After the reported demolition of houses belonging to the Hindu community in Yazman, Bahawalpur in May this year, the reconstruction of homes is now under way, with 25 of the 40 demolished structures having been re-established. The government, however, claims it acted legally as the demolished structures were built on encroached land.
According to Saleem Gill, the counsel of the beleaguered community, the government has allowed them to reconstruct the homes but has not provided any financial assistance for the purpose. The community has also lodged a legal case against the local administration.
In May this year, a fact-finding mission by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had stated that in December 2018, the Punjab Board of Revenue had allotted vacant land in Chak 52-DB village to the Hindu community for building their homes. However, soon after, local resident Muhammad Boota accused some community members of occupying the land illegally whereas the Hindu dwellers alleged that he had in fact wanted possession of their land. On the community’s refusal to give up the land, Boota, with the connivance of some local officials, filed a misleading report with the assistant commissioner of Yazman who, without reportedly checking the records, ordered the demolition of the Hindu community’s houses — a coincidence that reeked of collusion.
Shahid Khokhar, the assistant commissioner of Yazman tehsil, denies the charge and has claimed that the community had not been allotted the land and instead they had encroached on it.
He informed that certain members of the Hindu community then sold off the illegally occupied land to other members and rejected the allegation that the resultant demolition of their houses was an act of targeting the Hindu community. He further assured that the district administration was not under the influence of Boota or any other person, and acted legally under the domain of the law.
According to him, sixteen other Hindu settlements have been residing legally and peacefully in Bahawalpur and were thus not disturbed. He added that even during the anti-encroachment operation under question, the homes were not demolished rather the boundaries of animal enclosures were taken down.
“If the people of the Hindu community are reconstructing the structures, we will not do anything against them as are waiting for the court to decide the matter,” he said further.