The responsibility entrusted upon the Evacuees Trust Property Board to look after the temples and properties of Hindus and Sikhs who migrated to India in 1947 proved to be a colossal loss to the centuries-old historic places in Pakistan.
There were thousands of religious sites, especially of Hindus, which should have been handed over to archeology departments for conservation so they could have been preserved in line with international guidelines for protected monuments.
Requesting anonymity, an official of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Archeology and Museums Department confided that during the British era, over 3,000 residential and worship places of religious minorities were enlisted in the province.
“We’re not against accommodating people displaced from India in places left by Hindu and Sikh minorities. But historically significant structures should have be placed under archeology departments so their proper preservation could be ensured.”
Over the years, a number of Hindu temples leased out to Muslims on have been converted into business outlets. For instance, in DI Ismail Khan’s Kali Bari area, the spacious temple of Garur Bhagwan has been converted into a hotel.
Haroon Sarab Diyal, a rights activist from the Hindu community, said that KP — once a cradle of Buddhist and Hindu civilisations — presently features only 22 operational Hindu temples. Out of them, four are centuries old — three in Peshawar and one in Mansehra. The remaining 18, he added, were also built before Partition.
“We have historic religious sites across the province but unluckily, land-grabbers in connivance with government departments have occupied them.”
Likewise, a Hindu temple in Bannu now houses a sweets shop. Teri, Karak, which recently witnessed the ransacking of a Hindu shrine, had a total of five temples. One of them serves as a government-run school and the other as a post office. Similarly, city temple in Kohat has been converted into a school; Panj Terath and Gorakh Diggi, holy places of Hindus in Peshawar, have been converted into parks; the complex of five temples in Asamai Gate in Peshawar has been leased out to the families who migrated from Kashmir.
Discussing the modus operandi to convert minority worship places into commercial areas, Diyal said the law declares that spaces other than those specified for worship can be leased out.
“These places within the compound of a religious site are called attached properties. First, these attached properties are leased out and gradually they encroach upon by damaging the structure of a worship place to finally convert it into a commercial place.”
On the other hand, Section 31 of the Pakistan Administration of Evacuee Property Act, 1957 clearly states: “Any person who willfully causes damage or allows damage to be caused to any evacuee property or misappropriates or unlawfully converts it to his own use shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine or with both.”
KP Archeology and Museums Director Dr Abdul Samad admits that there are 3,000-4,000 sites of Hindu and Sikh faiths in the province which are thousands of years old. But he hastens to add that they do not have sufficient funds to preserve these archeologically-significant sites.
“However, we strive to ensure they are not perished or damaged by involving the local administration when we learn of such dangers.”