Feb 10, 2010

Madhubala, Mohamed Rafi Graves Disposed off in Mumbai

The remains of Hindi cinema’s finest stalwarts including Madhubala, Mohammed Rafi, Naushad and Sahir Ludhianvi have been disposed of and their tombs demolished to make space for new bodies. Authorities manning the Juhu Muslim cemetery where they are interred say they were forced to take this step, and that it is in consonance with Islamic law.

The Muslim burial ground located opposite Juhu Garden was a paradise of sorts, given that luminous artistes like Rafi, Madhubala, Naseem Bano, Ludhianvi, Naushad, Ali Sardar Jafri, Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Talat Mahmood and Parveen Babi were interred there.

In a process that began five years ago, the trust that manages the site began to dismantle the 21 tombstones on site and disposed of the bones and skulls without informing their families or seeking their consent. The ground was levelled by filling in truckloads of soil three-feet high to create another layer of graves. The latest celebrity to be buried in Juhu cemetery was Aamir Khan’s father Tahir Hussain on February 3. Laden with flowers, this fresh grave forms the second tier.

“Islamic law or Sharia does not permit the construction of memorials to the dead,’’ says Asgar Ali, president of the Muslim Majlis, which manages the burial ground. “Moreover, there is an acute shortage of space since the Muslim population in the area is expanding and everyone wants to be buried in our graveyard given how clean and high-profile it is. Poet Ali Sardar Jafri lived near Malabar Hill but was brought here.’’

The families of these artistes are outraged that the trustees did not consult them before doing so. Madhubala’s sister Madhur Bhushan says the actor’s memorial was beautifully carved in pure marble and bore ‘aayats’ from the Koran as well as verses dedicated to her memory. “My father spent weeks and months at the graveyard getting artisans to craft it well,’’ she says. “Why did they allow us to construct it then?’’

“We grant NOCs (no-objection certificates), we don’t take them. Once a corpse enters these gates it becomes our property,’’ retorts Asgar Ali. Trust secretary Qayyum Khan adds, “ Every Muslim is equal before God; no concessions can be made for artistes and celebrities. We are forced to turn over the graves each year due to shortage of space.’’