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Amidst all the kerfuffle about general elections looming on the horizon, our attention has been diverted (inadvertently or deliberately?) from the continuing plight of religious minorities in our society. Consider.

On July 15, 2023, late at night when there was one more round of the incessant loadshedding, the 150-year-old Mari Mata Temple in Soldier Bazaar, Karachi, was set upon by diggers and a bulldozer and flattened. For reasons unknown, the outer walls and main gate of the temple were left standing while the entire inside structure was demolished.

Area residents reported the presence of a police mobile to provide ‘cover’ to the demolition squad. In any case, had the police mobile squad proved inadequate, the temple is located close to the Soldier Bazaar police station, the latter thereby providing a ‘reliable’ back-up should the need arise.

The mandir (temple) was under the management of the Madrasi Hindu community of Karachi. The mandir management had been under considerable pressure for some time that it was a very old and precarious structure that might collapse any day.

Reluctantly, the management agreed to temporarily move most of the temple deities to a small room near the storm water drain until they could carry out renovation work on the mandir. But the late night clandestine (with police connivance) demolition has brought into focus the real story.

The Madrasi community accuses two persons, Imran Hashmi and Rekha Bai, of forcing them to vacate the temple. The latter claims ownership of the temple land. There is also talk of these two having sold off the temple to a builder mafia for Rs 70 million so they could construct a commercial building on the site.

Mention is also made of fake documents in the name of a person called ‘Navaid’ allowing conversion of the lease of the amenity plot to a commercial one. The whole episode smacks of the operational style of our builder mafia, with the added tragic aspect of a place of worship being demolished preparatory to seizing it for commercial development.

Interestingly, the news woke up the newly-elected Mayor of Karachi, the Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP’s) indomitable Murtaza Wahab a day later. Having woken up to the tragedy, however, the Mayor indulged in the usual official denial and obfuscation. He says he has checked and no demolition of the mandir has taken place and it is still intact.

Now the logic of the demolishers in leaving the façade of the temple intact indeed begins to make sense. If the honourable Mayor had bothered to visit the site or, because he is a busy man, sent someone there with instructions not to just drive by but get off his vehicle and examine the premises as a whole, he might have come to a different and more accurate conclusion. Unfortunately, his knee-jerk denial and ritual reiteration of the PPP’s belief in religious harmony and freedom did his credibility precious little good.

The very next day, July 16, 2023, there was a report of an attack on a temple in Ghouspur, Kashmore, Sindh. Not unusually, the police and local Hindu community’s versions bore no resemblance to each other.

According to the former, a landlord’s house, to which the temple is adjacent, was the target of unidentified armed men enraged at not receiving protection money from the landlord in question for the last six months.

Social media, however, was abuzz with claims that criminal elements had carried out an attack on the temple and badly damaged it. Jacobabad General Hindu Panchayat president Lalchand Seetlani and other office-bearers condemned the (according to police not true) attack on Radha Swami Darbar Temple in Ghouspur.

If all this contradictory confusion has readers in a tizzy, there is more to come. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed concern and alarm at reports that 30 Hindus, including women and children, have been kidnapped and are being held hostage by organised criminal gangs in Kashmore and Ghotki, Sindh.

HRCP says it has received disturbing reports that these gangs have threatened to attack the Hindu community’s sites of worship using high grade weapons. Now why, you may be wondering, would ‘organised criminal gangs’ be kidnapping and holding hostage members of the Hindu community and threatening deadly attacks on their temples.

The first thought to spring to mind may well be that they are, as is their modus operandi, be seeking ransom. We know that the area, and the riverine jungle extending into southern Punjab, have been the theatre of a protracted conflict between the police and dacoits based there. But then an unexpected light on the matter is shone by a letter and a report in our newspapers.

They claim the matter pertains to the story of Seema Haider who clandestinely went to India with her children to marry a man in India she had got to know online. For Modi’s India this was ‘love jihad’ in reverse.

Seema Haider’s case is still pending in our neighbouring country, but our ‘patriotic’ dacoits of the riverine jungle it seems have taken it upon themselves to threaten the safety and security of the Hindu community and their temples in Pakistan unless the Indian government repatriates Seema Haider to her country. Sigh.

In a world in which boundaries are no longer as solid or intact courtesy the communications revolution, we are still bogged down in othering on a purely religious or nationality basis, to the extent of defending our ‘besmirched honour’ by threatening innocent citizens and their places of worship for no fault of theirs.

Lest readers get the wrong impression that this column is only about our beleaguered Hindu minority, allow me to point out the targeted killing the other day in Karachi of a Noha Khwan that the Shia community believes is the direct offshoot of the alleged sectarian killings of Shias in Parachinar lately. Let us also mention in passing recent reports of Sikh citizens in Peshawar being target killed by religious terrorists.

Not to mention the almost daily reports of Ahmedi places of worship being defiled and demolished. This may still be a shade better than the past spate of killings of the community.

One’s thoughts inevitably turn to the Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah desired, thought he had achieved, and even reiterated his belief in its tolerant religious outlook on August 11, 1947 in his speech to the Constituent Assembly. Little did the great man know that in the Pakistan he bequeathed us, not only would religious minorities not have the freedom to practice their religion according to their beliefs, their very lives and futures, even on the touchstone of being citizens of this country, would be so imperilled.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Rashed Rahman

[email protected] , rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Comments

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KU Jul 19, 2023 11:23am
Does the teachings of Islam permit these actions against minorities and their places of worship? But the actions and daily lives of the faithful tell a different story. What do you call it, hypocrisy or something else?
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