Delhi

Beyond Hindu & Muslim, the right to humanity

The 15th century cemetery of eunuchs in south Delhi’s Mehrauli. At right is its caretaker Shree.  

At 6 a.m. each day, a nondescript man in a pair of trousers and baniyan enters a 15th century cemetery, enveloped in the winding bosom of south Delhi’s Mehrauli, to reverently sweep off truant neem leaves from the resting place of 50 people. The same set of hands has been responsible for the pristine condition of graves and lighting of diyas on them each morning for the past 40 years. He exits the place after sunset to return home nearby.

No pay for labour

There are hundreds of cemeteries across the country but what makes this one special is the Hindu man taking care of this final resting place of Muslim eunuchs for over four decades without pay.

“I have no inhibitions taking care of a cemetery. Some people ask me why I do it since I am a Hindu. I tell them that the colour of everyone’s blood is the same,” says 55-year-old Shree.

Sitting cross-legged inside Hijron Ka Khanqah, he adds that among those who took care of the cemetery was his “Mai”, or Daya Amma, a eunuch who changed his life.

“I take care of these graves because my Mai used do the same when she was alive. It’s my responsibility now that she is gone. I will take care of my Mai till my last breath,” he says.

Adopted by mai

“I was 15 when I started serving her. I was taking a stroll in the area and entered the Khanqah when I first saw her. I met Mai every day after that. My family owned buffaloes, so I started getting some milk for her free of charge. Eventually, she adopted me as her son,” says Shree, adding that his Mai passed away a couple of years ago.

DE11 man

DE11 man   | Photo Credit: DE11 man

While Shree doesn’t receive any remuneration for his services, he says his faith in Mai and occasional donations from those visiting the Khanqah keep him going.

Some people in the neighbourhood laugh at him and accuse him of “minting money” from those visiting the Khanqah.

“I don’t care. I have never accepted a penny from anyone who hasn’t given it to me saying it’s for my use. If I ever indulge in any wrongdoing, I’ll face Mai’s wrath…Whenever eunuchs from Delhi or north India visit the cemetery, they voluntarily give me a few notes as a token of appreciation. They come here to celebrate various occasions and find peace, especially during Shab-e-Barat, Chhadiyon ka Mela, and Muharram. They stay for the night, eat, make merry, remember their ancestors and leave the next day,” he says.

‘One big family’

On such occasions, he says, his wife and daughter-in-law cook for the visitors in their house, located about 1 km away, where he stays with his four sons, their wives and grandchildren.

“It doesn’t matter how many of them come. My wife feeds them all with homemade ghee and butter. Some of them really like the bharwan karela [bitter gourd dish] my wife makes,” he says laughing.

Does he or his family ever feel uncomfortable in the presence of eunuchs?

“I have grown up in front of Mai and all her children. Whenever they come, we’re all like one big family. Some call me mama, the others chacha,” he says.

Never interested in going to school, Shree drove a tanga till he was 26. He also earned a little extra by carrying goods for local vendors in Mehrauli.

“All my brothers are educated, but I was never interested in studying. My parents never pushed me to study either. I got a job with the Delhi Development Authority as a worker but my parents asked me quit and help them milk buffaloes instead,” he says, adding he takes care of his buffaloes after 7 p.m. daily.

15th century site

“I was in my late 20s when my brother’s daughter got married. Since I was unemployed and uneducated, he didn’t print my name along with the others on her wedding card. I was hurt and we stopped talking after that. I cried and shared my feelings with Mai. Eventually, my brother came and apologised to me. Knowing my brother, it was miracle he came to apologise.”

According to Vikramjit Singh Rooprai, a Delhi-based historian and heritage activist, the site dates back to 15th Century.

It was gifted by Sufi mystic Khwaja QutbuddinBakhtiyar Kaki to Miyan Saheb, a eunuch who was sworn as his sister.

“The place shouldn’t ideally be called Khanqah because the term means a sarai or a dharamshala run by a Sufi saint. A Khanqah has a jamaat khana [audience hall] where langar is served. This place has rooms on the side and a courtyard with graves. There is a possibility that the open ground was for the people to stay. It’s Miyan Saheb’s grave that’s the most important of them all. The remaining 49 graves belong to the chelas. They stopped burying more eunuchs because they ran out of space,” says Mr. Rooprai, adding that the Khanqah has been managed by generations that kept coming in after Miyan Saheb’s death.

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Printable version | Apr 13, 2021 3:20:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/beyond-hindu-muslim-the-right-to-humanity/article18957041.ece

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