July 8, 2020

By Ayesha Mir


After a suspenseful silence, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has finally dismissed the petitions filed against the construction of the Shri Krishna Temple, and has directed the Islamabad Hindu Panchayat to fulfill all the legal formalities before resuming work on the site. Although the Panchayat was not a party in the case, they have welcomed the decision and are working to resolve issues regarding the layout plan of the temple and permission to construct a boundary wall around the plot.

However Justice Aamer Farooq of the IHC reminded that the matter of funding the Hindu community center/temple has already been referred to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) to seek advice, while no amount has yet been disbursed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, hence the issue does not stand for the time being.

Also, according to Article 229 of the Constitution, either “the president or the governor of a province may, or if two-fifths of its total membership so requires, a house or a provincial assembly shall, refer to the Islamic Council for advice on any question as to whether a proposed law is or is not repugnant to the injunctions of Islam”. Thus, it is up to question whether it is legally possible for the Ministry of Religious Affairs to even seek guidance from the CII in the first place.

In response to the petitioner’s objection to the allotment of a plot that supposedly violates the city’s master plan, the court noted, “the referred objection has no basis inasmuch as designated plots are not provided in the Master Plan rather a broad outline of areas for various purposes is given. It is only later that through Layout Plans and the decisions by the Capital Development Authority through its Chairman/Board that it develops Sectors and Sub-Sectors and designates plots.”

Construction Suspended

On Friday, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) had put a stop to the construction of boundary walls around the temple, citing that the building plan of the site had not yet been approved by the relevant authority. The court stated, “The fact remains that no construction at present is taking place at the site in question and is unlikely to commence till compliance is made with terms of allotment and Capital Development Authority the (CDA) laws.”

With regard to this, MNA from Umerkot, Lal Chandh Malhi, who is also quite an activist on social media, kept the Hindu community and the public at large informed of any updates. He tweeted: “We abide by the rules but construction of a boundary wall is necessary as some people backed by a few seminary students had set up tents on the plot in 2018 and it took us several months to get it cleared”.

Mr. Chandh informed Voicepk.net that the layout plan could only be finalized once the resources were confirmed i.e. it needs to be known whether the construction will be funded by the government or the Panchayat itself, which will be decided by the CII.

Mr. Lal Chandh said that the Panchayat will strictly adhere to the law and the guidelines laid out by the court. “We have requested to be present at the IIC meeting because we want to resolve this issue peacefully. We will accept whatever decision they make. People are being misled on social media, but we want to make it clear that we are not seeking any confrontation. This mob mentality must end,” he said.

Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar also spoke openly to Voicepk.net,

“The issue of whether or not the government can fund this construction doesn’t stand; if government funds can be used to build churches and gurdwaras like the Kartarpur corridor, then they should be able to build mandirs too. Even if the already existing temples are renovated, the government would have to bear expenses for that too”.

Extreme Reactions

According to Mr. Chandh, the issue is no longer about the allocation of funds, but has become a symbol of contention. He said, “What matters is how Pakistanis choose to deal with this situation in the coming days. This matter is no longer limited to the Hindu community, it’s a problem from all of Pakistan. A lot of our Muslims brothers have come out in our support, while many others have resisted. But now we must decide as a nation how we want to treat our minorities”.

The news of the Hindu temple sparked a range of adverse reactions in the past week. Among opposition from many right-wing religious groups, what stood out was a video statement by PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi said the construction of the temple was “against the spirit of Islam”. He said that while he supports the restoration of the minorities’ worship sites, the construction of a new mandir in Islamabad will be an “insult to Riyasat-i-Madina”. Later, his son, Moonis Elahi clarified in a response to Fawad Chaudhry’s tweet that his father had in fact suggested the temple to be built in Sindh, a province with a larger community of Hindus.

However, according to the Hindu Panchayat Islamabad, the current population of Hindus in the city is about 3000, most of whom have migrated here from far flung areas due to security concerns. According to a survey carried out by the All Pakistan Hindu Movement, there were 428 mandirs in Pakistan at the time of Partition, out of which only 23 have been refurbished in the last 73 years. Today, for the 4 million Hindus in Pakistan there are 11 mandirs in Sindh, 4 in Punjab, 3 in Balochistan and 2 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There are barely any community centers and most Hindus have to travel hundreds of miles to access cremation facilities.

Last year, the PM had announced to reopen around 400 mandirs for the Hindu community, but has so far managed to renovate only 4.

In addition, a video of a youngster dismantling the temporary boundary wall of the temple went viral on social media on Saturday. The video, which trended on twitter with #MandirTouBanega turned the construction of the Hindu temple into a matter of national concern. While some praised the youngster’s actions, others expressed solidarity with the minorities and asserted that it is their constitutional right to worship freely. Some Islamabadis have called for “Mandir Banao Protest” to be held outside the National Press Club in Islamabad on 8th of July (this protest is being organized independently of the Hindu Panchayat).

Around the same time, another video of a man giving Azan at the site of the temple started making rounds on social media. In response, a Hindu human rights activist, Kapil Dev tweeted: “Is it our fault that our forefathers were loyal to this soil during Partition and considered Pakistan as their homeland?”

Many analysts are of the view that anti-Hindu sentiments in Pakistan could be a result of the decades long Hindu-Muslim strife in India, from the Babri Masjid incident to the most recent Delhi riots in which many Muslims were targeted and lynched. It is not a coincidence that such aggressive reactions are pouring in at a time when India is passing anti-Muslim bills such as the Citizenship Amendment Act and imposing a crippling crackdown in Kashmir. Consequently, bigotry is on the rise even in Pakistan: just last year, a mob attacked three temples and damaged several other properties belonging to the Hindu community in Ghotki. With forced conversions and accusations of blasphemy on the rise, the Hindus in Pakistan find themselves violently marginalized.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International South Asia also took notice of the issue: “Everyone has a right to freedom of religion or belief, a right that is guaranteed in Pakistan’s constitution and its international obligations. Halting the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad is an unconscionable act of bigotry that must be reversed immediately,” the organisation said.

In her speech in the National Assembly on 8th July, the Federal Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari said, “Our government and specifically my ministry has always vehemently protested whenever a European or Western country has allowed the publication of anti-Islam caricatures. We have shown criticism whenever they’ve shut down mosques (in Austria), or banned Muslim women from wearing the burqa and hijab. We have always condemned India for it’s targeted violence against Muslim minorities, especially for the atrocities against Kashmiris. After condemning human rights violations against Muslims in the entire world including the annexation of Palestine by Israel, how can we not defend our own minorities? We stand firm by our stance to protect the rights of our minorities which have been granted to them by the constitution of Pakistan and will abide by the international conventions we have signed. We will take action against anyone who poses a threat to our minorities and tries to deprive them of their right to worship freely. We have to prove that we are not fascists like the Modi regime”.

According to Mr. Chandh, despite some hostile voices, the opposition parties have shown a considerable amount of support to the Hindu community. He is hopeful that even if the matter is taken up in the National Assembly, it won’t be politicized since many members of the opposition such as Khawaja Asif and Iqbal Ahsan have already expressed their sympathies on social media.

Ulema/Clerics Divided Over Issue:

On the other hand, according to news reports, many ulema gathered for the Paigham-i-Aman conference at the National Press Club, including Khateeb of Badhshahi Masjid, Maulana Syed Muhammad Abdul Kabir Azad and the chairman of the Majlis-i-Ulema. All of them acknowledged that Pakistan should be a safe space for people belonging to all religious minorities and sects. Religious Affairs Minister, Pir Noor ul Haq Qadri said that the crux of the issue is whether or not government and public funds can be used to build a temple, and they will soon resolve this issue with the help of IIC.

However, leading cleric Mufti Taqi Usmani as well as the chairman of the Central Route Hilal Committee, Mufti Muneeb ur Rehman have opposed the construction of the temple with public funds.

In contrast, Tehreek-i-Nifaz Fiqh Jafaria (TNFJ) has supported the construction of the temple. “Islam was spread through tolerance and wisdom, and not extremism. The Hindu temple in Islamabad should not be made controversial,” said the TNFJ and Supreme Shia Ulema Board chief, Agha Syed Hamid Ali Shah Moosavi. He also stated that if Muslims are allowed to establish mosques and community centres in foriegn countries, then our own minorities’ should be allowed to practice similar rights in Pakistan.

Abdul Aziz takes over Jamia Fareedia

In another development, conflict arose at Jamia Fareedia, a seminary in the E-7 sector of Islamabad as Maulana Abdul Aziz and his wife, along with about 50 students, occupied the building on Monday night. Maulana Aziz announced the removal of the seminary’s principal, Maulana Abdul Ghaffar and led the morning prayers on Tuesday. A protest soon erupted around the area due to which the police cordoned off the area and blocked all roads leading to the seminary. The situation comes as a surprise as Maulana Aziz has signed an agreement with the Islamabad Capital Territory just a few weeks ago. However, it is difficult to say whether the agreement has been violated because it was never made public.

According to news reports, well-equipped police personnel, including the Counter Terrorism Force, Anti-Terrorism Squad and Anti-Riot Unit, were deployed around the seminary shortly after Mr Aziz moved there from Jamia Hafsa.