Who really owns this Bangalore Parsi burial ground?

Three acres of prime land in the heart of the city which has been used as a burial ground by the Parsis for 123 years has turned into a conflict zone. The community has filed a case against the cemetery’s caretaker, alleging he has trespassed into and defiled their prayer hall as well as starting illegally construction of a building on nearly half an acre of their land worth a few crores.

Article by By Praveen Kumar & Prakruti PK, Bangalore Mirror Bureau

storm-inThe burial ground is located on 11th cross, Malleswaram, on land belonging to the government of Karnataka, which was reportedly granted to the Parsis in 1892 by the then Maharaja of Mysore.

The cemetery is divided into three parts – the old burial ground, the present burial ground, and the land housing the prayer hall and the caretaker’s quarters.

Forty-two-year-old Gopal, who has been taking care of the burial ground, has been accused of damaging the prayer hall by removing the foundation stone and even discarding the community’s religious books and photographs of their ancestors and their religious leader.

Gopal reportedly ‘moved’ into the prayer hall with his personal belongings like his television and bed. He allegedly began illegal construction of a structure inside the cemetery, near the caretaker’s quarters.

Officials of the Gathic Zoroastrian Anjuman Bangalore (GZAB) say the illegalities came to light when they paid a visit to the cemetery on May 29. They noticed the illegal construction as well as the trespassing into the prayer hall. Gopal was reportedly warned to stop all illicit activities; however, the caretaker and his family began claiming the land belonged to them.

The community then approached the Central division police and filed a complaint against Gopal, after which he was arrested and remanded in judicial custody before being released on bail.

“We are distressed by the fact that our prayer hall has been desecrated by someone we trusted. Gopal’s father took care of the cemetery, and after his death, Gopal took over. He soon brought his two brothers and sister plus their families to live in the quarters, and we didn’t object. However, he recently built a cowshed and brought in six cows which have dirtied our place of prayer. He has also used nearly half an acre to begin illegal construction of a building,” joint secretary of GZAB, Yasmin Master, told Mirror.

Gopal had been entrusted with a set of keys, which he allegedly used to break into the prayer hall and shift his personal belongings inside. He even began using the century-old teakwood furniture meant to be used by religious leaders of the community and also threw out religious paraphernalia. “Of the 300 Parsi families in Bengaluru, nearly 70-80 families use the burial ground, while the rest use the Tower of Silence in Hebbal. The Parsi New Year is coming up on August 18, and we normally hold a continuous five-day prayer meeting for the departed souls. Following our complaint, the police locked up the prayer hall with Gopal’s things inside. We are worried how we will observe this year’s rituals,” she added.

However, Gopal’s family has a different story. His older brother Mahalingappa told BM the land was rightfully theirs and that the Parsi community had ‘usurped’ more than what had been granted to them in 1892. “Four generations of my family have taken care of this land, and the building they claim is their prayer hall is actually a former bhajan room which was used exclusively by the Maharani of Mysore. The Maharaja would often come down and practise shooting on this land, and the burial ground only came into existence in 1892,” he said.

“Using the Anjuman community name, 22 plots of land were sold by the then presidents in 1963. They even seized our land and are now falsely claiming it as their own,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Central division police confirmed a case had been registered under sections 295 (defiling place of worship), 427 (mischief), and 448 (trespassing) of the IPC.

“The complainants submitted copies of relevant historical records and documents of the Parsi cemetery, including the judgment dated August 19, 1947 by the Chief Justice of the Mysore High Court. When we asked the accused to prove their claims of ownership, they said they did not have any papers and would have to go to Mysuru to meet the current Maharaja and obtain the documents,” said a senior investigating official.