BBC News – Hindu shrine desecration: Can Pakistan protect its religious minorities?

M Ilyas Khan

Islamabad – Pakistan, 12 January 2021. A century-old sacred Hindu shrine in Pakistan was destroyed by a Muslim mob in December – the second ransacking and desecration of the holy site.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has issued an order to officials in the north-western district of Karak to pave the way for rebuilding the Sri Param Hansji Maharaj Samadhi temple, but the attack has left the country’s Hindus feeling vulnerable and the government facing accusations that it is failing to protect the country’s religious minorities.

Pakistan is overwhelmingly Muslim, the Hindu community makes up less than 2% of the population. Prejudice against Hindus is ingrained.

The Hindus who attend the Sri Param Hansji Maharaj Samadhi were still in the process of rebuilding the site after the first attack, in 1997, after the Supreme Court finally issued a rebuilding order in 2015.

But in the process, the community bought and began renovating an adjacent house to provide a resting place for Hindu pilgrims, setting off a wave of anger among local Muslims convinced that the temple was being expanded.

In December, a rally was convened that was quickly whipped into a destructive mob.

How did the attack unfold?

The rally was convened on 30 December near the temple, and led by a local Muslim cleric, Maulvi Mohammad Sharif, who is affiliated with the religious party Jamiate Ulemae Islam and was the same cleric who led the attack on the temple in 1997.

According to witnesses, the cleric whipped up the crowd, inciting rally goers who then smashed in the walls of the temple with sledgehammers and set fire to it.

A report compiled by Pakistan’s Commission for Minority Rights after the attack found that precious ornaments were destroyed, as were ornate wooden doors and windows made from Burma teak and the carved white marble of the grave of a Hindu saint.

“The overall picture … was of utter devastation,” the report said.

Police and security guards had been stationed at the temple during the rally but failed to stop the mob. “They went with impunity,” said the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Gulzar Ahmed, after the attack, adding that the incident had caused “international embarrassment to Pakistan”.

Police arrested 109 people in relation to the attack, including Maulvi Mohammad Sharif, and suspended 92 police officials, including the superintendent of police and deputy superintendent of police who were on duty at the time.

“There were 92 police officials at the spot, but they showed cowardice and negligence,” admitted Sanaullah Abbasi, the local police inspector general.

There were no Hindus at the temple at the time, they travel to the site for religious purposes but none live at the site, and no-one was injured or killed.

Why is there a dispute?

Located in Teri village on a desert patch featuring dry hills, the temple was built in 1919, long before the British partition of India pushed many Hindus south to India and many Muslims north into newly-created Pakistan.

The site was the last resting place of Sri Param Hansji Maharaj, a Hindu saint who has a large following in Pakistan, India and elsewhere in the world.

Waseem Khatak, a researcher, teacher and journalist from the village, said the area had a large Hindu population which was mainly involved in trade, business and money-lending, and Hindus and Muslims lived side by side in a collective culture.

Sri Param Hansji Maharaj “knew the Quran by heart”, Mr Khatak said, “and would offer spiritual guidance to his Muslim followers by quoting from the book”.

Hindus made pilgrimages to the site from all over, but when the British instigated partition in 1947 the entire Hindu population of Teri village left, abandoning their properties.

The government set up a trust to take over and manage the properties they had left behind and occasional pilgrimages continued. The property of the shrine was left in the care of a disciple of the saint, who converted to Islam and became the caretaker.

But after the caretaker’s death in the 1960s, his sons sold the place to two local Muslim families. Access to the tomb became an arduous task, pilgrims had to pass through the privacy of two family homes to perform their rituals.

In the mid-1990s, the community bought one of the houses for easy access to the tomb. But the purchase happened at a time when local Muslim clerics enjoyed considerable influence with the Pakistani establishment.

In 1996, soon after the news about the house deal was broken to the clergy, Maulvi Mohammad Sharif declared the Hindu community “agents of the US and India” and led a mob to destroy the temple.

The destruction sparked a series of court cases that continued until 2015, when the Supreme Court finally ordered the restoration of the shrine, though on a much smaller piece of land inside one of the two houses.

Even then, the local government continued to delay funds for reconstruction. Frustrated, the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) rebuilt the shrine and widened and paved the street leading to it, paying from its own coffers.

What happens next?

As well as ordering the reconstruction of the temple, the Supreme Court has asked the local authorities to take tougher action against the police officials who were on duty during the attack.

One of the suspended policemen, who requested anonymity, told the BBC that the local police had intelligence reports before the attack that trouble was likely, but no-one thought it was worthwhile to counter the clergy.

“Given the developments in the region, the clerics are still relevant to our state policy,” he said. “If we cross their path, we may risk our jobs. So unless there are very clear instructions from above, we don’t do that. And this allows the more ambitious among them to take advantage.”

Members of the Hindu community say that restoration of a temple alone will not restore harmony. That would begin with changes to the education curriculum, which they say promotes apathy, even callousness towards non-Muslims.

“It is the failure of the system that a purely local dispute which could easily have been resolved in the light of the law and the constitution spiralled into a national and then an international issue,” said Haroon Sarab Diyal, a Hindu community leader based in Peshawar.

Just a week before the attack on the temple in December, a meeting of Pakistan’s Commission for Minority Rights concluded that a “visible improvement in the treatment of minorities” was needed in Pakistan. In a report issued after the attack, the commission concluded that there was still a way to go.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-55545524

The Tribune – 12 police officials dismissed for negligence in protecting Hindu mandir from vandalisation in Pakistan

The government also forfeited one-year service of 33 police officials in connection with the incident

Peshawar – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 14 January 2021. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government in Pakistan has dismissed 12 police officials following an enquiry report that found them guilty of “negligence” in protecting a Hindu mandir in the province, which was torched by a mob led by members of a radical Islamist party.

The government also forfeited one-year service of 33 police officials in connection with the incident.

The mandir in Terri village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Karak district was attacked on 30 December by the mob after members of the Hindu community received permission from local authorities to renovate its decades-old building.

The mob demolished the newly constructed work alongside the old structure.

Deputy Inspector General of Police, Kohat Region, Tayyab Hafeez Cheema had appointed Superintendent of Police (Investigation Wing) Zahir Shah as enquiry officer to probe the incident and submit its report within a week’s time.

Shah conducted the probe against 73 police officials and recommended to dismiss 12 of them from service on charges of negligence and irresponsibility in the discharge of their official duties.

“Keeping in view of the available record and facts on file, perusal of enquiry papers and the recommendations of the Enquiry Officers, they are found guilty of the charges.

They show cowardice – negligence and irresponsibility in the discharge of their official obligations. They failed to protect the Hindu mandir which caused disrepute for the Police department in the eyes of the general public,” the report said.

The report recommended forfeiting one-year regular service of 33 police officials. The officer also recommended writing to the Superintendent of Police, Frontier Reserve Police, Kohat for minor punishment to the remaining 28 personnel.

The 12 police officials dismissed include the station house officer (SHO) and assistant sub inspector of Terri Police Station.

The report said that the mob, under the supervision of Maulana Shareef, assaulted the Hindu mandir in Terri, wherein the mob burnt the said mandir and damaged it without any interruption as a result of which a complaint under various sections was filed in the Terri police station.

Maulana Shareef, who is in judicial custody, is said to have incited the crowd.

“This is highly quite adverse on their part and shows negligence, carelessness and irresponsibility on the part of delinquent hands,” the report said.

Meanwhile, a delegation of MP’s belonging to the minority communities on Tuesday visited the vandalised Hindu mandir.

The Supreme Court has ordered the Evacuee Property Trust Board (EPTB) to start reconstruction of the damaged mandir and instructed authorities to recover the money for the restoration work from the attackers whose act has caused “international embarrassment” to Pakistan.

On 01 January, India lodged a strong protest with Pakistan over the vandalisation of the mandir, saying it expects Pakistan to carry out an investigation into the incident and has asked for sharing of the probe report with it.

According to sources, the Ministry of External Affairs conveyed its serious concerns to the Pakistan High Commission here over the repeated instances of similar incidents and atrocities against the members of the minority community.

“It was also impressed upon the government of Pakistan that this was not the first time the mandir was destroyed. This has been going on since 1997. We also asked for the investigation report to be shared with the ministry,” a source said.

Hindus form the biggest minority community in Pakistan.

According to official estimates, 75 lakh Hindus live in Pakistan. However, according to the community, over 90 lakh Hindus are living in the country.

The majority of Pakistan’s Hindu population is settled in Sindh province where they share culture, traditions and language with Muslim residents. They often complain of harassment by the extremists.

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/12-police-officials-dismissed-for-negligence-in-protecting-hindu-temple-from-vandalisation-in-pakistan-198380

ThePrint – Yogi govt plans new law to regulate mandirs, masjids, Gurdwaras, churches, will keep tab on donations

UP government looking to bring in the law, which will likely set rules for registration & operational practices among others, ‘without much noise’ to avoid controversies.

Prashant Srivastava

Lucknow – UP – India, 12 January 2021. The Yogi Adityanath government is preparing to bring in an ordinance to regulate operations at places of worship across Uttar Pradesh, with an eye on managing donations and offerings at these sites.

According to sources in the government, the proposed ordinance, to be called the Regulation and Registration of Religious Places Ordinance, will likely set rules for registration, function, operational practices and security at religious places.

In the making since October 2019 after a Supreme Court remark in a religious dispute over donations, the law aims to cover the religious places of all religions. The state has not seen any such law before this.

While a formal announcement about the legislation has not yet been made by the government, sources told ThePrint that officials in the Dharmarth Karya Vibhag have already made a presentation to the CM.

A cabinet meeting to clear the ordinance could be called soon, said the sources.

Speaking to ThePrint, cabinet minister and government spokesperson Siddharth Nath Singh confirmed that the department has made a presentation, but said he couldn’t divulge more information until the ordinance is introduced.

The sources added that the government aims to bring in the law without much noise to avoid controversies.

What the ordinance aims to do

Sources said the state government is bringing in the law as it wants to completely resolve disputes over management rights at religious places.

According to an official in the Uttar Pradesh government, the ordinance will make the registration of all religious places, including the prominent sites, mandatory.

It will also have a provision for a financial body, which will keep all the details about the donations and offerings being made at these institutions. Moreover, the proposed law will also carry parameters for safety of all religious institutions.

Guidelines related to livelihoods dependent on such religious places are also proposed, apart from provisions to ensure greater convenience of the devotees and better maintenance of the places.

According to the sources in the CM’s Office (CMO), Adityanath has suggested that officials must collect feedback from legal experts to incorporate necessary improvements in the ordinance.

The proposed law seeks a comprehensive policy framework for better management of places of worship. For this, it had announced the formation of Directorate of Charitable Affairs Department under the Dharmarth Karya Vibhag in the state last month.

The headquarters of the directorate will be based in Varanasi, with a sub-head office in Ghaziabad.

The department’s formation was seen as an indication that the government was planning to bring in an ordinance for regulation of religious places.

FirstPost – VHP – Bajrang Dal workers detained for protesting against temple demolition in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk

The temple was demolished on Sunday by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation in accordance with court orders as part of the ongoing Chandni Chowk beautification plan.

New Delhi – India, 05 January 2021. Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal members were detained by police during a protest on Tuesday over the demolition of a Hanuman mandir at Chandni Chowk in Delhi.

The protesters, carrying saffron flags and raising slogans, took out a march from the Gauri Shankar Mandir to the site where the temple existed. They were stopped by police at a barricade.

According to VHP spokesperson Mahendra Rawat, around 15-20 workers and leaders, including its Delhi unit president Kapil Khanna, vice president Surendra Gupta, secretary Ravi and Bajrang Dal state convener Bharar Batra were detained during the protest.

A senior police official said 27 protesters who gathered near the Gauri Shankar mandir on Tuesday were detained owing to COVID-19 guidelines. They were taken to a nearby police station and released later.

These protesters belonged to Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal outfits, the official said.

As a precautionary measure, security personnel have been deployed in the area, police said.

https://www.firstpost.com/india/vhp-bajrang-dal-workers-detained-for-protesting-against-temple-demolition-in-delhis-chandni-chowk-9173051.html

NDTV – New Year Day: On 01 January devotees in India visit Mandirs, Gurdwaras

Debjani Chatterjee

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 01 January 2021, On the New Year Day, people in large numbers visited mandirs, gurdwaras and other religious places to seek blessings but many people were seen without masks.

On the first day of New Year 2021, people in large numbers visited mandirs, gurdwaras and other religious places to seek blessings despite the COVID-19 restrictions.

Devotees gathered at Harmandr Sahib in Amritsar on the first day of the New Year 2021. The number of people at the gurdwara on New Year Day was however far less compared to previous years due to the Covid-19 restrictions in place.

Covid guidelines for New Year celebrations have been announced by the centre and state governments to check the spread of the deadly virus but many people were seen without masks.

The Punjab government has already issued guidelines restricting indoor gatherings to 100 people and outdoor gathering to 250. There is also a night curfew going on, which will be lifted after 01 January. Night curfew is in place in most metros across the country.

In Maharashtra, devotees turned up at the famous Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati Mandir in Mumbai to offer prayers. People at Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh also gathered at Sangam ghat to take a holy dip, offer prayers and witness the first sun rise of the New Year.

Taking a dip at the Sangam or the confluence of three rivers, Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati on important days is considered to be very auspicious.

At Patna’s Mahaveer mandir too a large number of devotees gathered on the New Year Day. In the mandir town of Puri, people gathered on the beech to watch the first sun rise of the year on 01 January

In most states in India, no celebratory events, public functions and gatherings were permitted and section 144 has been imposed.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/new-year-day-on-january-1-devotees-in-india-visit-temples-gurudwaras-2346447

Dawn – Fourteen arrested for destroying Hindu shrine in KP’s Karak

Villagers stand on the roof of the shrine after setting it on fire in Karak

Naveed Siddiqui

Karak – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – Pakistan, 31 December 2020. Police arrested 14 people in overnight raids after a Hindu shrine was set on fire and severely damaged by a mob led by supporters of a cleric in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Karak district, officials said on Thursday.

The temple’s destruction on Wednesday drew condemnation from human rights activists and the minority Hindu community.

Local police said they detained at least 14 people in overnight raids and more raids were underway to arrest individuals who participated or provoked the mob to demolish the shrine.

The attack happened after members of the Hindu community received permission from local authorities to renovate the building. According to witnesses, the mob was led by a local cleric and supporters of a religious political party.

Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri called the attack “a conspiracy against sectarian harmony”.

He took to Twitter on Thursday, saying attacks on places of worship of minority religious groups are not allowed in Islam and “protection of religious freedom of minorities is our religious, constitutional, moral and national responsibility.”

The incident comes weeks after the government allowed Hindu citizens to build a new temple in Islamabad on the recommendation of a council of clerics.

Although Muslims and Hindus generally live peacefully together in Pakistan, there have been other attacks on Hindu places of worship in recent years.

CJP takes notice

Meanwhile, Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed took notice of the incident and fixed the matter for hearing by on 05 January 2021.

According to a statement released by the apex court, Member of the National Assembly and Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmedcalled on the chief justice at the SC’s Karachi registry and discussed the issue.

“The chief justice of Pakistan showed grave concern over the tragic incident and informed the member of parliament that he has already taken cognisance of the issue and has fixed the matter before court on 05.01.2021 at Islamabad with directions to one-man Commission on Minorities Rights, KP chief secretary and KP inspector general of police to visit the site and submit [a] report on 04.01.2021,” it stated.

FIR registered

According to police officials, a meeting of clerics was held at Shanki Adda in Teri, Karak before the attack.

The enraged people were raising slogans vowing they would not permit any construction work of the shrine in the area.

The Samadhi (shrine) of Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj is considered sacred by the Hindu community.

The Hindu devotees, especially from Sindh, used to visit it.

District Police Officer Irfanullah told Dawn that an a first information report (FIR) was registered against two local clerics identified as Maulvi Mohammad Sharif and Maulana Faizullah and several other unidentified persons.

He said that the protesters were peaceful in the initial stage but on the provocation of some clerics, they turned violent and attacked the shrine.

However, the local clerics claimed that the Hindu community had given a contract for the expansion of the shrine to a local contractor which was not acceptable to the people. The speakers in the meeting claimed that they were ready to accept the verdict of the Supreme Court of the country wholeheartedly.

The local people claimed that the Hindu community provided funds for the expansion of the shrine which was in violation of the court’s judgment.

The controversy over the Samadhi of Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj erupted many decades ago. The Supreme Court had in 2015 ordered the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to restore and reconstruct the Hindu shrine.

The order was issued over a petition of M N A Kumar, who was at that time in PML-N and later joined PTI. He had claimed that the Samadhi of Shri Paramhans Mahraj had been occupied by an influential cleric of the area.

A letter written by the then deputy commissioner of Karak to a deputy secretary of the provincial home department in February 2014, which was submitted to the Supreme Court, had stated that a Hindu shrine was constructed at a place where Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj died in 1919 and buried in Teri village.

His followers used to visit the place to pay their respect and the practice continued till 1997 when some local people dismantled the shrine.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1598867/14-arrested-for-destroying-hindu-shrine-in-kps-karak

Gandhara – Ghazni Residents mourn the loss of Hindu, Sikh neighbors

Ghazni – Afghanistan, 23 September 2020. As the last Hindu resident of Ghazni, Raja Ram is making a stand. Despite fears for his safety following the recent departure of the city’s last 21 Hindu and Sikh families to India, he insists on staying in his homeland.

The Hindus and Sikhs fled decades of uncertainty, attacks, and business losses in the capital of a province also called Ghazni, which once boasted a vibrant trading community of several hundred Hindu and Sikh families that sold spices, herbal medicines, and textiles in the city and beyond.

The city of 270,000 is now mourning the loss of its Hindu and Sikh neighbors.

“We all love our homeland, but they had to flee after the attacks,” Ram told Radio Free Afghanistan, referring to a major attack on a Sikh Gurdwara this spring.

The Islamic State (IS) militants claimed the 25 March attack, which killed 25 people in the capital Kabul. The attack prompted the 250 families of Afghanistan’s tiny Hindu and Sikh community to begin the journey to India on special visas.

“To everyone, their homeland is Kashmir,” Ram said, quoting a Pashto proverb to illustrate that Afghanistan’s Hindu and Sikh minorities love their country as much as the fabled valleys of the disputed Himalayan region.

“Members of our community have left with broken hearts because of their worsening circumstances here.” While members of two distinct faiths, Afghanistan’s tiny Hindus and Sikhs are considered one community.

While Afghanistan’s once 80,000-strong Hindu and Sikh community is on the verge of vanishing from the country, their Muslim neighbors and friends are saddened by their departure and long for the day when they can return.

Abdul Majeed, a shopkeeper, remembers growing up with Hindu and Sikh friends in Ghazni.

“We are really sad the attacks and insecurity ultimately forced them to leave,” he said. “I wish they could have stayed here and enjoyed living a normal life alongside us.”

Ram, whose wife and four children have moved to India, is staying behind to look after a Hindu mandir, a task for which the Afghan government pays him nearly $100 a month.

He says his community has faced no persecution from Ghazni’s ethnic Pashtun, Tajik, or Hazara residents but the fear of being targeted in attacks by Islamist militants or kidnapped by criminals made them leave.

“Our forefathers have lived in harmony with local communities across Afghanistan,” he said.

Last month, Sardar Gurbachan Singh Ghazniwal left Afghanistan. Like Ram, he lived in Ghazni but lost his business and property in the chaotic years of civil war in the 1990s. He resisted leaving Afghanistan and continued living at the Kabul Gurdwara, but after losing nine relatives in the 25 March attack Ghazniwal joined a group of exiled Afghan Hindus and Sikhs in India.

He tells Radio Free Afghanistan he began to feel alienated in his homeland. “Whenever I rode in a bus or a taxi, my [Afghan] Muslim brothers asked me, ‘Where do you come from in India Sardar?’,” Ghazniwal said.

“Even when I speak fluent Pashto and Dari, I am not considered an equal [citizen],” he added, referring to Afghanistan’s two major languages.

In Ghazni, residents lament that their Hindu and Sikh neighbors have left. “Sikhs are one of Afghanistan’s most peaceful communities,” said Haji Basir, a textile merchant in Ghazni’s Bazazi neighborhood.

He says he often misses his neighbor, Otar Singh, who owned a shop next to his. “I am very sad that he has left. I am sad for all our compatriots Sikhs and Hindus who have left,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Rahima, a housewife in Ghazni, misses her Hindu friend Sapna. “We were very happy and often visited each other’s houses,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “I often miss Sapna and am very sad that she left.”

Matiullah Kamalpuri, a local aid worker, says a large Hindu and Sikh community once thrived in the capital and provinces such as Ghazni, Helmand, Nangarhar, Khost, and Paktia.

“They were a part of our national fabric,” he noted. “They were a patriotic people and were committed to serving our country and their communities,” he added. “We are saddened over their departure; it is a major loss.”

Wahidullah Jumazada, spokesman for the provincial governor, says the authorities are also dismayed over the departure of Ghazni’s Hindus and Sikhs.

“They were a prominent fixture in our celebrations, but we now have no one to invite to our gatherings,” he said.

But Narender Singh Khalsa, Afghanistan’s lone Sikh lawmaker, wants the authorities to act to provide security so that they can have confidence in their future.

“Four months after the attack on our Gurdwara, the government has done nothing to reconstruct it, so we do not see anything that can boost our confidence [that we are protected here],” he told Radio Free Afghanistan last month.

Back in Ghazni, Ram hopes to reunite with his wife and their two sons and two daughters in a peaceful Afghanistan where Hindus and Sikhs can live as equal citizens.

“I hope that everyone will return to Afghanistan once there is peace here,” he said. “The Hindus and Sikhs are sons of this soil — they are Afghans, too.”

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Habibur Rahman Taseer’s reporting from Afghanistan.

Habibur Rahman Taseer is a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan in Ghazni.

Abubakar Siddique, the editor of RFE/RL’s Gandhara website, is a journalist specializing in coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan.

https://gandhara.rferl.org/a/ghazni-residents-mourn-the-loss-of-hindu-sikh-neighbors-/30854326.html

Deinze – Gent: Bernard Spaelaan

Deinze
12 May 2020

Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk – Our Lady’s Church

Evi has the bus- and rail-station on her doorstep

Deinze De Lijn bus station underneath the railway station

Gent – Bernard Spaelaan
12 May 2020

Bernard Spaelaan Tram 2 and 4
Tram 2 to Zwijnaarde

Tram 2 to Melle Leeuw and Tram 4 to Ledebergstraat

Tram 4 to Ledebergstraat

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

Gent: Dampoort bus station – Gent-Sint-Pieters & Deinze

Dampoort bus station
11 May 2020

Dampoort busstation – Pilorijnstraat

Gent-Sint-Pieters
Going to Deinze
12 May 2020

Bus 14 to Deinze

Tram 1 underneath Vlaams Administratief Centrum Virginie Loveling

Deinze
12 May 2020

George Martensstraat

Gentstraat

Tolpoortstraat

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Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue



Gentbrugge – Gentbrugse Meersen

Gentbrugge
Sint-Simon & Sint Judas Thaddeus
07 May 2020

This church is obviously still in use

Gentbrugse Meersen
07 May 2020

Fields bought by Natuurpunt

Different view of the same fields

We should enjoy nature – but should also respect it

Gentbrugse Meersen

The road becomes a path and there are pollard willows

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue