Karachi: Just about a week after Hindus conducted the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a temple in Islamabad on June 25, the site was desecrated by a mob, apparently from a fanatical faction of the majority community.
On July 3, a mob stole about one tonne of iron that had been placed at the site for the construction of the Shri Krishna Temple. It performed the azaan (Islamic call to prayer) at the site and uploaded videos of the desecration of the site on social media. Though the police were deployed to stop the destruction, they were unable to do so.
Since this incident, voices against the construction of the temple have grown loud. On July 6, the government of Pakistan wrote to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) to ask if it is within the tenets of Islam for the government to financially support the construction of a new Hindu temple in Pakistan.
On July 7, the Islamabad High Court dismissed three petitions against the mandir in question, each of which argued that there was no provision for the construction of a temple in the city’s master plan.
And on July 2, Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi had spoken against the construction of a new Hindu temple in Pakistan. “Pakistan was created in the name of Islam. Construction of a new Hindu temple in its capital is not only against the spirit of Islam but also an insult to Riayasat-e-Madina (the Islamic welfare state),” he said. Elahi is a member of the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid), an ally of the Imran Khan government in Pakistan.
No place to worship
The temple in question had a history of frustration and confusion even before the ground-breaking ceremony on June 25. The 3,000 documented Hindus of Islamabad had long wanted a functional place of worship, said Lal Chand Malhi, member of the National Assembly from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party.
There are two pre-partition era mandirs in Pakistan’s capital city, Malhi said, but one of them is now a heritage site and no longer a place of worship, while the other was deemed a security risk and has been closed for years.
According to the Evacuee Trust Property Board of the government of Pakistan, there are approximately 1,300 temples in the country, of which 30 are functional.
“No one can imagine that Hindus do not have a temple or a small piece of land for cremations in the capital of Pakistan,” Malhi told The Wire. “Where can they go to cremate their dead? Where can they perform their rituals?”
In 2014, according to Malhi, Ashok Kumar, then a member of the Islamabad Hindu Panchayat (IHP), took the initiative and requested land for a temple in Pakistan’s capital city, stating that Hindus in Islamabad have to go all the way to Sindh to cremate their dead and perform funeral rituals.
In 2017, after three years of arguments and discouragement, the IHP eventually got permission for a temple. According to Malhi, the site for the temple was originally meant for the Buddhist community. It then took the Hindus a further three years to meet all the legal requirements for possession. Finally, in 2020, the Hindus claimed the land.
At that time, Pakistan’s ruling party was reported to have allocated PKR 10 crore for this temple. Later, however, the government stated that no budgetary allocation has been made for it.
“I do not fathom why people oppose God’s home. All Gods’ homes should be equally respected,” said Ravi Dawani, general secretary of the All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat, after the desecration of the temple site on July 3.
“Hindus are now fearful and wondering why some people have a problem with us performing religious activities within four walls,” said a person who preferred to remain anonymous. “Moreover, the government did not allocate any amount for the mandir. Hindus are paying for the construction.”
After Elahi’s statement, religious leaders began opposing the construction of the temple. Nervous of religious tension, Hindus say they will abide by any decision made by the state.
Malhi told The Wire that he had asked Prime Minister Imran Khan about providing financial support for the temple. He added that the plan for the temple had been submitted to the prime minister for his approval. Now the Council of Islamic Ideology has been charged to look into the matter of the mandir.
Which comes first: religion or state?
Meanwhile, the debate about the construction of a new temple in Islamabad continues. In a statement on video, religious scholar Javed Ahmed Ghamidi said that the government of Pakistan should assist in the construction of the temple. He argued that since the state supports the construction of mosques, it should also support the places of worship of other religions because all Pakistanis pay taxes and do their duty by the country.
Others, including Malhi, argue that since the state contributed funds for the Kartarpur Corridor which allows Sikhs from India to worship in Gurudwaras in Pakistan, there should be no problem with the state funding the construction of a temple.
Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar of the Pakistan People’s Party, who chairs the Senate Committee on Human Rights, told The Wire: “Hindus are citizens of Pakistan and have the right to build a temple. I wonder why they require permission.”
Khokhar said the government’s letter to the Council of Islamic Ideology was illegal and unconstitutional. The ruling party did not consult the members of parliament before asking for the CII’s advice, he said, referring to Article 229 of the constitution which states: “The president or the governor of a province may, or if two-fifths of its total membership so requires, a house or a provincial assembly shall, refer to the Islamic Council for advice on any question as to whether a proposed law is or is not repugnant to the Injunction of Islam.”
Malhi, on the other hand, said the government does have the right to consulate the CII and that his team would consult the parliamentarians.
“The Human Rights Committee will definitely discuss the matter and we will support the construction of a temple in the capital,” said Khokhar.
“If the government does not give funds for the temple, then Hindus will contribute towards the cost of building it,” said Malhi.