The latest case of the shameful desecration of a Hindu temple in Bhong village of Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab, has raised serious questions about the protection of rights of minorities in Pakistan. It also highlights the inability of law enforcements agencies to act timely to protect worship places of minorities, which maligned Pakistan’s image abroad.
The shameful and tragic incident occurred when a mob vandalised the temple after a nine-year-old Hindu boy was granted bail by a local court. The boy was accused of blasphemy, because he allegedly urinated in a local seminary. Some elders of the Hindu community tried to solve the issue by tendering an apology to the madrassah administration. But, their efforts failed and some extremists instigated the people to vandalise the temple.
A video clip that has gone viral on social media clearly shows hundreds of charged people vandalising the temple. The fanatic crowd can be seen smashing the temple’s glass doors, lights, windows and ceiling fans with sticks and rods. The idols, kept in glass cases, were also damaged by the mob. They also blocked the Sukkur-Multan Motorway for many hours. Shops in the area were also forcibly closed by them.
Luckily, no one was injured or killed from the Hindu community. However, the violent incident has sent a ripple of fear among the members of the community, who are already living under insecurity. Prime Minister Imran Khan and the National Assembly condemned the incident. In its unanimously passed resolution on August 6, the National Assembly termed the attack “a conspiracy to damage the soft image of the country”.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan also took suo motu notice of the incident at the request of Pakistan Hindu Council chairperson Dr Ramesh Kumar and ordered Punjab police chief Inam Ghani and the chief secretary to arrest the culprits involved in the attack. During the hearing, the apex court ordered the government to recover money for the repair and restoration of the temple from the accused. The apex court also criticised the police and district administration for their failure to act timely. Pakistan Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed said that if the administration – commissioner, deputy commissioner, and the district police officer – could not perform their duties, they should be removed from their posts. The CJP said police officials did nothing while the temple was being razed and added that the incident had tarnished Pakistan’s image across the world. He wondered what would have been the reaction of Muslims had a mosque been demolished in a similar fashion. He said what the Hindu community would have felt when their temple was being demolished. The court ordered the government to set up peace committees to promote interfaith harmony in the area and stop such incidents from happening again.
Police registered three cases against the miscreants and arrested 52 persons, including the main accused. The temple has been completely restored to its original shape and handed over back to the community. A boundary wall is also being constructed around the temple.
The case clearly shows that society has become radicalised and a few fanatics can ignite religious hatred and violence among the people. Due to the pressure of extremists, the police registered a case against the Hindu boy under the blasphemy law on July 24. The Chief Justice also criticised the police for registering a case against an eight-year-old boy and arresting him for alleged blasphemy. “Does an eight-year-old child know the difference between a Hindu and a Muslim,” the CJP asked. He also ordered the Punjab IG to dismiss the SHO responsible for arresting the child over alleged blasphemy.
Unfortunately, the religious parties have not condemned the incident and chose to keep quiet. Top leaders of the Milli Yakjehti Council (MYC) — an alliance of 22 religious and political parties and organisations — have categorically refused to condemn the vandalism and desecration of the temple, saying they were unaware of the details of the incident. “There is a Muslim family living in front of a temple in Hyderabad. The area also housed some Hindu families and they filed a complaint to the authorities that sacrificing a cow in front of the temple should not be allowed,” the newly elected president Sahibzada Abul Khair Zubair said. “We do not deny the rights given to minorities in Islamic laws and the laws of the country, but denying the rights to the majority community too is not fair,” he added.
No doubt, the constitution of Pakistan ensures the protection of rights of minorities under Articles 20 and 25. However, practically, the rights of the minorities have never been protected in the true sense. Attacks on temples in Karak and Bhong, objections to the construction of a temple in Islamabad, forced conversions of underage Hindu girls in Sindh and bomb attacks on churches clearly show that the minorities are not being treated fairly. The state should take every pain to ensure the safety of all the people, including its minorities, by discouraging extremism and promoting tolerance in society.