By Anuradha Dutt    Represent:Dr. Santosh Rai

(Photo: Hindus women's in Karachi City, Sindh State of Pakistan during Laxmi Puja on Diwali Festival)

New Delhi : After being carved out of the Indian sub-continent, Pakistan is just 63-year old. Its raison d’etre is to act as an Islamic counter-force to a predominantly Hindu India, which encompasses all variations of religious beliefs, including the Islamic, within a secular framework. Religious freedom is the fulcrum of our secular ideal. It is quite the opposite in Pakistan, created as the land of the pure by politicos, fundamentalists and a vengeful colonial power on its last legs. But even after the partition and the exchange of peoples between India and Pakistan, a large number of Muslims opted to stay back because India as a secular democracy seemed a safer option, while a much smaller number of Hindus chose to brave it out in the Islamic republic.

(Photo : A tourist at an old Hindu temple near Islamabad city, Pakistan)

As a result, India today has the third largest Muslim population of over 100 million, after Indonesia and Pakistan. Hindus in Pakistan are about 3.9 million. Judging by current reports of Hindus’ persecution in Pakistan, with some of their important places of worship being forcibly turned into hotels and tourist spots, and with no possibility of justice, they may well be ruing their decision to stay back in their ancestral homes. The Congress-led ruling coalition’s indifference to their plight compounds the problem. Its hostility to the Allahabad High Court judgement, which allotted two-thirds of the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya to Hindu litigants and one-third to the Sunni Waqf Board, is in sharp contrast to the Pakistan authorities complicity in the seizure of Hindu shrines and pilgrimages for commercial purposes.

To cite an instance, the 700-year-old Kali Bari in Dera Ismail Khan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province is reported to have been taken over by a business group and turned into a hotel. Sources reveal that the operators pay the Government a small amount of money in exchange. Some idols have disappeared from the shrine. They point out that the historic site could attract Hindus from all over the world. This would generate more revenue. However, despite local Hindus having brought the violation to the attention of the Governor in April 2009, he failed to initiate any remedial action. One just needs to compare this with the earnest assurances given by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to an incensed group of Muslims at Jangpura, who gathered to protest against the demolition of an unauthorised mosque some weeks ago. The matter is being heard by Delhi High Court.

(Photo : The last remaining ancient Hindu temple near Rawal Lake at Islamabad City is in dire need of preservation, Pakistan)

In another shocking violation, the sacred Raam Kunday Mandir in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, is reported to have been converted into a picnic spot. It is preposterous even to imagine a heritage mosque being turned into a recreation hub in India’s capital. Not just politicos, who nurture minority vote-banks, but the supposedly secular brigade, consisting of the literati and glitterati, would go into over-drive to abort such a possibility. It is, of course, a different matter altogether when Hindus demand restoration of important pilgrimages in India, usurped by Islamic adventurers some centuries ago. The secular brigade then trashes Hindu concerns as a prime example of religious bigotry and revivalism. It has also consistently ignored seizure and desecration of temples in Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as atrocities committed against individuals. True votaries of the secular ideal would be non-partisan in their actions. Their fervent advocacy of sectarian Muslim concerns in particular — the community’s right to follow its personal law based on sharia, and retain control of usurped shrines, as symbols of the dominion of Islam — actually serves to negate the secular ideal and render it irrelevant. But they remain blind to this fact, just like an ostrich that chooses to shut out reality by hiding its head in the sand.

Examples of misuse of shrines in Pakistan abound. Araya Mandir in Abbotabad has been appropriated for running a school. Several dilapidated old temples in Eminabad in Gujranwala are being used as stables for horses, donkeys and the like. Hindu’s demand for restoring to them the Kali temple in Peshawar, which has been taken over by local traders, has been ignored by the authorities.

 (Photo : A famous Lord Hanuman temple in Chakwal (punjab state) is being used by the workers of salt mines as their office, Pakistan)

The Hanuman mandir in Chakwal has become the office of salt mines workers while the Sheeranwali Mandir in Punjab’s Bakkar town hosts a madarsa for clerics. The deplorable neglect of Jogi Tala Jhelum, sacred both for Sikhs and Hindus, and Laho Maharaj Mandir, situated on the Badshahi Masjid premises, are also sore points.

(Photo : Hindus and other Non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are treated as separate and unequal citizens in a form of religious apartheid)

There are an estimated 360 sites, revered by Hindus, in Pakistan. Many are under the control of the Evacuee Trust Property Board, which also reportedly controls 1,35,000 acres of land that belongs to Hindu farmers. But all persuasion to hand over the pilgrimages and land to the lawful claimants has failed despite the Preamble to the Constitution of Pakistan assuring that “adequate provision shall be made for the minorities to freely profess and practise their religions and develop their cultures” and “to safeguard the legitimate interests of the minorities and backward and depressed classes”. Indian Muslims need to honestly answer whether they have got a raw deal, as professed by some, when their condition is compared to that of victimised Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan.