Hindus living in Rawalpindi are in the depths of despair. And rightly so because no one in authority is bothered about the reconstruction of their Tipu Road temple, adjacent to Shamshan ghat (cremation ground), partially pulled down by an influential builder, three years ago, for putting up a commercial plaza.
Initially, the federal government came to their relief by staying the temple’s demolition but the relief was short-lived as in the days ahead, Hindus had to see half the place of worship go to ruin.
The temple on Tipu Road, opposite the Rawalpindi Medical College, is located near a ‘shamshan ghat’ or cremation ground. It was built in 1923 by the wife and sons of Lala Tansukh Rai, the Raees-e-Azam of Rawalpindi, for his memorial.
After getting control of the property in 1967, the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) gave the building to a welfare society. In 2000, the welfare society failed to pay annual rent of the building and the ETPB had the building vacated.
In 2010, the ETPB gave the building on lease to another commercial group. In July 19, 2010, the private party pulled down half of the building but Hindus accompanied by Muslim residents staged a protest which forced the authorities to stop the demolition of the building but failed to re-construct the building or allow Hindus to offer religious rituals at the place, afterwards.
The Evacuee Board claimed that the structure in question has never been a temple. However, the Hindu community still insists that the building adjacent to Shamshan Ghat was meant for worship.
Pakistan Hindu-Sikh Social Welfare Council (PHSSWC) President Jag Mohan said that the structure was not useless or for recreational purposes, it was built to offer religious rites before and after the cremation of the dead bodies.
He said: “The Hindu Community is not demanding to get the possession of the Temple but said the trust managed it and allowed the community to offer their religious rites in that building which was meant for worship”.
Though the Hindus and Sikhs burnt their dead bodies at the site, they were not allowed to hold religious gatherings before and after the burning of dead bodies, he said and added that the foreigners including Chinese and Japanese also came to burn their dead bodies at the site.
“The requests of the Hindu community in Rawalpindi to solve the temple issue fell on deaf ears of the federal government, who claim to work for the welfare of the minorities,” he said and added that the building was still in the possession of a private company, despite the passage of three years.
“Before partition, the total land of Shamshan Ghat was 290 kanals and when the majority of Hindus migrated from the city, in 1949, the Rehabilitation department gave 10 kanals and 17 marlas to Hindus for cremation purposes,” he said.
Jag Mohan claimed that the land was now reduced to three kanals and 13 marlas and the remaining seven kanals and four marlas had been given to different people on lease without consulting local Hindus.
“The present value of the Shamshan Ghat and the Temple has escalated to Rs600 million due to its prime location and the officials at Evacuee Trust Property wanted to sell the site for kickbacks,” alleged Jag Mohan.
On the other hand, Administrator Auqaf Rawalpindi Zone Wahab Gull admitted that the property belonged to Hindus. However, he said, the building in question was not used for worshipping purposes.
He said that the temple was built 500 yards behind Shama Hotel, which was demolished in 1992, during Babri Masjid related riots.
He said that the building in question was in use of Behbud Welfare Organisation from 1967 and later given on lease in an open auction in 2005. He said that the board also auctioned the lease of other lands adjacent to the temples.
In reply to a query, he said that the department erected a boundary wall over the demolished structure of the temple behind Shama Hotel and gave it to a private party on rent. He said that the department also gave many such places on rent.
Mr Gull said that the ETPB provided Rs2.5 million for the improvement of the cremation ground and the shed had been constructed for Hindus to offer their religious rituals, before burning their dead bodies.
According to an official of Auqaf department requesting not to be named said that there were 2,200 places in Rawalpindi division which had been given on rent or on lease. He said that such buildings were given on rent or lease which had been abandoned for many years.
Giving an example, he said that Sikh Gurdwara located at Bagh Sardaran at Ghazni Road opposite Government Girls High School No.1 was given on rent to Special Branch of Police.
“The adjacent land of Gurdwara in question was on rent for the last many years but the department preserved the hall where Sikhs used to perform their religious rites,” Wahab Gull said.
“There are many places in the city which were on rent and we increase the rent by 10 per cent on an annual basis,” said Wahab Gull. However, he refused to give the details of such buildings and utilisation of the money from rent and said that the information was classified.
He said that under the Evacuee Trust Properties Management and Disposal Act 1977, the department could rent out or lease out the property which was not in use of Hindus or any other religious community.