A dangerous nexus of religious and political leaders using religion to gain vested political interests has done much harm to our land in many ways
The destruction of Budha statues in Bamiyan, demolition of the Babri Mosque, Peshawar Church bombing or the ruination of Baalshamin Temple in Palmyra by ISIS are all a result of religiously-inspired extremist thinking which leaves no room for toleration towards other religious communities. Any design to impose or forward one’s own sacred ideology or suppress other religions, it is the places of worship which bear the brunt. As these places symbolise the existence and strength of a religious community, tearing them down is invariably a deliberate effort to hurt the same.
A simple look at the annals of Pakistani history will show that there are many tales of such incidents in our society too. It all started, at mega scale, when the partition took place back in 1947 -- religious places were targeted either to occupy the land or to root out the remaining symbols of Hindus and Sikhs who chose to migrate to other side of the border. Almost every village, town and city of Pakistan has had Hindu temples and Sikh Gurdwaras which are nowhere to be seen these days.
Soon after the partition, the process to destroy these places of worship slowed down but the unfortunate incident of the Babri Mosque in 1992 triggered a violent wave which engulfed many remaining temples across the country. No rational justification can be presented to defend the bulldozing of Babri Mosque at the hands of a fanatically charged mob. Since then this hapless episode has been used to romanticise political narratives to strengthen phenomenon that India is only for the Hindus. However, those who were portraying this incident as an example of the unjust and biased attitude towards Muslims in India shrewdly veiled and concealed the dismantling of the temples on Pakistani side.
The story of my village, Badshahpur District Mandi Bahauddin, is no different. There used to be a Sikh Gurdwara and a Hindu temple in the village. It is a common folk tale that at the time of the partition, no violent incident occurred in our village and the Sikhs and the Hindus were allowed to depart peacefully. But soon after the partition, the Gurdwara was transmuted into a mosque as its structure best suited such a purpose. However, the temple was spared but its inner structure was wrecked and now-a-days its building is being used to shelter cattle. The grounds of the temple have been impinged upon by different parties of the land mafia who are now attempting to finally occupy the whole land. To seek government help, I visited the Evacuee Property Trust Board head office in Lahore a few months back. Being in a lawyer’s outfit, I was greeted me with smiles and allowed to walk directly into the Secretary’s office who lent an ear to the matter and asked me to pen down my application. In no time, the Secretary approved the application and I was told that I would be contacted in this regard. Since then many months have elapsed and I am still waiting for action on the matter which, I fear, might have fallen prey to bureaucratic hurdles.
Some people argue that razing places of religious worship is a deliberate attempt to weed out the historical evidence that a united India was once a place of mutual harmony and understanding -- where people used to live side by side. They also contend that this campaign is to present Pakistan as a place only for Muslims with no historical connection whatsoever with any other religious community.
Whatever the reason may be, the degradation of religious places is, ethically, legally and constitutionally wrong. Articles 20 and 24 of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantee the protection of religious places and allow an individual or community to hold private property which shall be protected by the State. But the State is constantly failing this critical duty. However, we also bear collective responsibility to uphold the honour and dignity of such places -- for treatment meted out to other religious communities defines us too.
Nothing is stranger than our political opposition to India and Israel being transformed into abhorrence towards the Hindus and the Jews respectively. This is the result of a dangerous nexus of religious and political leaders using religion to gain vested interests. Not considering people of those states as human beings and judging them on the basis of their respective faiths has done much harm to our land in many ways. Such a thinking pattern automatically interpreted the political opposition to the Islamic Revolution of Iran into antagonism towards the Shias which gave a significant rise to sectarian violence in the 1980s.
Even this war on terror and emergence of Taliban insurgency created many difficulties for the Shias as their leaders were targeted, intelligentsia was gunned down, and most specifically their Imambargahs were attacked very frequently.
However, not all is gloomy in this picture. Recently a Supreme Court bench headed by the now retired Chief Justice Jawad S. Khawaja ordered the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to retrieve the land and reconstruct a temple in Karak district with the help of an expert architect while using the sample of reconstruction of a Hindu temple in Shah Alam Market Lahore.
Moreover, it has also been noticed that many pages on social media such as ‘Save Gurdwaras and Temples of Pakistan’ and ‘Save Historical Places of Pakistan’ have appeared where people are making constant efforts to conserve these historical places. However, given the dearth of resources and absence of strong political will, this may not yield desirable positive outcomes at a broader level.
Every country has political and diplomatic hostilities towards some states but nowhere else are these construed as solely in terms of religious enmity. We, as a nation, must show humility towards other religions and their religious places as Rabindranath Tagore maintained, "We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility."