SC orders EPTB to start reconstruction of damaged Hindu shrine in Karak

Published January 5, 2021
Policemen inspect the burnt-out Hindu shrine in Karak district on Jan 1. — AFP/File
Policemen inspect the burnt-out Hindu shrine in Karak district on Jan 1. — AFP/File

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the Evacuee Property Trust Board (EPTB) to start the reconstruction of a century-old Samadhi (shrine) of a Hindu saint in the Karak district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that was damaged by a mob in December while also directing the board to submit in court details of all functional and non-functional temples and gurdwaras across the country.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed had taken notice of the attack on the shrine last month and ordered the KP chief secretary and the inspector general (IG) as well as Dr Shoaib Suddle, the head of a commission on minorities' rights, to visit the site and submit a comprehensive report by Jan 4.

Built before 1920, the temple was attacked by a large mob after local elders of a religious party in their fiery speeches at a protest demonstration demanded the removal of the temple.

While no Hindus live in the area, devotees often visit the temple and its shrine to pay homage to the Hindu saint Shri Param Hans Ji Mahaaraj, who died there. It is the fourth holiest Hindu worship site in the country.

During the hearing today, a three-member bench headed by the chief justice also directed the EPTB to clear encroachments from temples across the country and take action against officials involved in the encroachments.

Justice Ahmed remarked that the Karak incident had caused "international embarrassment to Pakistan".

The KP chief secretary, KP police chief, and Dr Suddle were also present during today's hearing. Dr Suddle informed the court that the KP EPTB "did not protect the shrine" upon which Justice Ijazul Ahsan questioned the inspector general on how the incident could have happened when there was a police check post next to the shrine. "Where were your intelligence agencies?" he asked.

The KP IG told the court that a protest by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) was going on near the site on the day of the incident which was sponsored by Maulana Faizullah.

"Out of the six ulema at the protest, only Maulvi Mohammad Sharif incited the crowd," the police chief said.

The official informed the SC that 109 people involved in the vandalism were under arrest while 92 police officials, including the superintendent of police (SP) and deputy superintendent of police (DSP) who were on duty at the time, were suspended.

“There were 92 police officials at the spot, but they showed cowardice and negligence,” KP IG Sanaullah Abbasi admitted.

The chief justice remarked that "suspension was not enough".

“They went with an impunity,” Justice Ahmed said of the mob, who used sledgehammers to knock down the walls of the temple before setting the building ablaze.

He also expressed ire at the EPTB chairman during the hearing, telling the official to "not sit on the chairman's seat with government mentality".

"Your employees are doing business on the land meant for shrines. Arrest them and start the reconstruction of the temple," Justice Ahmed directed.

“You have to recover money from the people who did this, from this Maulvi [Sharif] and his followers,” the chief justice remarked.

The EPTB chairman told the court that the shrine was run by the Hindu community itself and it was non-functional which was why EPTB officials were not present there.

However, Pakistan Hindu Council chief Ramesh Kumar contradicted the EPTB chairman's claims, telling the court that fairs were held at the shrine and around 300-400 Hindus visited it every month.

"The shrine was also damaged in 1997. After the EPTB refused, the council gave money from its [own] funds for reconstruction," Kumar said.

Justice Ahsan observed that the EPTB "has the money to construct its own buildings but does not have money for Hindus".

The bench directed that details of functional and non-functional shrines, records of disputes on EPTB lands and a report on the performance of the EPTB chairman be submitted to the court in two weeks. It also directed the KP branch of the EPTB to hold discussions with the provincial minorities commission.

The apex court said a detailed judgement would be released later and adjourned the hearing for two weeks.

Commission's report

A day earlier, the Shoaib Suddle commission in its report placed before the Supreme Court, recommended the opening of four Hindu temples for international tourism.

The report recommended that the four sites — Param Hans Ji Maharaj Samadhi/Mandir in Teri town of KP’s district Karak; Hinglaj Mata Mandir in Hingol National Park of Balochistan’s district Lasbela; Katas Raj complex in Punjab’s district Chakwal and Parhlad Bhagat Mandir in Punjab’s district Multan — should be provided with fool-proof security and befitting lodging and boarding arrangements similar to Sri Darbar Sahib Gurdwara in Kartarpur town of Punjab’s district Narowal.

The report highlighted that the devastating action by miscreants on Dec 30 in the presence of police not only hurt the sentiments of the Hindu community in particular and the minority communities in general but also brought shame to Pakistan by tarnishing the country’s image at the international level.

Dr Suddle, in his report, highlighted that the mob had also looted valuables from the temple after setting the site on fire but the station house officer and DSP concerned apparently did not take any action to control the situation.

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