)
18 May 2000

Received the letter no. D-260/2000 PSHRC-99/5307 of the Commission. It informed us that our complaint was disposed off in limine by the bench of the Commission vide its orders dated 8.2.00. It is further written in the letter of Commission that, "As per the news item appearing in the daily issue of Indian Express in the 'Chandigarh Newsline' dated January 22, 2000, the burial of the dead body of Mst. Lajo Begum had already taken place on January 21, 2000. Thus, it cannot be said by any stretch of imagination that the concerned authorities had not taken prompt action in the matter."

In our representation dated 21.1.00 to PSHRC we had written, "We have come to know that an old Muslim woman, Lajo Begum, of about 90 years, in village Singh Bhagwantpura, district Ropar, Punjab died 5 days back. Since then her body has been awaiting burial in the village graveyard, which is reported to have been grabbed by some local person. Large number of men, women, and children of the minority community are camping at her house in the village. Their number is increasing with every passing day. We demand immediate intervention in arranging a dignified burial of Lajo Begum without further delay. At the same time we demand strong action against all those officials responsible for this cruelty in turning a deaf ear to the pleas of the relatives of the deceased. We apprehend that such happenings further add to ever increasing alienation and dissatisfaction of minorities from the present government. Insaaf International requests you to take such incidents very seriously and also take strong action to stop repetition of such callousness of the authorities towards sentiments of the minority communities in future."

We are really disappointed by the observations made by the PSHRC, which seems to have been made without reading our letter, news in the paper, or going into the details of the case. The news appeared in Indian Express dated 21.1.00 (dateline Roopnagar, Jan. 20). 'Insaaf' had also sent telegrams to the district authorities and others on the same day. The body was buried after 5 days of death, that too not in the Burial ground but in a common piece of land with the consent of the local villagers. The facts that the body awaited burial for 5 days, people of minority community started collecting at the her house and that the body could not be buried in the Burial ground clearly show that the concerned authorities had not taken any action let alone prompt action. The news was in detail and it mentioned, "An air of uncertainty continues to prevail in this village for the past four days over the delay of the burial of Lajo Begum (90), who died on January 17. --- Some 150 Muslims, including women and children, are camping at the house of the deceased and the number of relatives coming from far off places is increasing with each passing day".

Actually no "stretch of imagination" was needed to decide this case. Such orders are instrumental in putting a question mark on the relevance of statutory human rights Commissions. The use of the words "stretch of imagination" shows the biased attitude of the Commission. Even if, in the opinion of the Commission, the district authorities had taken prompt action, this could be communicated to us without 'sounding' offended at the representation made by 'Insaaf' against the authorities.

These Commissions are supposed to be watchdogs of the Human Rights and not of corrupt bureaucrats. This attitude discourages us to represent or pin our hopes of getting justice from various statutory Human Rights Commissions. We also see this action of PSHRC contrary to the spirit of 'function' section of PHR, Act '93 which in section 12(I) says, "encourage the efforts of the non-governmental organizations and institutions working in the field of Human rights"

The Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) working at the grass root level do so against all odds with negligible resources. They represent to Human Rights Commissions for support and justice and do not expect them to be a transparent defender of the administrative machinery. The government and its elements often treat these NGOs as adversaries, which point out the ills in the government functioning. We work tirelessly to create a better human rights environment for all of us to live in.

We take this opportunity to bring to the notice of the Commission a few more facts regarding the case of Lajo Begum. Orders in case regarding the said Kabristan, titled Mazid Vs Didar Singh and others in the court of the District Judge Roop Nagar/Ropar were pronounced on 19.1.00. The orders clearly said "There is no space except for Kabristan provided in the village for burying the dead bodies of the people of Muslim community. … It is well known that the Kabristan vests in Ahle-islam and a trespasser cannot seek injunction against the true owner". Even after these orders the administration did not arrange for the burial. Son of the deceased Lajo Begum filed an appeal to allow him to bury his mother in the Kabristan, which was accepted by the learned District Judge Roop Nagar on 19.1.00. What could be more blatant? Despite the judicial orders the body could not be buried in the Kabristan!

Previously also the DDPO Ropar wrote a letter to the BDPO Ropar on 9.1.98 wherein he was directed to remove the illegal possession of the Kabristan and in case of any hindrance police help was advised. There were many such other letters, which declared the possession of the Kabristan by a local goon, illegal. Nothing was done by the district administration to get the Kabristan freed from his possession. The members of minority community had to under go long and expensive judicial battle to get what was to be done by the administration as part of their duty, years before. The deliberate inaction of the district administration due to ulterior motives has turned this in to a personal dispute among the members of minority community and the local goon, when it was the duty of the administration to prevent illegal possession on the Kabristan.

We feel that PSHRC should not have given its verdict without the preliminary investigation or looking into obvious facts of this case. If the erring authorities influence the decisions of the Commissions, then the very purpose of the establishment of such Commissions to protect Human Rights is defeated.

We, therefore, request the PSHRC to uphold the spirit of Justice. Justice should not only be done, it should also appear to have been done. Further, we urge that the NGOs, who do not seek patronization by the establishment but are committed to a better society free from corruption, injustice, and discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, and status, should not be considered as adversaries by the Commissions.

Thanking you,

Yours sincerely,
(Dr.) Vineeta Gupta, General Secretary, Insaaf International, Bathinda, Punjab

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(PUCL Bulletin, July 2000)