Pakistani police have arrested over 30 people, most of them belonging to a radical Islamist party, after a Hindu temple was vandalised and set on fire by a mob protesting its renovation in northwest Pakistan. A central leader of radical Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, Rehmat Salam Khattak, is among those arrested in police raids following the attack on Terri temple and Samadhi of Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj in Karak area of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on Wednesday, police said.
The mob, led by some local clerics and the supporters of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party (Fazal ur Rehman group), protesting the expansion work of the shrine, demolished the newly constructed work alongside the old structure.
Over 350 people have been named in the FIR, Provincial Police Chief KPK Sanaullah Abbasi has said. The Samadhi of Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj is considered very sacred by the minority Hindu community in Pakistan. It is dedicated to Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj and was built where he died in 1919 in Teri village of Karak.
The controversy over the Samadhi of Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj 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 Supreme 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. According to police officials, a meeting of clerics was held at Shanki Adda in Teri, Karak before the attack.
The enraged people were raising slogans, vowing they would not permit any construction work at the shrine. The protesters were peaceful in the initial stage but on the provocation of some clerics, they turned violent and attacked the shrine, police said. Meanwhile, the country’s Supreme Court on Thursday took notice of the attack on the temple and ordered the local authorities to appear before the court on January 5.
According to a statement by the top court, Hindu lawmaker and chief of Pakistan Hindu Council, Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, called on Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed in Karachi to discuss the issue.
The chief justice of Pakistan showed grave concern over the tragic incident and informed the member of parliament that he has already taken cognisance of the issue and has fixed the matter before court on January 5, at Islamabad, according to the statement.
The court has issued directions to one-man Commission on Minorities Rights, KP chief secretary and KP inspector general of police to visit the site and submit a report on January 4. The incident drew condemnation from some Pakistani leaders, human rights activists and the minority Hindu community.
Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri termed the destruction of the temple against the teaching of Islam. He said that the constitution of the country ensures protection of religious places of minorities. Pakistan’s federal Parliamentary Secretary for Human Rights Lal Chand Malhi strongly condemned the attack on the temple.
Noting that some groups are active in carrying out such anti-social activities to defame Pakistan, Malhi said the government will not tolerate such incidents. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan termed the attack on the temple as “an unfortunate incident.” He ordered immediate arrest of those involved in the incident.
Khan vowed that his government will protect worship places from such incidents. Leader of Hindu Community Peshawar Haroon Sarab Diyal said the incident has hurt the sentiments of the Hindu community and the Islamic Ideology Council should take note of it.
Diyal said Prime Minister Imran Khan talks about promotion of religious tourism in Pakistan but minority worship places were not safe in his own country. 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.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines