The Temple Controversy: The State of Hindu Minority in Pakistan

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On June 27, 2020, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan approved a grant of PKR 100 million for the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad. The decision was made after discussion with the members of National Assembly of Pakistan who belong to religious minorities, including a member of the Hindu minority. Lal Chand Malhi, the Hindu member of the National Assembly said that there are about 30,00 Hindus settled in Islamabad and due to security issues in other parts of the Pakistan, many a Hindu are coming to live in Islamabad. Against that backdrop, the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad is their need and they are seeking financial assistance from the Government of Pakistan.

The decision was appreciated and lauded by Hindus in Pakistan and the Hindu panchayat in Islamabad took the responsibility of managing the proposed Shri Krishna Mandir. But the religious right and conservative political parties stood against the decision, proclaiming that Pakistan is a Muslim state and the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad cannot be allowed because it is against the spirit of ideology of Pakistan and Islam. The critique and opposition to the decision does not stop there; three petitions were filed against the allotment of land for the construction of the temple in Islamabad  High Court which were dismissed by the judge and the petitions were disposed of. Despite the support of the decision by some political parties and the Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC), the construction of the temple was stopped and the matter was referred to  the Islamic Ideology Council.  Up until now there is no further development reported in this regard. The mounting pressure by ultra-religious groups stopped the government from implementing its decision. The Hindu predicament cannot be gauged only through controversy over the construction of the temple; that is just the tip of the iceberg. Their persecution is deep-rooted, and that is what this piece intends to analyze.

The clerics opposing this decision are of the view that in a city named after Islam, ‘Islamabad’, the construction of a Hindu temple cannot be allowed. But if history is any guide, before the partition of India and Pakistan, there were large populations of Hindus and Sikhs in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The prevalent religious harmony was destroyed when the communal violence occurred. These three communities (Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims) living together for hundreds of years, turned on each other. When Muslims attempted to form a communal ministry in Punjab, Hindu and Sikh students agitated against it on 5th March 1947 in Rawalpindi. After that, a massacre of Hindus and Sikhs occurred in Rawalpindi. Lord Mountbatten paid a visit to district Rawalpindi after the partition, he said to the British government, “The whole of the Hindu/Sikh part of the city was an absolute wreck, as though it had been subjected to an air raid.”

Parabod Chandra in his book ‘the rape of Rawalpindi’ wrote, 2,263 deaths of Hindus and Sikhs in Rawalpindi were reported officially. These atrocities are worth mentioning here as it is because of them that these two communities almost became extinct from this region. After the partition, the demographics of the region changed and the Hindu population in Pakistan reduced. Thus, the Hindus became a minority. Their places of worship became a heritage, abandoned or converted into Muslim places of worship. Now there are few temples in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, but only one temple in Rawalpindi is functional. A few of the temples in Urdu bazar Rawalpindi have been converted into shops, one can still notice the icons. A Dharamshala has been converted into the Imam Bargah, known as Colonel Imam Maqbool Bargah on College Road, Rawalpindi. However, in 1970, the Government of Pakistan took control of the temples through Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) and now they are under the control of Aukaf.

There is a good-sized population of Hindus in Sindh, but they have been subjected to forced conversions; abduction of Hindu girls and forced marriages are rampant in Umerkot, Sindh, and they are discriminated against. According to the BBC, 12,000 Hindus have migrated to India in the last five years. Forced conversions, targeting of minor Hindu girls has deeply affected the Hindu community which constitutes just 2% of the Pakistan’s population. Naziha Syed Ali wrote in Dawn on July 17, 2017, “When a Hindu girl is brought before the Qazi, the Qazi must comply immediately. If he delays the conversion even to say his prayers, he himself becomes kafir.” Some religious organizations are working on a special agenda to convert the Hindus into Muslims, and usually the Hindus from the lower socioeconomic class become their prey. Adverse social and political circumstances force them to leave Pakistan.

Laws of the land are there to protect the rights of minorities, for example, the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, declared in a verdict, “The very genesis of our country is grounded in the protection of religious rights for all, especially those of minorities.” It was like an interpretation of Article 20 and the right of religious freedom. One year later, another Chief Justice, Jawwad S. Khawaja, ordered the construction of a Hindu temple, Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj, in Karak; but it was attacked, and the land was grabbed by a mufti. Despite the laws, Hindu temples are often desecrated in Sindh and the freedom of religious expression is violated.

The persecution of the Hindu minority in Pakistan is endemic, but this country was never meant to be what it has been turned into. The founder of the nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in his speech of 11 August said, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques,” but it seems the nation has no regard for these words. This distrust and hatred must be stopped, the law of the land must be implemented, and the religious rights of Hindu minority must be protected. The right thing to do for the government is to build the temple and religious extremists should not be allowed do anything. Their diktat should be rejected so that the minorities’ faith in law and order can be restored.

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Sohail Akhtar
About Sohail Akhtar 2 Articles
Sohail Akhtar is pursuing a Master of Philosophy degree in Pakistan Studies at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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