5th February 2022
Two months after receiving directives from the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) has so far erected the toppled canopy of Lahore’s historic Jain Temple in Old Anarkali while further restoration work is still underway.
The temple is of significant importance not just for its value as a heritage structure, but because its destruction by an enraged Muslim mob in 1992 is symbolic of the violent extremism that characterizes Pakistan’s historic treatment of the monuments and worship places of minority communities.
For Lahore’s Jain community, already so few back then, it was the last injustice they chose to bear before migrating to India. And for the city’s Muslims, unable to distinguish between Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain, it was revenge against those responsible for razing the Babri Mosque in India.
In 1992, a swarm of activists of the Indian right-wing Hindu organization Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other nationalists groups spawned by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) razed the 16th Century Babri Mosque in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. The historic mosque, one of the few structures built during the reign of the first Mughal Emperor Babar that survived near the turn of the 21st Century, was the point of religio, socio and politico contention.
In Hindu tradition, the deity Rama was born in Ayodhya. It is widely believed that a commander of Babar’s army, Mir Baqi had constructed the mosque in 1528 on the site identified as the birthplace of Rama. Around the 1980s, the VHP launched a movement for the construction of a temple dedicated to Rama at the site with a slate of public marches and rallies. On December 6, 1992, in another such rally numbering well over a hundred thousand attendees, a series of heated speeches jostled the agitated crowd into an attack on the Babri Masjid.
Within hours it was razed to the ground, the incident sparking communal violence between India’s Hindus and Muslim communities that lasted several months, and which spilled over into neighbouring Pakistan. Following news of the attack on the historic Mughal-era mosque, Muslim mobs in Pakistan tore down at least 30 temples – among these was Lahore’s heritage Jain Temple, which was reduced to rubble by a bulldozer. Its canopy is the only piece of the original structure that managed to survive.
The ruins would lie relatively undisturbed and completely neglected for the next two decades, partly because as a pile of rubble it could not coax any sympathy from the authorities, and partly because it was an effectively grave warning to the ‘enemies of Islam’ at home and across the border. It was until 2016 that the toppled canopy was sequestered behind a boundary wall while the remaining site was converted to a bus stop for the Orange Line Metro Train. And once again it lay forgotten.
On December 5, 2021, a day before the 19th anniversary of the Babri Mosque incident, then Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed ordered the immediate restoration of the Jain Temple and Neela Gumbad (Blue Dome).
Justice (R) Ahmed will at least be remembered for his keen interest in the concerns of Pakistan’s minorities that extended far beyond simple platitudes:
On December 31, 2020, the Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the destruction of a century old Hindu temple in the Teri village of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Karak district by a Muslim mob allegedly incited by local leaders of the right-wing religio-politico Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party. The former Chief Justice ordered the immediate repair of the temple and recovery of funds for the restoration work from those responsible for the attack. A year later, on November 8, 2021, he attended Diwali celebrations at the temple’s inauguration ceremony following completion of repairs, reiterating that the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees religious minorities the same fundamental freedoms as enjoyed by the majority.