ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued directives to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to collect Rs33 million from culprits involved in vandalising and torching of a century-old Samadhi (shrine) of a Hindu saint in the Teri village of Karak district.
A three-judge SC bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, issued the directive to the provincial government while hearing the case pertaining to vandalism incidents in Hindu temples when Advocate General for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Shumail Butt apprised the bench that over Rs33m was spent on the rehabilitation and restoration of the temple, which was built before 1920.
The apex court had taken notice of the Karak incident of Dec 30, 2021 when over 1,000 people led by some local elders of a religious party held a protest and demanded demolition of the temple before attacking it.
In a report submitted to the Supreme Court, Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) chief Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani alleged that getting encouraged with complete silence of the district administration over previous court rulings to recover the restoration cost, the miscreants led by Qari Faizullah, who was released on bail by an anti-terrorism court in Kohat, had raised objection to the word “Mandir” written on the Samadhi wall. The suspect demanded that instead of the word ‘temple’, the wall be inscribed with the word ‘shrine’.
AG files three-page report on vandalism of century-old Hindu saint’s shrine in Karak
The PHC report stated: “It is really beyond comprehension whether the holy site such as Mandir, Ashram, Gurdwara, Krishn Dwara, Marhi, Darbar, Tikaano, Teerath or Samadhi would be decided by these miscreants, emboldened by pathetic approach of administration.”
The KP advocate general explained to the Supreme Court that the accused involved in the vandalism were still facing trial, wondering what would transpire if someone from whom the restoration cost was recovered later was found to be innocent.
In its three-page report filed in the court, the KP government stated that the culprits had been arrested without wasting time but they were granted bail by courts. The SC was further informed that notices for the recovery of the cost were served to all the detained suspects on Feb 12, 2021 through the Kohat jail superintendent.
The official report highlighted that a week before the incident, the Teri peace committee and an advocate, Rohit Kumar, had agreed the Hindu community could use a piece of land purchased a year ago to build residence, car park and courtyard etc. But the bone of contention was the extension in the prayer area of the shrine as the Muslim population was against any extension in the Samadhi area, according to the report. Undoing of a separating wall between the Samadhi and additionally purchased land could be taken as extension of the Samadhi area.
The KP government in its report explained that it had restored the Samadhi at its original site but could not include construction of any additional structure at any additional site at the state expense. It added that once the Samadhi was taken over by the Hindu community, they could raise residential quarters and other facilities at the additional land as per their agreement with the local peace committee.
The Hindu council, however, questioned how the assertive miscreants could be allowed to decide or interfere in the matters pertaining to the mandir. The PHC in its report demanded that all the commitments made by the KP chief minister during his meeting of Jan 1, 2021 with Dr Shoaib Suddle-led Commission of the Supreme Court for Minorities Rights be implemented without any delay.
The council also urged the apex court to ensure that the mandir was provided with all the facilities for comfortable stay of the pilgrims, including women, children and senior citizens, who visited the place from Sindh.
At the hearing, Rehmat Salam Khattak, one of the suspects facing the allegation of being involved in the vandalism, told the bench that around 100 men were rounded up after the incident, pleading that he was innocent as he played no role in vandalism of the temple.
The court adjourned further proceedings for a month.
Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2021