What Is up, Pak?
By Sir Cam
Cambridge, UK

"What's happened to that Pakistani man's grave?" asked Mr David Swainston, a Cambridge pensioner who frequents the Newmarket Road Cemetery, where his wife is buried. He was intrigued by what had happened to grave B8330: the marble headstone had disappeared, the stone border had gone, and the green stone coverings had been removed. It was as if it had been vandalized and desecrated.
Choudhary Rahmat Ali's grave had been desecrated. So this, then, is how we honor the dead. This is how we pay our respects to a major player in the Pakistan Movement. Instead of flowers or dua's and prayers, what we got now was a most depressing sight of freshly dug up earth and gasps of anguish and shock upon visiting the grave. You wouldn't even wish this on your enemies.
Arrangements had been made for Rahmat Ali's remains to be exhumed in Cambridge on August 12 (the headstone etc had been removed in preparation for this) and then flown out for reburial in Lahore on August 14. This process was somehow abruptly halted. It was reported, "In the end, it was President Pervez Musharraf who put his foot down." Seems rather unbelievable, this.
What! The highest authority in the land, with his hand on the nuclear button, the ongoing War against Terrorism, and engaged in other high-level tasks, bothering about a piffling matter such as the reburial of a poor man’s remains! Surely, not. But, then, this is the age of Enlightened Moderation, is it not? Pakistan can't also have declared a War against Reburials. Whatever next?
It would pain me immensely if Rahmat Ali's remains were ever removed from Cambridge for I have been regularly visiting the grave for almost 25 years. He is a part of Cambridge and British history. However, since the very burial was a temporary measure under special circumstances I can appreciate the call for a proper reburial in the land he named and worked for all his life. It was the Master of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, who arranged Rahmat Ali's burial and ultimately arranged for the College to pay off his debts "as a matter purely of its sense of responsibility for an oriental member of the College who in his middle life suddenly died in Cambridge".
In a letter to Rahmat Ali's brother in Pakistan, Edward Welbourne writes in 1953, "The burying of Mr. Ali was undertaken by the College at my desire at a time when we had no reason to suppose that anyone was interested in seeing him properly buried.".
Edward Welbourne writes in 1951, "I authorized... his burial in the Newmarket Road Cemetery in such a way as to allow of his subsequent removal to any other place where any properly authorized person desired him to be reburied". Welbourne expected the Government of Pakistan to recognize the contribution of Rahmat Ali and take him back for proper burial.
In fact, Welbourne expressed an interest to participate in a reburial ceremony. In 1963, he wrote, "If there was a ceremonial removal of Rahmat Ali's coffin back to Pakistan there should be no practical difficulties, and if there is to be a formal ceremony I would myself if I was about undoubtedly attend it.". This then is the view of the man who authorized and arranged the burial of Rahmat Ali in Cambridge.
Reburial is not a new phenomenon. It has happened throughout history. There are numerous examples from many lands and faiths, recent as well as old. So why put obstacles in the way of Rahmat Ali? And why desecrate his grave if you're not going to do anything? Leave him in peace! Pakistanis have a lot to answer for. And Emmanuel College cannot be thanked enough for all it has done for it's former student.
(Thanks to Emmanuel College for access to the Rahmat Ali archives)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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