On December 20, a Hindu temple was vandalized in the southern metropolis of Karachi. The Narayan Mandir, situated on one of the busiest highways of the city, MA Jinnah Road, saw its statues being destroyed.
One of the idols that were desecrated in the attack was one of Goddess Durga. Separate reports suggest that the statue of the Hindu deity Jogmaya was damaged in the attack.
A man named Muhammad Waleed Shabbir was arrested for the said act of vandalism, upon the complaint of a Hindu man named Mukesh Kumar. A senior police officer informed the agencies that Mukesh Kumar was present at the temple with his wife to pray when the desecration took place, and subsequently identified Shabbir as the man responsible for damaging the idols held holy by the Hindu community.
It was further relayed that the miscreant was caught by the people attending the temple at the time; angered by his actions, they submitted him to the police. The detainee was requested to be remanded in police custody for 14 days, however the administrative judge of the antiterrorism courts ordered the criminal to be remanded till December 28, that is, for a week. It is further suggested that the man was held under sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) dealing with blasphemy.
In a video doing the rounds on digital media, the alleged instigator of the attack, upon being asked for the reason behind his actions, can be heard defending his actions by saying that he vandalized the temple to show people that ‘these [the temple or idols] are not worthy of being worshipped’.
This assault on a temple in Karachi is the latest act of vandalism among many in recent years undertaken in Pakistan on minorities’ worship places, particularly against Hindu temples.
A similar incident took place in Teri village of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the century-old temple or shrine of Shri Param Hans Ji Maharaj was vandalized and set on fire by a mob in December last year. The mob was said to be led by a group of local clerics of the far-right political party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl [JUI(F)]. The temple was later ordered to be rebuilt by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, who subsequently inaugurated the resurrected shrine in November this year.
The Chief Justice was reported to have said that the episode had caused ‘international embarrassment’ for the country.
A similar incident took place in August this year, in the Punjabi town of Bhong in the district of Rahim Yar Khan. Another mob of nearly a hundred – triggered by the release of an eight-year-old Hindu boy accused of committing blasphemy – stormed into the Ganesh Temple in Bhong and undertook widespread destruction.
Dr Shahbaz Gill, the special assistant to the Prime Minister on political communication, condemned the attack and detailed the measures to be taken against the perpetrators, as ordered by Prime Minister Imran Khan. Gill said the Prime Minister’s office had taken notice of the event – which he termed ‘sad and unfortunate’ – and had ‘directed the district administration to probe the case and take strict action against the culprits’.
“Pakistani constitution provides freedom and protection to minorities to perform their worship freely,” he added.
Human rights activist, Kapil Dev shared the video of the desecration captioning it with, ‘You are free to go to your [sic.] temple?’ The tweet threw shade on a popular presidential address by the founding father of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in which he championed religious freedom by stating “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of State.”
The speech is widely used by human rights activists across the country to support religious freedom, and the idea that the state of Pakistan is supportive of religions of all kinds and their practitioners. However, recent events cast doubt over the claims of the Quaid as well as of those quoting his words to assert the existence of the protection of religious freedom and the rights of religious minorities within the country.