More than 30 people, most of them members of a radical Islamist party, have been arrested after a Hindu temple was vandalized and set on fire by a crowd protesting against its expansion works in northwest Pakistan, officials said Thursday.
The attack on the temple in Terri village, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Karak district on Wednesday drew strong condemnation from human rights activists and leaders of the Hindu community. On Thursday, the provincial government ordered authorities to rebuild the damaged temple, promising to bring those responsible to justice.
The temple was attacked by mobs after members of the Hindu community received permission from local authorities to renovate its decades-old building, witnesses said. The crowd, led by a local cleric and supporters of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party (Fazal ur Rehman group), demolished the newly constructed structure next to the old structure, they said.
According to local police, they arrested more than 30 people, including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader Rehmat Salam Khattak, during nighttime raids. More than 350 people have been appointed to the FIR, said provincial police chief KPK Sanaullah Abbasi. Abbasi said all sections of the law relating to terrorism have been included in the FIR against the accused. The police will ensure the protection of places of worship of minorities in the province, he added.
At the same time, the Supreme Court learned of the attack on Thursday and ordered local authorities to appear in court on January 5. According to a statement from the Supreme Court, Hindu lawmaker and Pakistani Hindu Council head Ramesh Kumar Vankwani called Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed in Karachi to discuss the matter.
“Pakistan’s chief justice was very concerned about the tragic incident and informed the MP that he had already taken note of the matter and settled the case in court on January 5 in Islamabad,” according to the press release. The court instructed the One-Person Minority Rights Commission, the KP Chief Secretary and the KP Inspector General of Police to visit the site and submit a report on January 4.
Special Assistant to the Chief Information Minister and KP government spokesman Kamran Bangash said on Thursday that the government would rebuild the temple, which was damaged in the mob attack. The deputy commissioner and the Karak district police officer were instructed to take immediate action to rebuild the temple, Bangash said.
The government has an obligation to protect minorities and their places of worship, he added. Pakistan’s Minister of Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri called the destruction of the temple contrary to the teaching of Islam. He said that the country’s constitution ensures the protection of religious places of minorities.
Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari strongly condemned the attack and pledged to bring those responsible to justice. “Strongly condemn the burning of a Hindu temple by a mob in Karak, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,” she said in a tweet. (The) KP government must ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. The MOHR is also evolving on this point. As a government, we have a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all our citizens and their places of worship, ”she added.
Pakistani Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Human Rights Lal Chand Malhi strongly condemned the attack on the temple. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan called the attack on the temple an “unfortunate incident”. He ordered the immediate arrest of those involved in the incident.
Khan has pledged his government will protect places of worship from such incidents. Hindu community leader Peshawar Haroon Sarab Diyal said a samadhi of a Hindu religious leader exists at the temple site and Hindu families from all over the country visit samadhi every Thursday.
The Samadhi of Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj is considered sacred by the Hindu community. It was built where he died in 1919 in the Teri village of Karak. The controversy over samadhi erupted decades ago.
According to details submitted to the Supreme Court in a 2014 case on the matter, Hindus had visited the shrine until 1997 when it was dismantled by locals. The Supreme Court in 2014 ordered the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to restore and rebuild the Hindu shrine.
The ordinance was issued following a petition from a Hindu lawmaker who claimed that the shrine had been occupied by an influential cleric from the region. According to police officials, a meeting of clerics was held at Shanki Adda in Teri, Karak ahead of Wednesday’s attack.
The enraged people shouted slogans, swearing that they would not allow any construction work at the shrine. The protesters were peaceful at first, but at the provocation of some clerics, they turned violent and attacked the shrine, police said.
Hindus form the largest minority community in Pakistan. According to official estimates, 75 Hindu lakh live in Pakistan. However, according to the community, more than 90 Hindu lakh live in the country.
The majority of the Hindu population of Pakistan is settled in the province of Sindh, where they share their culture, traditions and language with the Muslim residents. They often complain about the harassment of extremists.