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Srinagar: An ancient temple in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district was desecrated by unknown miscreants on Saturday, prompting protests in Jammu region by Kashmiri Pandits even as the Jammu and Kashmir Police has filed an FIR in the case.
According to a senior police officer, Mata Bargheshekha Bhagwati temple situated on a mountain ridge in Mattan area of Anantnag district, which is revered by Kashmiri Pandits, was vandalised and desecrated by unknown miscreants.
A photo clicked inside the temple circulated on social media showing parts of the inner structure torn down while pieces of bricks were scattered around in the sanctum sanctorum, sparking widespread condemnation across Kashmir.
The incident took place at a time when the Union government is taking a series of measures for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits who fled the Valley when armed insurgency broke out in early 1990s.
“This is clearly an act to cause panic and terrorise the Pandits who are living in the Valley as well as those who intend to return to their homeland,” said a senior officer in Anantnag administration, adding that the culprits would be punished sternly.
Soon after the news of desecration spread, a team of the Anantnag district administration and senior police officers, including the DIG South Kashmir Range, arrived at the spot to assess the damage.
Anantnag deputy commissioner Piyush Singla said an investigation was underway and the culprits would be punished. He said the police has filed an FIR in the case and the culprits would be identified soon.
“Such immoral and illegal acts will not be tolerated and the culprits will be penalised as per relevant provisions of the law. Nobody will be allowed to harm or disrupt the social and communal harmony in society,” Singla said.
The news of the temple’s desecration prompted strong reaction in Kashmir while a protest was held by Kashmiri Pandits in the Jagti area of Jammu region who demanded strong action against the culprits.
“The vandalisation of our holy temple has hurt the sentiments of the entire community across the globe. It is unfortunate that the government has failed to protect this important shrine. We demand security for all our religious places in the Valley,” said Anil Kumar Bhan, president the Migrant Welfare Committee Mattan.
“This act exposes the claims of normalcy by government. Under the prevailing situation, the sense of insecurity among Kashmiri Pandits living in Valley has only increased,” he added.
Prohit Sabha Martand (PSM), which takes care of the temple, said the desecration by unknown miscreants was an attempt to disturb communal harmony in Kashmir.
“This shameful act has hurt the religious sentiments of those living in the area. It is an attempt to hurt the centuries-old religious brotherhood in Kashmir,” said PSM president Ashok Kumar Sidha.
In a letter to the director general of J&K Police, Dilbag Singh, senior BJP leader Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, while condemning the desecration, sought action against the culprits involved in the act.
“You are requested to initiate an appropriate enquiry into this gory and communal incident and bring the culprits to justice. A criminal and communal mindset among the people responsible for this devastation needs to be exposed in order to create a deterrent for any future such eventuality,” the BJP leader said in his letter.
Regional parties in Kashmir including the National Conference and People’s Democratic Party also condemned the desecration while demanding action against the culprits.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah condemned the incident while urging the police to punish the culprits. “Unacceptable. I strongly condemn this vandalism and urge the administration, especially Jammu and Kashmir Police, to identify the culprits so they can be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Omar, the National Conference vice-president, tweeted.
Terming its as a “malicious” act, People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti said the Kashmiri Pandits need to be reassured that their welfare would be protected. “Pained & disturbed by reports of malicious damage & vandalism at the Mata temple in Mattan. Need of the hour is to reassure our pandit brethren. Request SSP Anantnag & DC Anantnag to look into the matter immediately,” the former J&K chief minister tweeted.
Another PDP leader and former J&K minister, Naeem Akhtar, also condemned the incident. “Condemn strongly! The persons responsible should be punished and the society helped to ensure such incidents don’t recur,” he said in a tweet.
Last week, a J&K policeman was killed after security guards at a temple allegedly mistook him for “anti-national element” and fired at him.
The constable was identified as Ajay Dhar, a Kashmiri Pandit and a resident of north Kashmir’s Langate area. Police had termed the incident as unfortunate, saying the cop tried to “force his entry into the temple during night”.
“Despite firing in the air (by the guard), he kept banging the door without revealing his identity. It’s a clear case of mistaken identity as the sentry assumed it was a terror attack,” said Vijay Kumar, Inspector General of Police (Kashmir).
After the reading down of Article 370, the Union government had said that there are 50,000 temples in Kashmir which have been vandalised in over three decades of insurgency.
“These temples were vandalised when Kashmiri Pandits and Hindus were driven out of the Valley. We’ll do a survey of these temples and reopen them,” junior Union home minister Kishan Reddy had said in 2019.