Religious intolerance

06 Jul 2020

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BIGOTRY and intolerance reigned supreme yet again last week, when authorities in the federal capital halted the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad. In a commendable move, Prime Minister Imran Khan last month had approved a grant of Rs100m for the historic construction of a temple for Islamabad’s 3,000-strong Hindu population which includes public- and private-sector employees, business community members and a large number of doctors. However, a story that began with an admirable decision soon took a dark turn. A group of clerics opposed the building of the temple, threatening action if authorities went ahead with the work. The construction was also opposed by political parties, including the JUI-F and PML-Q. Alas on Friday, the Capital Development Authority stopped the construction of the boundary wall on the plot meant for the temple, citing ‘legal reasons’. Although ‘legality’ and ‘fine print’ are being cited as the basis for which the construction of the temple wall was stopped, it is evident that the decision to stop building was taken after pressure was exerted by the groups that have so vocally opposed it. Officially, a CDA spokesman said the building control laws of the civic authority clearly stated that no activity could take place on a plot until the building plan was approved. However, a senior officer of CDA acknowledged that it was possibly the first time that this clause had been enforced as all owners were allowed to construct a boundary wall to ensure possession of their plot even while other formalities continue. Unsurprisingly, just this year, the very same CDA amicably ended a long stand-off with the Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz by agreeing to give a piece of 20-kanal land for the construction of Jamia Hafsa in the capital. Why can’t the Hindu community be obliged in the same manner?

That intolerance has won the day is a sad indictment of the shrinking space for religious freedom in Pakistan. What is more disturbing is that a private news channel claimed ‘victory’ when the construction was halted — an indication of how deeply religious discrimination has permeated every aspect of society. For too long, this country’s minorities have been unfairly pushed against a wall by powerful groups that threaten and blackmail the authorities into submission. This will be a test case for the PTI government and the prime minister, who must ensure that the initial spirit with which this decision was taken prevails.

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2020