A place for the dead to be laid to rest in Pakistan

The minority Sikh community in Peshawar, Pakistan, have taken the first crucial step toward securing a Shamshan Ghat (cremation ground) to lay the dead to rest after years without a dedicated space in their home city.

The Sikh community is one of several religious minorities in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, estimated unofficially to be around 4,000–5,000 people in Peshawar city alone. As a minority, they face issues in gaining access to education, healthcare and job opportunities, and face economic instability and insecurity.

According to the Sikh and Hindu communities, the dead must be cremated and their ashes placed into a river or some other source of flowing water.

In recent years, the community in Peshawar lost their two Shamshan Ghat and as a result have had to transfer the bodies of loved ones to Attock City, more than two hours' drive away.

Some people cannot afford the cost of travel and expenses such as firewood and are forced to bury their dead on private property with the hope of conducting the traditional cremation rituals in the future.

Despite the problem being raised for years, there had been no tangible action taken to provide this important space for the Sikh and Hindu communities.

However, through a collaborative and inclusive media campaign, the issue was brought to the attention of policy-makers, who advocated for change.

International Alert and Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights (JDHR) are implementing a three-year project in Pakistan to improve existing media spaces and create new space for the voices of minorities. This includes those communities marginalised due to their religion, ethnicity or gender.

We established Inclusive Media Forums (IMF) as a way of bringing together media, community, political and other civil service stakeholders. Through the IMF, localised issues can be raised through the media that may not otherwise be reported.

After representatives of the Peshawar Sikh community raised their struggle to provide the customary funeral rituals for their dead at an IMF meeting in May 2017, the IMF member journalists launched a two-week media campaign to highlight the issue in the media and political spheres in the run up to the announcement of the provincial budget.

Five IMF journalists took up the issue in Daily Jang, Nai Baat, Daily Mashraq, Pakistan Today, Mashraq TV, Mashal Radio and their websites. Sartaj Khan, opposition Member of the Provincial Assembly likewise raised the problem within his circle of political influence.

This short but focused campaign, alongside the continued engagement of IMF members with policy-makers, gained enough attention that the following month the provincial government agreed to allocate funds for the Shamshan Ghats in Peshawar of 100 million rupees (US$90.5k) with development now under way.

“The success of our campaign to build a Shamshan Ghat in Peshawar shows the positive role the media can play in supporting marginalised groups to have a voice and to promote an inclusive democracy,” says our Senior Programme Officer Shahab Khalid.

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