A Hindu priest in this Pakistani city is holding on to over a hundred urns of ashes that he says are the last remains of Pakistani Hindus and a few Buddhists who died here over the last three decades, entrusted to him by heirs of the deceased in the hope that one day they could be immersed in the Ganga in India.
“But the priest, Shri Ram Nath Maharaj, caretaker of the Panchamukhi Hanuman Temple in the Nishtar Park area and head of Karachi’s Hindu crematorium ground association, expressed disappointment that the Indian government had not so far allowed him to take the urns across, repeatedly rejecting visas to him and a few heirs of the deceased.
Hindus are a tiny minority in Pakistan. According to the 1998 census, the last time that Pakistan held a population count, there were 2.4 million Hindus in the country, constituting about 1.6 per cent of the population. Most of them are in Sindh province. According to the Pakistan Hindu Council, there are 7-8 lakh Hindus in Karachi.
The urns, 128 of them in all, are lying in a room in what used to be a library at the Hindu Community Burial and Cremation Ground here. Some have name tags, and the oldest identified urn dates back to 1971, Mr. Ram Nath told The Hindu.
People left the urns in this room in the hope that the ashes could one day be immersed, according to a Hindu custom, in the Ganga.
“Either they would have not had the resources to take it across themselves, or there might have been some other difficulty, or because of bad relations between our countries,” he said.
Mr. Ram Nath said he decided to do something about the urns when he took charge of the crematorium in 2008.
“I found a number of these clay pots gathering dust in a room. So we gave an advertisement in the newspapers that we plan to take all the kalash to Hardwar and immerse them in the Ganga there for the sukh-shanti of the souls of the dead,” he said.
The advertisement appeared for three months from July 2008. It also invited family members of the dead to go on the trip if they could. “Around 20 to 25 people responded to the advertisement, and out of those, some said they could not go, so they asked me to do the needful. Eight or nine people said they would accompany me.”
They applied for visas, but in September 2008, they heard from the Indian High Commission that their applications were rejected. Mr. Ram Nath sent the applications again, this time with a letter of recommendation from a well-known temple in Delhi’s Kalkaji.
In August 2009, the Indian High Commission once again rejected the applications. Undaunted, the group applied a third time, in September 2009, and once more their passports were returned.
“I don’t know why they are denying us the visas. If it is a security issue, we are prepared to transfer the ashes from the clay pots to plastic containers so it is clearly visible from the outside,” he said.
A senior official at the Indian High Commission said visa applications of Mr. Ram Nath and 10 others were “pending” since September 2009, and that efforts were on to get clearance.
The priest, who said he had travelled to India several times before and had family in Allahabad, expressed disappointment that he was not allowed to carry out a “good deed” on behalf of over a hundred Hindu families in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, seven of the urns have found their way across into India with groups of Hindu pilgrims. “Some family members were going in jathas for pilgrimage, so they took their urns, but we still have so many left.”
Mr. Ram Nath said the alternative was to immerse the ashes in the sea, off the Laskhmi Narayan Temple in Karachi, or in the Indus, either near the Shiv Mandir at Janshero in Kotri, or near Sadhubela in Sukkur.
“But I have still not lost hope that we can do it in the Ganga. If they give us the visas, we will go immediately,” he said.