A south Mumbai-based Dawoodi Bohra family has alleged that they were forced to bury their dead in faraway Kausa, Mumbra — 46 km from their home — by community officials purportedly because they are supporters of a rival claimant on the spiritual leadership of the community. The incident has brought to light the increasing difficulty that Mumbai’s minority communities face in burying their dead in space starved city as existing burial grounds fill up.
Juzar Najeed, 57, passed away on September 27 after battling cancer for two years at Jupiter Hospital in Thane. On Sunday morning, the body was brought back home at Crawford Market for the burial ceremony.
“We approached the Hizbul Huda office in Bhendi Bazaar where the formalities for the burial are undertaken. We were first refused space and told that we support the opposing faction,” alleged a relative of Najeed, who did not wish to be named. The Najeed family, they claimed, are seen as supporters of Khuzaima Qutbuddin who is embroiled in a legal tussle with his nephew Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin as a rival claimant for the leadership of the community.
In January, following the death of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, his son Mufaddal Burhanuddin had taken over as the 53rd Syedna amidst protests by his uncle Khuzaima Qutbuddin. The fight has been taken to court and has created a rift within the community.
Members of the Najeed family who are supporters of Qutbuddin claim that they were “being victimised for their beliefs” and were “initially refused burial space.” Najeed’s father, mother and grandfather were buried in Charni Road cemetery when the former Syedna was alive, according to his family. The family claims that they even offered to bury his body in Mazgaon or Wadala or any other Bohra cemetery with the city limits. They allege that all their requests were turned down.
“We stayed there for two hours and told them that they could not deny our right of burial. Inspite of being residents of south Mumbai and the fact that our relatives are buried here we were allotted a place in faraway Kausa,” the family member claimed. Community members aligned with Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, however, point out that they are facing a severe space crunch in their graveyards.
The city currently has six Bohra cemeteries in Charni Road, Nariyalwadi (Mazgaon), Wadala Kurla, Sewree and Bandra East.
When Newsline approached the cemetery in Mazgaon, it found out that a burial had taken place the same day (September 28) when Najeed was declined burial space. In Charni Road cemetery, a burial had taken place on September 26. The Charni Road cemetry also had 8 burials in August alone. In Kurla’s cemetery, the official in-charge confirmed that there is enough burial space with them, when Newsline enquired.
Reformists within the community have, however, pointed out that such ‘tactics’ have been used in the past against all those who are alleged to have ‘deviated from the path’. “This has happened even with us on several occasions. We have been denied proper burial rites because we went against their (the Dai’s) opinion,” Saifuddin Insaf, a reformist who has raised objections with the Dawoodi Bohra customs, alleged.
Officials from the Dai’s public relations office refused to come on record and did not reply to a detailed questionnaire sent to them via e-mail. They were also approached in person and through phone calls, but they refused to comment on the incident.
Another reformist, Yunus Baluwala, claimed, “All these cemeteries come under BMC’s property. They have been given to Bohra trust for management. Ideally, the trust cannot refuse burial but even my father and brother have been denied space when the previous Syedna was there.”