GC: Prior to the Lok Sabha election, the BJP- led government and Independent MLA Vijai Sardessai assured the Muslim community that the ‘Kabrastan’ issue will be resolved and work would commence on the proposed site for the burial ground?
AMC: Political parties such as BJP &Congress and opportunistic politicians like MLA Vijai Sardesai use the Muslim community in Goa as an Election card. Their assurances on the Kabrastan issue prior to any elections are mere words with no related action to resolve our grievance. The facts of the Kabrastan issue and whether the government has commenced any work on the proposed site of their choice is there for anyone interested in the truth.
GC: Why is the Muslim community insisting on another Kabrastan in Margao when a burial ground already exists?
AMC: The problem with the existing burial ground is the inability to dig deep due to the rocky-layer of the ground. Thus it is difficult to do a multiple layered burial, if the need arises due to space constraints. Therefore in the interim period we have resorted to digging mass graves and being prepared but one needs to plan for the future eventuality and space for burial is a constraint. When we had raised this issue with the Former Congress Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro and then MLA Digambar Kamat in 1999, a resolution was passed in the Goa Assembly to locate a proposed site for the purpose of a burial ground for the Muslim community taken into account these factors of encumbrances experienced by the care-taker organisation of the Kabrastan.
GC: Has not the government identified a proposed site? If so, then what continues to be the grievance?
AMC: The site proposed by the government of Goa is not a suitable site for a burial ground for three reasons – one, it is once again a very rocky-layered land and in the future we will face a similar problem as in the existing Kabrastan. Two the gradient of the land and sloppy nature would make it difficult to create a pathway for those carrying the body to climb up the steep hill, which is a Muslim burial custom. And the third reason is the presence of the Sonsoddo dump (an issue which has not been resolved till date). We had identified a plot near the Nessai Industrial Estate but plots that had being identified by the Muslim community are being turned down.
GC: Is not true that some of your fellow Muslims have agreed to the Kabrastan site and you appear to be the lone-fighter to the case? Do you have a personal axe to grind with politicians like Kamat & Sardesai?
AMC: The fellow Muslims that have been put forward by the likes of Kamat and Sardesai are not the yardstick to judge the aspirations or demands of the Muslim community, they are political puppets. I have the support of the Association of All Goa Muslim Jamaats. I do have an axe to grind with politicians like Digambar Kamat or Vijai Sardesai as I have the interest of the people of the Muslim community in mind. Kamat during a meeting some years back had openly said that ‘Saraswat Hindu community does not want a Muslim burial ground in Margao’. The mere fact that they have selected such a site, shows that they do not want a burial ground as this particular site would have been rejected by the Muslim community and Kamat would like to keep the issue unresolved to play his dirty politics.
GC: Your organization had taken the burial ground issue to the National Commission for Minorities in New Delhi. What was the outcome?
AMC: When the Chairperson of NCM was Mohammad Shafi Querishi, the NCM understood our grievances and even addressed our demands appropriately with the Goa government. However, when Wajahat Habibulla took over as a Chairperson of the NCM, the situation took a complete U-turn for the worst. I have openly alleged, even to the NCM directly, that they have taken bribes from the then Chief Minister of Goa Digambar Kamat. For example NCM members coming on investigations were treated as state-guests and being wined & dined by government officers on the behest of the then CM. I do not see NCM giving the Muslim community any justice in this regard.
GC: How come the Muslim community has a problem with the proposed site, when the Christian community has no problem with their burial site at the same location?
AMC: I agree that though the land allotted to the Muslim and Christian community are in the same location, the Christian community’s burial ground is on the lower-end of the proposed site where the ground is not rocky. The Muslim community however have been allotted the steep-hill portion of the proposed site which is rocky land and the steep hell would make it difficult to create a pathway to carry the bodies of the deceased and walk uphill (as is our Muslim customs).
GM: The Muslim community also have an issue with another ‘Kabrastan’ site in Curtorim? What is the grievance on that issue?
AMC: The issue is that we had proposed the site near the Nessai industrial estate, which falls in Curtorim. However, the locals charged-up by the local MLA Alexio Reginald Lourenco are bringing an objection. The Congress MLA of Curtorim is known to be communal and also instigates people against Muslims creating a house of prayer or living in Curtorim.
GC: Do you see the Kabrastan issue being resolved?
AMC: Not with the current lot of politicians. I see that this will be a continuous fight for the rights of the Muslims and the fight for the Kabrastan will continue. More lies will be told and the Muslim community by politicians like Parrikar, Kamat and Sardesai. They will want us to accept our fate in the matter. But we must continue to fight in hope for justice and to be treated fairly as a community.