Caretaker seeks UK aid for graves upkeep - British officers buried in Golaghat cemetery

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  • Published 8.07.13

Jorhat, July 7: Jalal Ahmed, a fifth generation caretaker of a British cemetery in the heart of Golaghat town, has decided to write to the British high commission seeking help to maintain the graves of the British officers to ensure that they rest in peace.

“The Rs 30 monthly salary I used to get from Doyang tea estate has been stopped since several years now. I am mobilising resources from whatever source I could to maintain the cemetery, which is being looked after by my family since the days of my great-great grandfather,” Ahmed, 49, told The Telegraph today.

The oldest grave in the cemetery is that of Capt. John Butler, then political agent of the Naga hills who died at the age of 33 on January 7, 1876. Butler was one of the first British officers to lead expeditions to the Naga and Manipur hills.

The cemetery also houses the grave of John Gordon McIntosh, then manager of Bukhial tea estate, who died in a plane crash on May 12, 1957. McIntosh, nicknamed Mac, had his own personal Aeronca chief single engine propeller airplane which he would fly himself, accompanied by his German shepherd.

Ahmed, who runs a tailoring shop near the cemetery to make both ends meet, said his great-great grandfather, Abdul Aziz, was entrusted to look after the cemetery by the British officers in the 1880s and the fam-ily has since been carrying on the tradition.

“Since then my great grandfather, my grandfather and then my father had been looking after the graves,” he said.

Ahmed took over in 1968 after his father died of tuberculosis at an early age. “I would collect Rs 30 from Rangajan tea estate for my job every month but later I was asked to collect my monthly salary from Doyang tea estate. I was paid the amount till 1992 but the authorities of Doyang told me to collect my salary from Murphuloni tea estate from the next year. I had approached the authorities of Murphuloni tea estate several times but I was told that there was no such arrangement,” Ahmed said.

He said he had to spend Rs 20 to travel to Doyang tea estate to collect a monthly salary of Rs 30 and so he used to collect it after six months.

As the salary was not enough for Ahmed to keep his home fires burning, he opened a tailoring shop on a plot of land adjacent to the cemetery. “The earning from the tailoring shop is just not enough to maintain my family. Besides, I also have to engage labourers to clean up the cemetery now and then. I have been approaching various persons and well-wishers over the years for help to maintain the cemetery,” he said.

Ahmed said the Golaghat Municipal Corporation built the boundary wall of the cemetery a few years back following repeated requests and had also ensured that a few encroachers near the cemetery were evicted.

Ahmed said there are still a few British families who keep visiting the cemetery to pay homage to the dead. “A family from Canada visited the cemetery only recently,” he said.

It is only during these visits of the near and dear ones of those buried in the cemetery that Ahmed gets gifts and assistance. There are altogether 28 graves in the cemetery.

“I have decided to approach the British authorities seeking help. They have to help me for my family's dedication,” he said.