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Left behind by Muslims, a tomb now has Hindu caretakers

Girija Devi and her family took up the task after Muslims were forced to flee the Hindu-dominated village.

Written by Santosh Singh | Bhagalpur | Published: December 29, 2014 1:57:02 am
Girija Devi looks after the tomb on Bhagalpur-Kahalgaon road. (Sourc photo by Prashant Ravi) Girija Devi looks after the tomb on Bhagalpur-Kahalgaon road. (Sourc photo by Prashant Ravi)

Unaware of the “ghar wapsi” row raging across the country — and in their own backyard — a Hindu family living along Bhagalpur-Kahalgaon road has been taking care of a mazaar (tomb) since 1989. Girija Devi and her family, residents of Amapur village on the outskirts of Bhagalpur town, took up the task after Muslims were forced to flee the Hindu-dominated Pakkisarai village following the 1989 riots.

It was Girija’s husband Suresh Bhagat, who first decided to take care of the mazaar of Baba Hazrat Wazidali Shah Rahmatullahe Allaih after a dozen Muslim families left following Hindu-Muslim riots which claimed more than 1,000 lives. The mazaar is located barely 20 km from Kahalgaon, where five members of a family belonging to an extremely backward caste converted to Christianity and then reconverted to Hinduism earlier this month.

The mazaar, which remained unattended for some time after the riots, eventually got the attention of Bhagat, who raised a bamboo platform near the shrine to take care of it. Though initially hesitant, Bhagat’s family and villagers later supported the idea of taking care of the tomb. In fact, they devoted such time and energy in looking after it that devotees — both Hindu and Muslim — started thronging the place again.

After Bhagat died of a heart ailment two years ago, his wife Girija, 57, decided to take his work forward. She was allowed to construct a small hut near the mazaar, and she moved in there with her eight-year-old grandson.

Now, every Friday when offerings are made at the mazaar, a Muslim cleric comes from the neighbouring town of Ekchari to perform the rituals. “My husband set an example of communal harmony and it was natural for me to step into his role,” Girija said.

Mohammed Zakir Hussain, the Muslim cleric from Ekchari, said the Bhagat family has “set an example” for others. “We persuaded local religious heads to let her make a hut to stay on the shrine land. I come on Fridays, but it is Girija Devi who is the real caretaker”.

Girija said she had not heard about the “reconversion” row and added that she did not discriminate between gods and saints of all religions. “It gives me satisfaction to offer chadar on behalf of devotees to Pir Baba. I earn Rs 50-100 per day from people’s offerings but that is immaterial,” she said.

Locals said Muslims who left Pakkisarai often visit the shrine to meet the Bhagat family and express their gratitude. Local BJP leader Ram Kumar Pathak said, “The 1989 riots left numerous bad memories, but people like Girija Devi taught us to rise above petty considerations of caste and religion.”

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