New Delhi (NVI): In Pakistan, only 31 out of the 1,288 Hindu temples, which existed at the time of partition, are functional now, the Pakistan Hindu Council has disclosed against the backdrop of halting of a temple construction in Islamabad because of protests by extremist Muslims.
It has also come to light that Hindus are not permitted to worship at a 16th century Ram temple in Islamabad for the last seven decades, according to a report in the Arab News.
The newspaper quoted Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council, as saying that 1,288 Hindu temples were registered with the Evacuee Trust Property Board and out of these, only 31 are functioning currently. The Board is responsible for the maintenance of properties abandoned by those who moved to India during partition in 1947.
“We should be allowed to rehabilitate our existing temples,” Vankwani added.
The newspaper also reported that in Islamabad, there is a tiny 16th century Ram temple but since 1947, Hindus have not been allowed to worship there by authorities.
Hindus used to travel from far and wide to worship at this Ram Temple, stay in an adjoining dharamshala (rest house for pilgrims) in a place now called Saidpur Village.
At present, tourists can visit the Ram Temple in Saidpur Village but idols have been removed and the shrine today is all but subsumed into a touristy strip of restaurants and handicraft stores, the report said.
The area, which once used to be surrounded by fresh water ponds considered holy by the Hindu community, now has a foul-smelling rainwater channel which flows through the village.
According to records dating back to 1893, a fair was held each year at a pond near the site to commemorate that Ram and his family had once sipped water from it, the report said.
Islamabad was purpose-built in 1960 on the border of the Punjab plains. It was in the same year that the Ram temple complex was converted into a girls’ school.
After years of protests by the Hindu community, the school was moved to another location and the temple finally vacated in 2006. But Hindus were still not allowed to worship there.
Sawai Lal, a Hindu rights activist, told Arab News, “The government has apparently preserved the site as heritage, but is violating its sanctity by allowing restaurants and shops to operate on the premises.”
Therefore, most of Pakistan’s minorities feel that the state has failed to protect them, and argue that it sometimes even tolerates violence against them.
In the recent weeks, temples have come into the spotlight after authorities in Islamabad allegedly capitulated to pressure from politicians, media outlets and fanatics to halt the construction of a new temple in the Pakistani capital.
In Pakistan, minorities make up a small fraction of the 220 million-strong Muslim-majority population. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who founded Pakistan in 1947 as a safe haven for the Muslims of then united India, had promised minorities that they would enjoy freedom of worship and equality without discrimination.
Referring to the halting of construction of the Krishna temple in Islamabad, Lal said, “We are feeling threatened after some fanatics tried to vandalize our temple site in Islamabad.”
He said there were currently no functioning Hindu temples for Islamabad’s 3,000 Hindus.
As construction began on the new temple in the capital last week, the hopes of the beleaguered community were revived, Hindu leaders said. But now, they await final approval from the prime minister so that construction can once more begin.
In additon, “Prime Minister Imran Khan has also made repeated commitments to protect Pakistan’s religious minorities,” said Omar Waraich, Head of South Asia at Amnesty International told Arab News.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan must lend his commitments to religious freedom for all some weight and ensure that Pakistan’s Hindus and other religious minorities are able to practice their faith freely and without fear,” Omar said.