Dhaka, a city with no room for the dead

From BBC - February 11, 2018

Most graves in densely-populated Dhaka are temporary because the Bangladeshi capital has run out of room for its dead. But what do you do when someone takes over your loved one's burial plot?

Suraya Parveen can no longer visit her father's grave because a stranger's body is buried in the same plot.

"As the eldest daughter I take care of things. One day I asked my brother whether he had visited the grave lately," she told the BBC in her tiny apartment in suburban Dhaka.

After hesitating for a moment, he told her there was a brand new grave on top of their father's.

"A different family now owns the plot and they have cemented it. This news came as a lightning bolt to me. I could not speak for a while," she said, tears running down her face.

"If I had known I could have made an effort to save it. This grave was the last symbol of my father and now I have lost it."

She can still visit Kalshi cemetery, a small private one, but her father's grave there no longer exists and someone else is buried on top of him.

It's not the first time this has happened to Suraya.

She lost the graves of her first-born child, her mother and an uncle in the same manner.

The crisis has left many others in the capital unable to secure a permanent resting place for relatives and friends.

It's not difficult to find space for burials - temporary plots are very cheap, but under city rules every two years another body will be buried in each plot.

So multiple bodies are buried in temporary graves - that's how Dhaka manages.

People find it difficult but most have no choice. Sometimes family members share the same grave.

Cremation is not an option in Muslim-majority Bangladesh - Islam does not ordinarily allow for cremation.

Since 2008 city officials have stopped allocating permanent graves, while a semi-permanent one can cost nearly $20,000 (about 14,000), in a country where the per capita annual income is only $1,610 (1,130).

At Azimpur near old Dhaka hired labourers clear weeds. It is one of the city's biggest and the best known cemeteries and thousands of graves stretch in every direction, most in a dismal state.

Signs marking the graves carry details about the people buried in them. Every inch of land has been used.

Sabiha Begum's sister killed herself 12 years ago and is buried here. For the last 10 years she's been trying to protect her grave and admits to paying bribes to those who look after the cemetery.


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