Pakistani court dimisses challenge to Islamabad Hindu temple construction

Islamabad. Editorial credit: Umer Arif

A Pakistani court has dismissed a set of petitions seeking a halt to the construction of a Hindu temple in the capital Islamabad.

The Islamabad High Court ruled that legal objections to the allotment of a 0.2 hectare plot of land for the construction of a Hindu temple and cremation site – a long-standing demand of the city’s Hindu community – were invalid.

Plans for the Shri Krishna temple include a Hindu crematorium and a community hall for the city’s minority Hindu residents and visitors.

Construction of the temple is, however, not assured, as recommendations have now been sought from the country’s Council of Islamic Ideology, an independent government body of religious leaders who advise government policy.

“The government has asked for consultation on the issue of whether it can be constructed or not, and whether public funds can be used to do so,” said Imran Bashir, an official at Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs. “They will also advise if it be constructed in a place where there are already two other temples [in the metropolitan area].”

The temple’s plot of land was allotted in 2017 and handed over to the local Hindu community leadership a year later, but no public funds had so far been allocated for the construction of the temple.

The temple has proved a highly sensitive issue in the Islamic nation. The Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid, a political party in Imran Khan’s ruling coalition, requested that the project be scrapped, claiming it was “against the spirit of Islam.”

Last week a Lahore-based Islamic institution, the Jamia Ashrafia, issued a fatwa against the construction of the temple, declaring it a “non-permissible” act under Islam; and a group of influential Islamic clerics said there would be a “severe reaction” if the temple went ahead.

Pakistan, a country of 220 million people, is home to a small minority of Hindus, roughly 1.6 percent as per government statistics.

The majority of the approximately 3.5 million Hindus live in the southern province of Sindh, but Islamabad’s small Hindu community has long demanded they be provided with a cremation site to perform the last rites of their dead.

On Tuesday, rights group Amnesty International said Pakistan “must protect the right to freedom of religion and belief for the country’s beleaguered Hindu community.”

“Those who deny a long-marginalised community the right to practise their faith freely not only betray his legacy, but also violate the human rights of religious minorities protected under Pakistan’s constitution and its international human rights obligations,” said Omar Waraich, head of South Asia at Amnesty International.

A protest was also held in support of the temple’s construction at the National Press Club, led by the Awami Workers Party.

The protesters said the temple should have been built for the city’s Hindu population decades ago, and demanded that the government not bow down to pressure from “extremists” who have been harassing citizens of the country constantly on various pretexts.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has promised that it will safeguard the rights of religious minorities, although sporadic violence against them has continued to occur.

“I want to warn our people that anyone in Pakistan targeting our non-Muslim citizens or their places of worship will be dealt with strictly,” Khan said in February. “Our minorities are equal citizens of this country.”

Last year, Pakistan gave Indians without-visa access to the Kartarpur gurdwara, one of the holiest sites in Sikhism.

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