LARKANA: A tense calm prevailed in Larkana and suburbs on Sunday after a mob set on fire a Dharamshala and damaged some statues of Hindu deities in an adjacent temple on Saturday night in protest against alleged desecration of Holy Quran.

The protesters took to streets after a Hindu youth from New Leelaabad had allegedly desecrated pages of Quran. The allegation is yet to be verified from witnesses and other independent sources. A police team headed by ASP Larkana has been constituted to investigate the incident.

Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon said in a statement that the person accused of being involved in desecration incident had been arrested and action would be taken against him in accordance with the law.

The unruly mob attacked the Dharamshala and burnt its furniture and other articles. The protesters later damaged about 11 statues in the temple.

Dr Dharampal, vice-chairman of the District Hindu Panchayat, told Dawn that some of the marble statues had been brought from India. The painful incident had taken place on the day when Hindus were celebrating the Holi festival, he regretted.

Shewak Ram, in-charge of Dharamshala, said the attackers had broken open the main door of Dharamshala with heavy iron rod and set ablaze its rooms and material kept there and lodgings for visiting Hindu families.

The mob also ransacked a kiosk at the main gate of Dharamshala.

Larkana Deputy Commissioner Ghanwar Khan Leghari told Dawn that every possible step had been taken to protect life and property of Hindus in the district. Police and Rangers personnel have been deployed for the purpose.

PPP patron-in-chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari called the deputy commissioner twice and asked him to use all available resources to curb riots and restore peace.

Business activities in the district came to a complete halt. Groups of people held demonstrations to condemn the incident. Activists of Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz, lead by its leader Mumtaz Shaikh, took out a peace rally.

Officials of the district and divisional administrations, on the directives of Bilawal-Bhutto, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and the inspector general of police, held meetings with members the Hindu Panchayat and Ulema and leaders of different religious parties to defuse the situation.

Addressing a joint press conference at the Circuit House, Larkana Commissioner Dr Saeed Ahmed Mangnejo, DIG Khadim Hussain Rind and Deputy Commissioner Ghanwar Khan Leghari claimed that the issue had been amicably resolved after long deliberations between religious leaders and members of the Panchayat.

Abdul Ghaffar Mitha Khan, a representative of Ulema, condemned the burning of Dharamshala and damaging of statues and termed it a conspiracy to disturb peace in the district. He extended Holy greetings to the Hindu community and appealed to traders to open their businesses.

Dr Dharampal, vice-chairman of the Hindu Panchayat, said the people who attacked the temple and the individual allegedly involved in desecrating pages of Holy Quran should be dealt with in accordance with the law. He called for an impartial investigation into the incident which he said was aimed at creating a gulf between Muslims and Hindus who were living in the city peacefully.

MNAs Ayaz Soomro and Ramesh Lal, the commissioner, deputy commissioner, DIG and SSP praised the positive role played by religious leaders and Panchayat members and the media in resolving the issue.

They assured the Ulema and Hindu leaders that the investigation would be transparent and anyone found guilty would be brought to book.

They later visited the Dharamshala. Panchayat office-bearers Kalpina Devi, Dr Dharampal and others thanked the district and divisional administrations for their timely intervention and efforts made by them to prevent the situation from worsening.

The DIG informed them that two men allegedly involved in the incident had been arrested.

MNA Faryal Talpur assured the Panchayat that damaged Dharamshala would be repaired and losses would be compensated.

Deputy Commissioner Ghanwar Leghari said in a press release issued on Sunday that at about 10pm on Saturday rumours were spread in Murad Wahan, Larkana, against a Hindu boy and some people of New Leelaabad. Groups of people gathered near the Dharamshala.

District administration officials, police and Rangers rushed to the area to bring the situation under control. Fire brigade personnel extinguished the fire and the mob was dispersed. Police and Rangers were deployed at all sensitive places.

Information Minister Sharjeel Memon said that no conspiracy to pit Muslims against minorities would be allowed to succeed. He said the places of worship of minorities would be protected, losses suffered by them would be compensated and the temple would be rebuilt by the Sindh government.

He said the Constitution gave equal rights to minorities. Delinquent elements will be taken to task in accordance with the law.

Dr Lal Chand Ukrani, president of PPP Sindh minorities wing, condemned the burning of the temple and termed it a conspiracy to incite religious animosity. It was an attempt to harass the Hindu community, he said, adding that punishing the entire community for the sin of an individual was regrettable. He appealed to the Hindus to remain peaceful and foil the conspiracy.

Our Correspondent from Sukkur adds: Strict security arrangements have made in Jacobabad. Security personnel have been deployed outside the residences of Hindus and their places of worship in the city.

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