KARACHI - Let alone their loss in bombing attacks and sectarian violence, Muslim families in Pakistan are suffering from the high prices of graves in the south Asian Muslim country.
"The number of dead bodies we bury per day has been doubled during last couple of years due to increasing targeted killings and bomb blasts," Abdul Ghafoor, a grave-digger at Sakhi Hassan graveyard, one of the largest cemeteries in Pakistan's largest city of Karachi, told OnIslam.net.
"The increase in number of deaths has not only increased the burden of work on us but has also doubled the prices of graves."
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Daily killings in Pakistan have soared prices of graves in the south Asian Muslim country.
For instance, a grave in central and eastern parties of Karachi costs between Rs 8000 (80 dollars) and Rs 10000 (100 dollars).
It cost only Rs 3000 (30 dollars) to Rs 4000 (40 dollar) a couple of years ago.
But the situation is relatively better in cantonment areas, where army authorities have fixed the prices of graves not more than 40 dollars.
The price of the grave does not include the expenses of coffin, shroud and transport (coffin carriers).
"Currently, we dig 30 to 35 graves every day as compared to 18 to 20 till five years ago," Abdul Ghafoor said.
"Of these 30 to 35 bodies, half are the victims of targeted killings, and armed clashes between different groups."
Armed clashes between ethnic groups and targeted killings of political and sectarian groups compounded by bomb blasts have become a daily scene in Pakistan in recent years.
Averagely, 15 to 18 people belonging to different political, ethnic, and sectarian groups are being killed daily in Karachi, the largest city of Pakistan with a population of 20 million.
About 60 million out of Pakistan's 200 million population earn 2 dollars per day.
According to the World Bank, 34 percent Pakistanis live below poverty line.
Official statistics, however, put the number at between 18 and 20 percent.
The shortage of gravesites and diggers are seen as major reasons behind the soaring prices.
"There is an acute shortage of gravesites in the city as only a few new sites have been designated during last four decades by the municipal administration," Abdul Ghani, another grave digger, told OnIslam.net.
"The population of Karachi has been doubled during last two decades, therefore the city desperately needs new gravesites.
"Otherwise, the time is near when people have to fight for acquisition of graves," said Abdul Ghani, who has been involved in this business for 30 years.
Bargain works are also complicating the problem.
The city administration has fixed the prices of graves at Rs 5000 (50 dollars) in all over the metropolis, except cantonment areas, but the grave diggers do not follow the government rates.
The family of the dead has to bargain with them.
"This is not our flaw," Abdul Ghani said.
"The city administration has fixed an irrational price. Out of Rs 5000, Rs 1000 goes to the city government's account, while Rs 3000 are spent on bricks, and concrete blocs. Therefore, we are left with no choice but to bargain.
"We do not demand anything irrational or unethical. We have to pay salaries to laborers who help us in digging graves," he said.
In rural Pakistan, however, there is a little role of professional grave diggers.
Usually, neighbors and friends play the role of grave diggers free of cost. They even provide food to the bereaved family for three days in solace.
Muslim charities have stepped in to help ease the burdens on bereaved families.
For instance, they provide coffin-carrying vehicles to transport the dead body to the graveyard on nominal rates.
"Karachi is a sprawling city of 20 million people, where graveyards are located at an average distance of 8 to 15 kilometers from most parts of the metropolis," said engineer Abdul Aziz, the secretary of Al-Khidmat Foundation's Karachi chapter.
The rates of coffin carriers are between Rs 1000 (10 dollars) to Rs 2000 (20 dollars) depending on the distance.
The rates of coffin carriers too have been increased during last few years.
Till five years ago, the average rate of a coffin carrier was merely Rs 300 (3 dollars) to Rs 500 (5 dollars), but ever-creasing petroleum prices during this period have compelled the charities to increase their charges."We try to reduce the financial burden of funeral expenses by providing transport to the bereaved family at nominal rates."
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net