Demolition of a part of Hindu temple triggers protest in Pak

Last Updated: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - 17:40

Islamabad: The demolition of part of an
87-year-old temple triggered protests by the minority Hindu
community in the Pakistani garrison city of Rawalpindi before
authorities said they would prevent the rest of the shrine
from being pulled down.

Hundreds of Hindus were joined by Muslim residents
when they took to the streets yesterday to protest the
demolition of a large section of the temple by a man who had
leased the structure from the Auqaf Department, an autonomous
body of the Provincial Government.

The temple on Tipu Road, opposite the Rawalpindi
Medical College, is located near a `shamshan ghat` or
cremation ground.

It was built in 1923 by Lala Tansukh Rai, the
Raees-e-Azam of Rawalpindi, in memory of his wife.
Muslim residents of the area joined Hindu and Sikh
protesters to express solidarity with them and blocked the
road for an hour.

Following an assurance from police that the demolition
would be stopped, the protesters dispersed.

Channa Lal, the chief Hindu priest for Rawalpindi and
Islamabad, said that religious rites were performed at the
temple before bodies were cremated at the shamshan ghat.

Hindu Sabha president Jag Mohan said local residents
noticed some labourers demolishing the structure and digging
up its foundations yesterday morning.

Jag Mohan said he and some other people went to the
site and asked the labourers to stop the work and produce
orders authorising them to demolish the temple.

The staff of the Auqaf Department too said the
labourers were not allowed to demolish the building, he added.

Before partition in 1947, the `shamshan ghat` was
spread over 277 kanals of land.

When a majority of Hindus migrated from Rawalpindi,
the families that stayed behind handed over surplus land to
the government for educational purposes during President
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto`s tenure.

The total area of the shamshan ghat and the temple
complex now was over two kanals, Jag Mohan said.

The Auqaf Department rented out the building to a
welfare society despite protests by the Hindu community, he
said.

The welfare society failed to pay rent to the Auqaf
Department in 2000, following which the latter got the
building vacated.

The Auqaf Department then leased the building to Raja
Abdul Wahid, who further leased it to a private media group in
2005.

Following protests by Hindus, the Auqaf Department set
up a committee that declared the building was not a temple,
Jag Mohan said.

"It is unfair that we have been performing religious
rituals in the building for the many years but the Auqaf
Department gave it to a private company for commercial
purposes," Jag Mohan added.

Over 100 Hindu families living in Rawalpindi and
foreigners, including some diplomats, used the shamshan ghat
for rituals, Jag Mohan said.

Ibadur Rehman Lodhi, a lawyer, told the Dawn newspaper
that the Auqaf Department could not lease out places of
worship where religious rituals are performed.

He said the authorities can only lease property
adjacent to religious shrines or properties that were
abandoned for many years.

Commissioner Zahid Saeed said Hindu members of the
Auqaf Department had verified that the building was not a
temple.

Saeed said he had directed the district administration
chief to verify whether the building was a temple.

Members of the Hindu community said there were several
temples along Tipu Road and Nullah Leh in Rawalpindi.

Some of them were demolished before partition while
many were razed after the Babri Masjid in India was demolished
in 1992.

Most of the temples are under the control of the Auqaf
Department, which has rented them out.

There are several temples in the Raja Bazar area which
are now being used as residential apartments.

The Hindu community has demanded that the President,
Prime Minister and Chief Justice of Pakistan should take steps
to protect the temple and shamshan ghats.

PTI

First Published: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - 17:40
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