Ownership of Guru Mandir still contested

Updated 07 Jul 2016

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KARACHI: The little-known Bahadur Yar Jang Road, near Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum, hosts Gur Mandar, famously known as Guru Mandir, which has hosted many occupants over the years. For the longest time, the temple was considered to be a Shiva Temple by Hindus of the city; however, interviews with older Hindu priests proved futile as they had no clue about a Shiva Temple or Gur Mandar itself near or at Bahadur Yar Jang Road.

The old Gur Mandar building remains locked at present; the main door and windows on the side were all locked even when visited in the morning. Inquiries from people sitting near the premises revealed that the building had been in use of the excise and taxation department till last year. But no one visits the building at present.

Overshadowed by a huge Sabeel Wali Masjid on the right, Guru Mandir can be easily missed by many. For many it is nothing more than a reference point, as many people don’t know that there is actually a temple by the name of Guru Mandir.

An officer associated with the suit filed against the ownership of the property, and who is not authorised to speak to the media, said attempts were made by religious scholars to change the reference point from Guru Mandir to Sabeel Wali Masjid during the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. “But all in vain, as the turning near Bahadur Yar Jang Road is still referred to as Guru Mandir,” he added.

Gur Mandar, which was known to be a Hindu Shiva Temple, was initially a Gurdwara, according to documents of Evacuee Property Trust Board (ETPB). A source said the building has had multiple occupants in over four decades and yet the ownership of the property is still uncertain.

The Gur Mandar case has a “chequered past” as pointed out in a court order on March 24, 1998. Situated on plot number JM 2/16 measuring 1,181 square yards, the government granted the land to Hyderabadi Amil Cooperative Housing Society in 1939. After Partition, the then-president of the Guru Mandir Association, Bhagwan Singh Advani, sold the property to a man named Frederick Sidney Cotton in 1948. A sale deed was registered on January 16, 1951. Ten years later, the federal government, through its ministry of finance, purchased the property from Cotton in 1961. By 1974, a man named Syed Mehdi Ali Shah, had occupied the property whose writ petition to claim the property as his own was dismissed by the court. His brother, Syed Zafar Hussain, then moved another suit under section (4) 3 of Displaced Persons (compensation and rehabilitation) Act, 1958. This was also held “not maintainable” by the then-chairman in 1974.

The judge in the case, Lt Gen (r) Javed Nasir, chairman ETPB, Lahore, declared Gur Mandar an ETPB property, and also declared that being an Indian national Bhagwan Singh Advani was “not competent to sell any property in Pakistan.” The judge eventually declared Gur Mandar to be an Evacuee Trust property but reserved further judgement on the case.

Since that time, the property was twice taken over, once by the excise and taxation department and the other by the income tax department. And for the past 10 years, a case is being fought between the ETPB and the excise and taxation department over the ownership of Gur Mandar.

At the same time, Hindu and Sikh residents of Karachi frequently claimed ownership of the property but without any evidence.

Sardar Ramesh Singh patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Sikh Council was also not aware of the original ownership of the Gur Mandar property. Yet, he said that the name always seemed similar to how “Gurdwaras were named before partition.”

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2016