June 27, 2020
By Ayesha Mir
A small ceremony was held this week to lay grounds for the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad, which will be called Shri Krishna Temple. The Shri Krishna ‘mandir’ will be Islamabad’s first functional temple for the Hindu community. According to PTI’s MNA, Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani there are 350 families in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The groundbreaking ceremony of the Shri Krishna Temple was performed by the Parliamentary Secretary on Human Rights, Lal Chand Mahi and other members of the Islamabad Hindu Panchayat.
While many have welcomed this as a positive step towards building the “first” Hindu temple in Islamabad, it must be noted that Islamabad has two pre-existing temples; one in Saidpur and another near Rawal Dam, which remain abandoned ever since Hindus from the area migrated to India during the 1947 Partition. Both the worship sites have since then remained in possession of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), but they have failed to preserve or reopen them for Islamabad’s ever-growing Hindu community. In fact, the temple at Saidpur village, Rama Mandir, has been turned into a museum and is a popular tourist site. It was reported that apart from open violations of the sanctity of the temple, in 2006 the CDA also painted over the historic carvings of Lakshmi and Kali on the walls of the temple.
The Hindu community in Islamabad has been struggling to begin construction of the new Shri Krishna Temple since the past three years. The 20,000 square feet plot in H-9 sector of Islamabad was previously allotted to the Hindu Panchayat in 2017 by former PM Nawaz Sharif upon the request of Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani (who was an MNA from PML-N), but the project kept facing delays due to lengthy paperwork and lack of funds. Since then, the Panchayat has now gathered a sum of Rs. 20 lakhs to finally begin the construction. According to Dr Vankwani, the site was originally destined to establish a Hindu community center, rather than a temple.
Dr Vankwani, who is also the patron-in-chief of the All Pakistan Hindu Council, informed Voicepk.net that along with fellow MNA Mr. Lal Chand, he held a meeting with PM Imran Khan this week during which the PM directed the Minister of Religious Affairs to immediately allocate funds for the new temple, as well as present a bill on forced conversions in the parliament within two months.
The Abandoned ‘Mandirs’ of the Twin Cities
Dr. Vankwani says it would be much more efficient to restore the already existing temples rather than build a new one. According to him, due to the negligence of the ETPB, only 30 out of about 1220 mandirs in Pakistan are currently functional. Dr. Vankwani said there is no hope of refurbishment of these temples unless the ETPB decides to appoint a non-Muslim/Hindu as it’s chairman.
“Until there is adequate representation of the minorities in executive positions, not only will the Hindu community remain sidelined, but Pakistan will also continue to lose out on the cultural benefits of preserving some of its oldest archaeological and heritage sites,” Dr. Vankwani says. Most of these temples are not even protected under the Antiquities Act of 1975 as cultural heritage sites.
According to news reports, the ETPB claims that in addition to shortage of funds, the temple near Rawal Dam cannot be opened to worship due to its proximity to the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad. According to another report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), many gurdwaras and mandirs are in the custody of the federal and provincial ministries of religious affairs and their Auqaf departments, which causes further bureaucratic hurdles and confusion in the way of restoration processes. The HRCP also found that the relevant authorities are not very cooperative when it comes to sharing data relevant to the closure of minorities’ sites of worship.
Although ETPB made an effort to revive some temples under the chairmanship of Siddique ul Farooq in 2015, all his plans were cast aside once he was removed. It has been reported that there has been strong opposition towards the restoration of temples from right-wing forces in Pakistan ever since the Babri Masjid was demolished in India. In protest to this incident in 1992, 30 Hindu temples were attacked all over Pakistan, leaving Hindu-Muslim relations more strained than ever.
However, in an attempt to improve Pakistan’s international image, both the previous and current governments have made efforts to revive religious tourism in the country. PM Imran Khan has been very vocal about ensuring the equal rights of minorities, and has promised to restore 400 temples for the 1.6% of the Hindu population in Pakistan.
Last year, the government managed to reopen a 1000 years old temple in Sialkot, which had remained sealed for 72 years. The Shawala Teja Singh temple was shut down after thousands of Hindus from Sialkot fled to India during the 1947 Partition. Around the same time, the 5000 years old Sharda Temple Corridor in Azad Jammu and Kashmir was also opened for Hindu pilgrims. This, along with the historic inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor for the Sikh community has been a major victory for the current government’s efforts towards maintaining interfaith harmony in Pakistan.
Despite such glimmers of hope, there is currently no place of worship for the ever growing Hindu community in Islamabad, all of whom usually have to seek solace at the Krishna Mandir in Rawalpindi. Before partition, Rawalpindi had the largest Hindu and Sikh population, leaving behind 20 temples and gurdwaras that are no longer in use. The temples that are still functional are maintained by the funds of Hindu families themselves rather than any support from the government. Hopefully, the establishment of the new Shri Krishna Temple in Islamabad will be a sigh of relief for Islamabad’s Hindu community.