Promoting inter-faith harmony: Pakistan to reopen, restore 400 Hindu temples

The temples had earlier been converted to madrasas, stores and restaurants

Pakistani temples

Fulfilling its long standing commitment towards the Hindus in Pakistan, the Imran Khan led federal government has decided to restore and reopen over 400 Hindu temples across the country in phases and hand them over to the community, reported India Today

During the partition, most Hindus left Pakistan, but some stayed behind. Many temples were lost to encroachment and places even where Hindu families stayed back, temple land was illegally occupied and was used as a common facility, with some being converted to madrasas.

The All-Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement had conducted a survey across the country to find that there were 428 temples at the time of Partition and 408 of them had been converted to toy stores, restaurants, government offices and schools after 1990.

Seeing the number of temples to be restored, it has been decided that the government will focus on restoring two temples per year, starting with historic temples in Sialkot and Peshawar. Sialkot has a functioning Jagannath Temple and the government is set to restore the other 1,000-year-old Shivalaya (Shawala) Teja Singh temple which was abandoned after temple goers had stopped visiting it after a mob attack during the Babri Masjid demolition protests in 1992. The courts have also ordered the restoration of the Gorakhnath temple in Peshawar, which had also been declared a heritage site.

Goodwill gestures

The Pakistani government’s decision comes after it extended the olive branch towards India by agreeing to open the Kartarpur corridor to help Sikh devotees from India visit Guru Nanak’s birthplace in Pakistan on the occasion of his 550th birth anniversary.

As per a recent government estimate, at least 11 temples in Sindh, four in Punjab, three in Balochistan and two in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were operational in 2019.

The Shawala Teja Singh temple in Dharowaal was built by Sardar Teja Singh and was closed off during the partition. The Pakistan government re-opened this temple in July this year.

It has also approved a proposal to establish a corridor that will allow Hindu pilgrims to visit Sharda Peeth, an ancient Saraswati temple in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). Established in 237 BC during the reign of Ashoka, the 5,000-year-old Sharada Peeth is an abandoned temple and ancient centre of learning dedicated to the Hindu goddess of learning. Between the 6th and 12th centuries CE, Sharada Peeth was one of the foremost temple universities of the Indian subcontinent.

In January this year, ‘Panj Tirath’, an ancient Hindu religious site had been named a heritage site by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government.

A welcome move

These gestures from Pakistan have found favour with the Indians. Liberal and positively aimed at encouraging religious diversity, some have called it a contrast, some have deemed this to be hopeful winds of change and some others have called it a step further in aiding minority rights.  






Peace-keeping measures

Apart from the recent announcement by the government of Pakistan, to allay the fears of and appease the Indian community in its borders, it has undertaken a number of other steps that are in a stark contrast to the infamous sparring it has always been engaged in with India.

In July 2019, it reopened its airspace to Indian flights which had been shut since the Balakot air strike in February.

It gave in to the Indian demand of building a bridge across the Ravi River that lies between India’s Dera Baba Nanak and the Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara in Pakistan.

On June 27, Pakistani authorities unveiled a lifesize statue of Maharaja Ranjit Singh outside the Mai Jindian Haveli outside the Lahore fort close to the samadhi of the Maharaja whose 40-year-old rule in 19th century Punjab was synonymous with the rise of the state.

It also opened its doors to the 500-year-old Gurudwara Baba-de-Ber in Sialkot for Indian Sikh pilgrims, which was earlier only open to citizens from the US, Canada and Europe.

Are these decisions a real attempt at peace?

In December 2018, Imran Khan had tweeted, ““Naya Pakistan is Quaid’s [Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s] Pakistan and will ensure that our minorities are treated as equal citizens, unlike what is happening in India”.

This direct hit to the Indian government came in the wake of the increasing suppression of the religious minorities, especially Muslims (in cases of cow-related lynchings) in India.

Then, are these real signs of peace amidst the hyper-violence just a show?

Nobody can forget Imran Khan’s attitude towards the release of Captain Abhinandan Varthaman who was captured in Pakistan after the Balakot air strikes. His positive approach had earned him laurels and he was also being hailed as a prime contender for the Nobel Peace Prize by many.

But, some others accused him of playing the perception war.

After he personally ordered into an investigation in an attack on a Hindu temple in Khairpur’s Kumb early this year denouncing the attack and saying that the government was pulling all stops to ensure the safety and security of minorities, will the leaders of the Indian polity commend or condemn Pakistan’s implicit plea for peace?


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