LAHORE, Pakistan – Christians in a village in Punjab Province are fighting to save their decades-old graveyard from being converted into farmland by a retired army colonel, sources said.
Because of the military man's influence, police have refused to address the complaint by Christians of Bhondary Wala village in Narang Mandi in spite of orders from senior administration officials, the sources said.
Rehmat Masih said that Col. Farrukh Alam has claimed ownership of 150 acres of land and has threatened area Christians if they did not vacate it. The graveyard, which was established before the partition of Pakistan and India, had already shrunk to about a third of its original size after the retired colonel dug a boundary around it.
Masih said Christians approached Narang Mandi police after Alam desecrated Christians' graves on April 24, but officers refused to register their complaint. Masih filed an application before Punjab Additional Home Secretary Asif Bilal on May 8, who referred it to Additional Superintendant of Police (SP) Sheikhupura Waqas Ahmed, saying, "Please help these individuals. Minorities are marginalized segments of our society and need our assistance."
Masih said the SP summoned Narang Mandi Police Station head Razakar Hussain Shah and handed him the application for registration of a First Information Report (FIR), but that the FIR has yet to be registered.
The retired army official acknowledged that the land originally had been designated as a Christian graveyard, but that the land was declassified as such and sold in 1983.
"Presently there is no such specification, yet the graves are there," Alam told Compass.
He said he found out the land belonged to him a few years ago.
"I specified a boundary for their graveyard, limiting it to three kanals [505.857 square meters] about two years back, while the remaining land is being used for agricultural purposes," he said.
Alam denied that he had desecrated Christian graves, alleging that the Christians were being used by a member of the Ahmadiyya Islamist sect, considered heretical by many Muslims. He claimed that "the Ahmadi" was using the Christians to oppose him because he never treated the sect member as a genuine Muslim.
Provincial legislator Khurram Gulfam, a member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, said that he had asked his uncle to let the Christians use the land for their graveyard, but that the retired colonel insisted in taking possession of it.
Masih said Alam was threatening him and other village Christians, and that the dispute was stoking religious tensions in the area. On May 11, around 100 area Christians reached Lahore to protest against police inaction.
The impoverished villagers returned to their village after receiving yet another assurance that the administration would look into the matter.