The Hindu minority in Pakistan has erupted in fury over the demolition of a temple in the southern city of Karachi.
About 2,000 Hindus and others protested the razing of the Shri Rama Pir Mandir and nearby houses in the city’s Soldier Bazaar neighborhood on Sunday, just hours after a court ordered the protection of the house of worship.
The act rendered some three dozen Hindu families homeless, according to Pakistan’s Daily Times. Hindu religious symbols were also desecrated and Hindu worshippers verbally abused during the demolition.
“The temple was over 50 years old,” Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, founder of the Pakistan Hindu Council, told the Wall Street Journal. [Pakistan media reported the temple was 100 years old.]
“This is the third such incident in three months,” he added, referring to the damage suffered by Krishna Mandir, a residential part of Karachi, in September during protests against the “Innocence of Muslims” film and the destruction of a Hindu temple in the northern city of Peshawar in the same month.
“This is discrimination against our [Hindu] community, and it is happening because of a land mafia,” Vankwani said.
The properties were reportedly destroyed by an unnamed builder who claimed ownership of the land in question. The Associated Press noted he was accompanied by a police escort during the demolition.
Some Pakistani Muslims have also condemned the temple’s removal.
According to the Daily Times, Ansar Burney, a prominent Pakistani human rights and civil rights activist and former federal human rights minister, demanded the builder who demolished the temple be punished and that state officials provide better safety for the Hindu community.
“Everyone should be free to practice his religion, and it is the duty of government to ensure the safety and security of minorities living in Pakistan,” Burney said.
“The builder should not have demolished the temple as a good humanitarian gesture,” Burney said.
However, local officials defended the demolition and denied a temple even existed on the property.
“The builder had possession of the place ... and these people were encroachers, and encroachers have no religion,” Zeenat Ahmed, military lands and cantonment director at the Cantonment Board, told the Press Trust of India.
Pakistan’s powerful military owns vast tracts of land in Karachi and other parts of the country.
“There was no temple there. There were just Hindu gods present inside the houses, and we made sure that they were safe,” Pervaiz Iqbal, a local police official, told the Express Tribune.
The Journal noted that an even older Hindu temple, the 200-year-old Sai Baba temple in Karachi, is also under threat of demolition.
For Pakistan’s Hindu minority, who number some 6 to 7 million people (out of a total population of some 190 million), the larger issue is the threats posed to its very existence by a state founded as an Islamic republic and by the resurgence of Muslim extremists.
The current Hindu community is the remnants of people who did not flee to India during the violent Partition of 1947.
“The problem is there is no safety and protection for minority communities,” Vankwani said. “We don’t need to migrate, we need protection [for] our lives and property in Pakistan.”
The Pakistan Hindu Council said that up to 25 Hindu families in the Sindh province, where 90 percent of the nation’s Hindus reside, depart for other countries, including India, every week.
Hindus complain of persecution and discrimination with respect to schools and state jobs. In addition, they claim many Hindu girls are abducted and forcibly converted to Islam, as Hindu marriage rites are not recognized.
“Every month, there is an incident, like taking property of Hindu people or forced conversion of Hindu girls,” Vankwani told the AP.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.