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History

The Karachi Christian Cemetery

The year of the original consecration of the Karachi Christian Cemetery in Abyssinia Lines is 1845 but there is a tombstone set in the wall near the main gate of the cemetery bearing the inscription:

SACRED
To the Memory of
MARIA COTTON
The Beloved Daughter
Of Lieut. Colonel & Mrs. Cotton
Of H.M. 28 Regiment
Who departed this life
On the 13 of October 1843
Aged 18 years.

This inscription is typical of many to be seen in the old part of the cemetery which lies on either side of the main gate facing the road to the Air Port. The majority of the graves are of young soldiers, young women and children, bearing witness to the toll taken by tropical diseases in those days. Examination of the walls and old plans go to show that the cemetery must have originally occupied an area of about 10 acres but this has been extended from time to time and now measures some 21 acres.

Up to World War II there were virtually no buildings between Napier Barracks and Drigh Road Cantonment and the cemetery was in the open desert. It was surrounded by low walls and served by a water supply direct from the Curry Reservoir about ½ a mile away to the north. There were numerous trees and the whole area was kept reasonably clean and tidy. A small income was derived from burial fees, grave maintenance fees and monument fees supplemented by grants from the Imperial Government in New Delhi. Many of the graves were endowed in perpetuity and this money was retained in Delhi on interest towards the maintenance of the endowed monuments. This was how the Christian Cemeteries all over India were maintained, the actual work and maintenance being done by the Public Works Department.

After Partition in 1947, the population of Karachi rose rapidly from some three hundred and fifty thousand to two million and the neighbourhood of the cemetery was flooded with refugees. The low boundary walls were broken down, and the whole cemetery became a highway. Monuments were smashed, from railings and lead lettering stolen, many trees cut down, and where they still remained, the area became a vast jungle.

As regards maintenance, the control from Delhi ceased to exist, and due to exchange regulations between India and Pakistan, it was no longer possible to transfer funds and endowment monies, and the interest thereon. In the meanwhile, the small income from burials, etc., was quite inadequate to cope with the maintenance work and supervision necessary. In order to maintain the cemeteries therefore, the British High Commission in Karachi invited the members of the various Christian bodies to form the Karachi, Sind and Baluchistan Cemeteries Board, and in due course this organization delegated the actual maintenance of the cemeteries to junior bodies, of which the Karachi Christian Cemeteries Board is one.

Meantime conditions in all cemeteries were deteriorating, and in the case of the Karachi Christian Cemeteries Board it was decided to launch appeals to the churches, embassies, commercial firms, and the general Christian public for funds to enable major repairs to be carried out. The responses have been generous and the Board has been able to do considerable repair work including raising the height of the boundary wall which is nearly a mile long, and employing a regular supervisor living on the premises. The result is that the cemetery is kept generally free from trespassers and is cleaned regularly - a formidable task for an area of 21 acres - but unfortunately a refugee village on the west side makes it well nigh impossible to keep the adjacent plot clean.

Progress is however being made both in works and in funds. All the endowment monies pertaining to the cemeteries in West Pakistan have now been transferred to the British High Commission in Karachi, and the interest is being parceled out among the various cemeteries and has enabled the Board to carry out extensive repairs to endowed monuments.

U.K.A.P. REVIEW - March-April 1962
 



REPRINTED FROM THE STATESMAN
(Delhi: 17-03-1949)

EUROPEAN CEMETERIES IN INDIA & PAKISTAN
Statement in British Parliament
 

London, May 15, 1949, Gratitude to the Governments of India and Pakistan for their assurances that European cemeteries would be protected was expressed by Lord Addison speaking in the House of Lords today. The following statement in Parliament describes the arrangements contemplated to the care of such cemeteries in the two Dominions:

“As a result of the transfer” power, European cemeteries maintained in the past by the Government of India have become, since April last, the responsibility of the U.K. Government. Since that date they have been maintained largely at the expense of U.K. revenues. That following outlines briefly the arrangements proposed for their future maintenance.

“Before 1948 the maintenance of these cemeteries was supervised by the Government of India through the Public Work Department, the Military Engineering Service or the Railway Board, as appropriate. For this purpose India expenditure amounted to £45,000 a year apart from the proceeds of income from private endowments. The cemeteries numbered over 1,350 of which about 350 are open for further burials A considerable number of the remainder are not cemeteries in the strict sense, but merely groups of graves often by the roadside in remote places. Many of the cemeteries date from the distant past and have had no burials in them for generations.

“A full-scale maintenance of all these cemeteries would be a formidable commitment and the U.K. Government is bound quite frankly to admit that they will not be able to continue to maintain some of the cemeteries on the old standard; indeed, there are certain cemeteries that they will not be able to maintain to any extent. Nevertheless the Government is doing what they can to secure that where cemeteries cannot be maintained their preservation will be safeguard so far as local circumstances permit. In such cases the aim of HMG would be to secure that they should revert to nature in a dignified and decent manner. In respect of the rest, they believe that the proposals are as reasonable and appropriate as can be expected.

CARE OF GRAVES
“Manifestly the High Commissioners are unable to maintain an organization for the care of these graves comparable with that of the old style Government of India. It is on members of the Christian congregation resident in India and Pakistan that the local task of caring for Christian graveyards must now primarily devolve. In many places the Christian Churches now find their European congregations depleted or non-existent. Thanks however to the authorities of the Christian Churches, and many members of both the European and local communities, a number of voluntary bodies have been formed who have undertaken to care for the graves. Members will desire to be associated with HMG in commending those who have undertaken this invaluable and generously given help.

“So far some 312 voluntary local cemetery committees have been formed. They include representatives of the clergy local industry or business, the U.K Citizens' Association and the Anglo-Indian Association, and they will undertake local supervision of the work of maintaining the cemeteries.

In certain areas, however, the local body will consist, through force of circumstances of only a solitary missionary or local Christian. Hitherto the committees have been in direct correspondence with the High Commissions, but this is not a practicable long-term arrangement, and it is intended to set up, generally on a provincial basis a number of trustee boards to act as a link between the committees and the High Commissions. The trustee boards will generally co-ordinate and supervise the work of the committees. They will be composed of senior representatives of the religious denominations concerned, prominent local members of the province and wherever possible, the Deputy U.K. High Commissioner in the area.

“Turning now to the future method of upkeep of the cemeteries: these have been considered broadly under two heads, namely, open cemeteries, which are those still used for burials, and closed cemeteries. Since April 1, the U.K. High Commissioners have been in the closest consultation with the various Church authorities in India and Pakistan whose attitude has been both realistic and helpful.

HMG has also been fortunate in obtaining the views of number of former Secretaries of State, Viceroys, Commanders-in-Chief, provincial Governors and others, as well as of the Ecclesiastical authorities mainly concerned. They wish to take this opportunity of thanking all these eminent persons for so readily assisting with their counsel. It is not claimed that the proposals herein described received their unanimous approval, but a substantial majority of those consulted, including the representatives of the Churches, are generally in favour of proceeding on the lines which the Government have now decided to follow.

“As regards the open cemeteries, the Church authorities have said that it is their avowed object, with the help of income from endowments and burial fees, to maintain them in a suitable manner. It may well be that at the outset church funds will not be wholly sufficient for the purpose, and that they will have to rely on the High Commissioners for small subventions. It has also been decided that the more important historically of the closed cemeteries should be cared for in the same way. These include for example, the cemeteries at the Kashmere Gate in Delhi and St. John's in Calcutta.

“It is with regard to the thousand or so closed cemeteries that different considerations arise. They are of course, of all sizes and they are to be found all over the subcontinent, from Gilgit in the far north of Kashmir, to the Andamans. A number of them, perhaps about 100, lie in areas where it has not been possible to form committees, for example in certain of the tribal territories, remote districts and ancient camping grounds. These, with however great reluctance, the Government feel complied to leave to revert to nature, along with certain isolated groups of graves Assurances, however, have been received for which the U.K. Government are grateful to the Governments of India and Pakistan and to the provincial Governments concerned.

“The Government of India says they will protect cemeteries from destruction and desecration in the same way as property belonging to the Government themselves. The Government of Pakistan has also issued instructions that the cemeteries in Pakistan are to be protected from encroachment and desecration. As to the majority of the closed cemeteries, it has been decided, after mature consideration, that they should be attended to at intervals as distinct from constant maintenance, and that this attention will continue for as long as funds will last. This is expected to be for at least 10 years and perhaps for an appreciable time longer.

“To meet the cost of attending periodically to closed cemeteries, and to provide some initial assistance to the Churches in caring for the open cemeteries, Parliament will in due course be asked to provide a lump sum, to be placed in trust, to be drawn on as required by the trustees who will include the High Commissioners. Provision on maintenance for the interim period has been made in the 1940-50 estimates for the commonwealth Services. The capital sum, is of course, quite separate from the private endowment funds in the hands of the two Governments which are shortly to be transferred to the U.K. High Commissioners.

ENDOWMENT FUNDS
“The interest from these Endowment Funds, in so far as it pertains to the open cemeteries and to the closed cemeteries of historical importance, will, of course, continue to be applied in the manner intended. But in the case of the majority of the closed cemeteries. It will not be practicable, under the arrangements contemplated, to apply the interest on endowment funds precisely in accordance with the original intentions. Where the money cannot be used for the upkeep of these cemeteries the most equitable course, subject to the express wish of any individual who has endowed a grave located in a closed cemetery to have a local record of the grave maintained, will probably be found to lie in its use for the assistance of the Churches in the maintenance of the open cemeteries.

“It has not, been possible in a brief statement to cover all the points that arise, but on one specific matter of wide interest it should be added that war graves continue, as in the past, to be the responsibility of the Imperial War Graves Commission.

 
Other Links
Karachi War Cemetery

Indian & Pakistani Cemeteries

British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia
 
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