Peshawar: The Hindu community in Peshawar says three of their historical 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 claims that all three were built by their 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 old city.
The Evacuee Property Trust Board (EPTB), a federal 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 upkeeps evacuee properties attached to educational, charitable or religious trusts left behind by the Hindu and Sikh communities who migrated to India after the Partition.
Faraz Abbas, Deputy Secretary at ETPB, refused to comment on the closure of the temples saying: “We cannot talk to media about such sensitive issues because information given to 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 different 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 media that the department itself was in a state dysfunction. He said many officials were assigned two or more portfolios – one in 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 coordinator to Chief Minister Ravi Kumar on September 20, 2016, seeking reopening of the temples for worship.
“Six months have passed but there no response on the issue 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, coordinator on minority affairs at the chief minister office, 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 in the matter and we were much hopeful for the first time in the last 25 years because for decades we have struggled to get the temples reopened.”
He said that two weeks after the assassination of Sardar Soran Singh, progress on the issue was halted. Soran Singh was killed in a targeted attack on Friday, 22 April 2016, allegedly by his political rival Baldev Kumar. After the death of Soran Singh, the provincial government has yet to nominate another minister on the same portfolio.
Religious minorities from different religions in Peshawar are of the view that Soran Singh raised voice for their rights. Now, they say, minorities have been marginalised and sidelined more than ever in the absence of an active representative like 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.
Chairman EPTB Siddique-Ul-Farooq and CM’s coordinator Ravi Kumar, when contacted by News Lens Pakistan, were not available for comments on the issue.