ISLAMABAD: The Sup­reme Court on Tuesday ordered the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) to rebuild the Samadhi (shrine) of a Hindu saint in Teri village, Karak district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which was built before 1920.

The court also ordered the authorities to recover the expenses to be incurred on rehabilitation of Param Hans Ji Mahaaraj Samadhi/Mandir from a local Maulvi, Mohammad Sharif, who allegedly incited a mob to desecrate the shrine, and his followers.

At the same time, a three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, also ordered the ETPB to furnish a report about all functional or non-functional Hindu temples and Gurdwaras across the country. The board was also directed to remove encroachments from the religious sites of the minorities and take action against officials involved in the encroachments.

On a suo motu notice, the Supreme Court had taken up the case on the vandalising and torching of the Karak shrine. In the last hearing it had ordered the chief secretary and inspector general of KP and Dr Shoaib Suddle — the one-man commission on minority rights — to visit the shrine site and submit a report to the court.

On Dec 30, 2020, more than 1,000 people led by some local elders of a religious party observed protest and demanded demolition of the temple and attacked the temple.

The court regretted that the tragic incident had brought embarrassment and shame to the country at the international level.

The chief secretary and IG Sanaullah Abbasi told the court that a local leader of the JUI-F, Maulana Faizullah, had organised the protest near the shrine but out of the six ulema present at the protest, only Maulvi Sharif had incited the crowd to desecrate the temple.

The court was also told that 109 people involved in the incident had been arrested and 92 police officials, including a superintendent police (SP) and a deputy superintendent police (DSP), who were on duty at the time, had been suspended for dereliction of duty.

However, chief justice observed that mere suspension was not enough. He regretted that the mob had destroyed the temple and set it on fire with impunity.

Dr Suddle stated that the KP ETPB had failed to safeguard the temple.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan, a member of the bench, asked the IG how the incident could happen when there was a police check-post close to the shrine, also wondering where the intelligence agencies were at that time.

The court also deplored the performance of the ETPB chairman by stating that the official should not sit on his seat with bureaucratic mentality.

The chief justice deplored that the employees of the board were indulging in their private business on the lands meant for the holy sites of the minorities and said that they should be arrested.

The court was told that the Karak temple was being looked after by the Hindu community and it was non-functional which was why EPTB officials were not present there.

However, Pakistan Hindu Council chief Ramesh Kumar Vankwani said that fairs were routinely held at the shrine and around 300-400 people visited it every month.

The shrine was also damaged in 1997 and after the ETPB’s refusal to repair it, the Hindu Council had provided funds for its reconstruction, he said.

At this Justice Ahsan regretted that the ETPB had money to construct its own buildings but nothing for the Hindu temples.

The court also directed the KP ETBP to consult with the provincial minorities commission for the rebuilding of the temple, adding that it would issue a detailed order in this regard.

The case was adjourned for two weeks.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2021

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