Friday, July 30, 2010
Hundreds of Hindus were joined by Muslim residents when they took to the streets to protest the demolition of a large section of the temple by a man who had leased the structure from the Auqaf Department, an autonomous body of the Provincial Government.
The temple on Tipu Road, opposite the Rawalpindi Medical College, is located near a 'shamshan ghat' or cremation ground.
It was built in 1923 by Lala Tansukh Rai, the Raees-e-Azam of Rawalpindi, in memory of his wife.
Muslim residents of the area joined Hindu and Sikh protesters to express solidarity with them and blocked the road for an hour.
Following an assurance from police that the demolition would be stopped, the protesters dispersed.
Channa Lal, the chief Hindu priest for Rawalpindi and Islamabad, said that religious rites were performed at the temple before bodies were cremated at the shamshan ghat.
Hindu Sabha president Jag Mohan said local residents noticed some labourers demolishing the structure and digging up its foundations yesterday morning.
Jag Mohan said he and some other people went to the site and asked the labourers to stop the work and produce orders authorising them to demolish the temple.
The staff of the Auqaf Department too said the labourers were not allowed to demolish the building, he added. Before partition in 1947, the 'shamshan ghat' was spread over 277 kanals of land.
When a majority of Hindus migrated from Rawalpindi, the families that stayed behind handed over surplus land to the government for educational purposes during President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's tenure.
The total area of the shamshan ghat and the temple complex now was over two kanals, Jag Mohan said.
The Auqaf Department rented out the building to a welfare society despite protests by the Hindu community, he said.
The welfare society failed to pay rent to the Auqaf Department in 2000, following which the latter got the building vacated.
The Auqaf Department then leased the building to Raja Abdul Wahid, who further leased it to a private media group in 2005.
Following protests by Hindus, the Auqaf Department set up a committee that declared the building was not a temple, Jag Mohan said.
"It is unfair that we have been performing religious rituals in the building for the many years but the Auqaf Department gave it to a private company for commercial purposes," Jag Mohan added.
Over 100 Hindu families living in Rawalpindi and foreigners, including some diplomats, used the shamshan ghat for rituals, Jag Mohan said.
Ibadur Rehman Lodhi, a lawyer, told the Dawn newspaper that the Auqaf Department could not lease out places of worship where religious rituals are performed.
He said the authorities can only lease property adjacent to religious shrines or properties that were
abandoned for many years.
Commissioner Zahid Saeed said Hindu members of the Auqaf Department had verified that the building was not a temple.
Saeed said he had directed the district administration chief to verify whether the building was a temple.
Members of the Hindu community said there were several temples along Tipu Road and Nullah Leh in Rawalpindi.
Some of them were demolished before partition while many were razed after the Babri Masjid in India was demolished in 1992.
Most of the temples are under the control of the Auqaf Department, which has rented them out.
There are several temples in the Raja Bazar area which are now being used as residential apartments.
The Hindu community has demanded that the President, Prime Minister and Chief Justice of Pakistan should take steps to protect the temple and shamshan ghats.