Located next to a multiplex in the posh coastal suburb of Bandra, the 356-year-old Navpada Kokni Kabrastan in Mumbai wears a sullen look. Railway tracks run parallel to its eastern wall, just beyond the section reserved for COVID-19 burials. The cemetery used to be reserved for members of the Konkani Muslim community but, during the pandemic, it opened its doors to all Muslims.
In May 2020, as the cemetery prepared to bury its first COVID-19 victim, it faced unlikely opposition. Sanjay Naik, the secretary of the Mumbai Cricket Association, and some residents of the neighbourhood put up huge locks on the cemetery gates. The cemetery workers filed a police case, and the Bombay High Court eventually ordered that the locks be removed and the cemetery be opened for COVID-19 burials.
“He doesn’t even live nearby,” an exasperated Maqsood Abdul Sattar Mahimi, one of the cemetery’s attendants, told me about Naik’s intervention. “How can the dead possibly infect us? All we want here is to facilitate a peaceful transition of the dead to their resting place.”