Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered authorities to start the reconstruction of a century-old Hindu temple that was vandalised by a mob in the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa last week and instructed them to recover the money for the restoration work from the attackers whose act has caused “international embarrassment” to the country.
The apex court, which took notice of the attack and ordered the local authorities to appear before the court on January 5, also directed the Evacuee Property Trust Board (EPTB) to submit in court details of all functional and non-functional temples and gurdwaras across Pakistan.
The attack on the temple in Terri village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) Karak district on Wednesday by members of radical Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party (Fazal ur Rehman group) drew strong condemnation from human rights activists and the minority Hindu community leaders. During the hearing on Tuesday, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed ordered the EPTB to start the reconstruction work.
Chief Justice Ahmed said the attack on the temple has “caused international embarrassment to Pakistan.” The court also directed the EPTB to clear encroachments from temples across the country and take action against officials involved in the encroachments. The EPTB is a statutory board that manages religious properties and shrines of Hindus and Sikhs who had migrated to India following the partition.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief secretary, police chief, and Shoaib Suddle, the head of a commission on minorities’ rights, were present during the hearing. Dr Suddle, who visited the temple in Karak district and presented a comprehensive report in the case to the apex court on Monday after it asked him to probe the attack, told the court that the provincial EPTB “did not protect the shrine”.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan then questioned Inspector General of Police Sanaullah Abbasi on how the attack could have happened when there was a police check post next to the temple. “Where were your intelligence agencies?” the judge asked.
Abbasi told the court that 109 people involved in the attack were arrested. He also said that 92 police officials, including the superintendent of police and deputy superintendent of police were suspended. Chief Justice Ahmed said that “suspension was not enough”.
The police chief told the court that a protest by the JUI-F was going on near the site on the day of the incident. “Out of the six ulema at the protest, only Maulvi Mohammad Sharif incited the crowd,” he said.
The judge also pulled up the EPTB chairman, saying he should “not sit on the chairman’s seat with government mentality”. “Your employees are doing business on the land meant for shrines. Arrest them and start the reconstruction of the temple,” Justice Ahmed directed.
The court ordered the EPTB to recover the money for the temple restoration from the attackers. “You (EPTB chief) have to recover money from the people who did this, from this Maulvi (Sharif) and his followers,” the chief justice said.
Justice Ahsan observed that the EPTB “has the money to construct its own buildings but does not have money for Hindus”. The bench directed that details of functional and non-functional shrines, records of disputes on EPTB lands and a report on the performance of the EPTB chairman be submitted to the court in two weeks.
The court said a detailed judgement would be released later and adjourned the hearing for two weeks. In his report, Suddle suggested opening of four Hindu temples for international tourism, including Param Hans Ji Maharaj Samadhi (the one attacked Karak), Hinglaj Mata Mandir in Hingol National Park of Balochistan’s district Lasbela, Katas Raj complex in Punjab’s district Chakwal and Parhlad Bhagat Mandir in Punjab’s district Multan.
He also recommended that lodging and boarding arrangements and security similar to Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib should be provided at those Hindu temples. Last week, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan said that his government will rebuild the temple. The temple was attacked by the mob after members of the Hindu community received permission from local authorities to renovate its decades-old building. The mob had demolished the newly constructed work alongside the old structure.
Leader of Hindu Community Peshawar Haroon Sarab Diyal said a samadhi of a Hindu religious leader exists at the temple site and Hindu families from across the country do visit the samadhi on every Thursday. The Samadhi of Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj is considered sacred by the Hindu community. It was built where he died in 1919 in Teri village of Karak.
The controversy over the samadhi erupted many decades ago. According to the details submitted to the Supreme Court in 2014 in a case about it, the Hindus had been visiting the shrine till 1997 when it was dismantled by the locals.
The apex court in 2014 ordered the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to restore and reconstruct the Hindu shrine. The order was issued over a petition of a Hindu lawmaker who had claimed that the shrine had been occupied by an influential cleric of the area.
Hindus form the biggest minority community in Pakistan. According to official estimates, 75 lakh Hindus live in Pakistan. However, according to the community, over 90 lakh Hindus are living in the country.
The majority of Pakistan’s Hindu population is settled in Sindh province where they share culture, traditions and language with Muslim residents. They often complain of harassment by the extremists.