PESHAWAR: The Hindu community in Peshawar says three of their oldest temples have been closed for decades now and all their efforts to reopen them to worshippers have been futile in the face of apathy from authorities.
“These temples are not just prayer-places but historic assets of the Hindu Community representing the glory of our past and ancestors,” says Vishal, a member of the Hindu community in Peshawar. He says all three were built by Hindu ancestors centuries ago.
One of the closed temples is situated at Gora Bazar in the Cantonment, the other at Choti Lal Kurti in the Cantonment and the third at Chakka Gali in the old city.
The Evacuee Property Trust Board (EPTB), a federal government department, administers and maintains the places of worship belonging to Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan does not have official record of the three temples. The Board looks after evacuee property attached to educational, charitable or religious trusts left behind by the Hindu and Sikh communities who migrated to India after Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947.
Faraz Abbas, Deputy Secretary at ETPB, refused to comment on the closure of the temples saying: “We cannot talk to the press about such sensitive issues because information given to the media might be ‘misrepresented’ and cause problems for us.”
Muhammad Abid, a rent collector at the EPTB’s Peshawar office, told News Lens Pakistan that of the three temples, one has been leased out to a government department. He said this (and other such buildings leased-out to various other departments) are a source of revenue generation for the Board.
The second temple at Lal Kurti in Peshawar, he said, was closed due to a dispute between the Hindu and Sikh communities on its ownership. The third one, said Abid, was closed due to the negligence of top officials at EPTB.
An official at the EPTB told News Lens on the condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the media, that the department itself was in a state dysfunction. He said many officials were assigned two or more portfolios — one in the Peshawar office and the other in Islamabad — which forces them to travel between the two cities, leaving official proceedings unattended.
The Hindu Rajput Welfare Working Committee (HRWWC), an independent body working for well-being of Rajput and other Hindu communities in Peshawar, wrote a letter to Ravi Kumar, the coordinator for the chief minister, on September 20, 2016 seeking reopening of the temples for worship.
“Six months have passed but we haven’t got a response from the officials,” says Vishal, Secretary General at HRWWC.
Vishal said that according to local Hindu custom, every community must own at least one temple. There are three Hindu communities in Peshawar – Darga Pir Ratan Nath, Sri Balmeek Sabha and Rajput. Vishal said that the first two communities had their temples but the Rajput community didn’t have any.
Vishal said that before writing to Ravi Kumar they also wrote to the former minister for minorities Soran Singh on April 04, 2016 for the same reason.
“He (Ravi Kumar) firmly assured us of cooperation and we were elated for the first time in 25 years because we’ve been struggling to get the temples reopened for decades.”
He said that two weeks after the assassination of Sardar Soran Singh, progress on the issue was halted. Soran Singh was assassinated on Friday, 22 April 2016, allegedly by his political rival Baldev Kumar. After Soran’s death, the provincial government has yet to name another minister to the same portfolio.
Various religious minorities in Peshawar are of the view that Soran Singh actually spoke for their rights. Now, they say, minorities have been marginalized more than ever in the absence of an active representative such as him.
They say that it due to efforts of Sardar Soran Singh that the long closed Gurdwara Biba Singh in inner city Peshawar was reopened last year.
Evacuee Property Trust Board Chairman Siddique-Ul-Farooq and CM’s coordinator Ravi Kumar both were unavailable to News Lens Pakistan for comment. —Newslens Pakistan