Celebrations surrounding the ground-breaking of the city’s first Hindu temple have been dampened following severe disapproval from religious quarters, a legal challenge in the Islamabad High Court and the Punjab Assembly speaker’s strong-worded statement against it.
The ceremony to begin construction of Shri Krishna Mandir, the name given to the temple by the capital’s Hindu Panchayat, was held on June 23 in Islamabad’s Sector H-9. The city’s Hindu community had been allotted around four kanals of land here for erecting a temple in 2017 by the Capital Development Authority, on directions of the National Commission for Human Rights. However, owing to shortage of funds and administrative delays, no development could take place until now.
In line with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s ventures to protect minorities’ rights, as lauded by PTI MNA and Parliamentary Secretary on Human Rights Lal Chand Malhi during the ground-breaking ceremony, Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri recently moved a summary to the prime minister for grant of Rs100 million for the temple’s construction, which the premier approved.
Following the ceremony, as the government took credit for the ‘equal status’ enjoyed by Pakistan’s minorities vis-à-vis India, the city’s Hindu community — spread over around 250 families — was elated as finally they would have a temple of their own, along with a crematorium and multi-purpose complex.
However, the elation was soon stifled after a local lawyer challenged on June 30 the allotment of land in the high court, citing potential violation of the city’s ‘master plan’. The petitioner asked the court to direct the Hindu community to use the existing temple in Saidpur Village — a pre-Partition temple converted into a heritage and tourist site. Talking to Sabaat, PTI MNA Malhi termed the petition regrettable and hoped the honourable court dismisses it. However, the court has sought CDA’s response regarding the alleged master plan violation.
To add fuel to the flourishing fire, Punjab Assembly speaker and senior leader of the PTI-allied Pakistan Muslim League-Q, Pervaiz Elahi, said in a statement on July 1 that the temple’s construction was against the ‘spirit of Islam’. After federal minister Fawad Chaudhry, in a now-deleted tweet, criticised the remarks, Elahi’s son and PML-Q MNA Moonis Elahi responded that the Punjab Assembly speaker had not objected to the temple but instead suggested it should be built in Sindh where there is a sizeable Hindu population.
Similarly, various religious leaders have been vocal against the temple’s construction since the matter gained prominence, proving that Pakistan has a long way to go as far as equal status for the white in its flag is concerned. While vehemently opposing the project during a press conference in Islamabad on July 1, local religious figures warned the government not to go ahead with the temple’s construction.
Rawalpindi Valmik Mandir’s Nadeem Sunil Raj, whose father had to change their family name after relentless persecution for being Hindus, said, “We are a part of Pakistan as much as anyone else. Those denying us our temple are against the ‘soft image’ of the country.”
Senator Krishna Kumari, who hails from the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party and is the country’s first Hindu Dalit senator, said those opposing the temple hold extremist ideologies and are against a peaceful Pakistan. She called on the government to take action against such elements.
When contacted, officials, religious leaders and civil society members refused to comment on the issue due to its ‘sensitive’ nature.
Seeking anonymity, an official of the Religious Affairs Ministry asserted that when it comes to the inclusion of religious minorities, they are committed to the vision of the country’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He shared that the ministry is working on a proposal to develop an ‘Interfaith Harmony Enclave’ in which minorities’ places of worship will be erected side-by-side, adding that the plan will be forwarded to the federal cabinet once it is finalised.
However, for now, following the growing opposition to the proposed Shri Krishna Temple, the city’s Hindu community hopes Prime Minister Imran Khan can live up to his promise of promoting and protecting minorities’ rights.
Editor’s Note: Since the story’s initial publication, the Capital Development Authority halted construction activities at the site citing violation of by-laws while the Religious Affairs Ministry sent the matter to the Council of Islamic Ideology after pressure from religious groups. Moreover, the Islamabad High Court, on July 7, disposed of the petitions against the temple after the above-mentioned updates.