For them, burial ground in Secunderabad is their safe home

They are places that most people stay away from. The belief is spirits of those dead haunt the place where they are buried. But not for these 50-odd families as they live among the dead that too in the heart of Secunderabad’s Mettuguda area.

In this small colony inside the graveyard, three generations have lived in peace with the dead, some buried and a few cremated. The residents treat the tombs surrounding their houses as pieces of furniture. Children play and elders relax on the tombs.

The sign board at the entrance of the Hindu burial ground cautions that there is no place left for burial. The two shelters, darkened by smoke, are still used by locals to cremate the bodies of their kin. Neither the families living among the tombs seem to have any problem with the cremation at regular intervals nor the children in the nearby school have any complaint about the smoke billowing out of the chimneys.

“I used to help my father bury the dead. Owner of the burial ground allow­ed us to live and provided us a piece of land to build a shelter. I grew up among these tombs,” Jayalakshmi said sitting on one of the recently painted tombs in front of her house. Her father got her married to a boy from the same colony. Jayalakshmi’s daughter also married a man living in the same compound.

“Why would we fear the dead? You should be afraid of living people,” said a philosophical Suvarna, who has been  living there for the past 60 years. She claimed that initially outsiders were afraid of marrying their daughters to the residents of the Mettuguda burial ground. “Once they saw how peacefully we live, they came forward and the colony grew,” Suvarna said.

The colony was used to bury the dead till 2000 but thereafter burial stopped because of lack of space. The families, which have been using tombs as furniture, make it a point to keep them clean. “That is why none of the relatives of the dead ever complained,” a resident claimed. The kin of the dead visit the burial ground during Diwali, usually lit candles and offer flowers to the dead. There were also efforts to displace the residents from the Mettuguda ground.

“Once Secunderabad MLA and actor Jayasudha came here. We were told that she was coming here to ask us to vacate the ground. But she came and saw how happily we are all living here and left without saying a word,” Suvarna said.

Over the years, the burial ground shrank. Many residents who sold their houses to outsiders inadvertently triggering a real estate boom, and a large chunk of the ground is under occupation. A partition now separates the old ground from the new colony. “They brought machines and bulldozed all the tombs on the other side. We never damaged a tomb even though we had a chance to do so,”

Jayalakhmi said. The families living in the colony have been paying municipal taxes and have assured water supply.

The children studying in the elementary school abutting the ground,show no emotion when a body is being carried into the ground. The noise made by the drums and the chants apparently has no effect on them. They study and play while the cremation goes on in one of the shelters. “I am not afraid of the dead. We play on these tombs too, they are ideal for hide-and-seek game,” seven-year-old Sravan said.

A schoolteacher, however, had reservations. “I was afraid of working here.
Particularly the smell when the bodies are burnt, used to haunt me,” the lone teacher in the school said. He added that probably the shortage of urban land might have forced the families to settle down here.

“There are a few more burial grounds such as Nagannakunta and Kacheguda where people have constru­cted houses and live there because the working class wants to stay close to the residential colonies,” said a local resident. The burial ground, which was once far away from Secunderabad, is now surro­unded by bustling residential colonies and commercial complexes. There have been efforts from many realtors to evict the residents from the burial ground as cremation here has a bearing on the real estate market.

“There were efforts by many to create fear among the residents in the surrou­ndings in the name of sighting of ghosts and demons,” said Yadagiri, a shop keeper, who sells essentials for the cremation. But the people around the ground refu­sed to believe and never complained to the authorities about any inconvenience they had because of the cremation.
“We have street lights that illuminate the entire ground and children play and women attend to chores. We never felt the presence of any evil spirit. A few might have spread rumours but we feel secure among the dead,” Jayalakshmi added. She believes that proper cremation helps to leave this world and thereafter the dead will not bother those alive. “The problem is only when the ritual is not done properly,”she added.

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