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October 15, 2006

Historic Shiv Mandir makes way for a Pir


October 15, 2006

KARACHI: “We have had enough. We cannot put up with this discrimination and harassment anymore,” cry Hindu residents of the century-old Pawandas compound, situated in Lyari town.

The compound has a historic Shiv Mandir on its premises but this has been taken over by a self-styled Pir, whose followers claim that the Mandir was a mosque before.

They have scraped tiles of Hindu deities in order to “cleanse” the room while the Hindus have been forced to offer their prayers in a makeshift room on another side of the compound.

If that was not enough trouble, other parts of the compound have been taken over by a clan of butchers who now slaughter animals on the premises.

The butchers are intent on taking control of this compound. So far, they have forcibly evicted 24 families despite the official allotment of the compound to the Hindu families by the Sindh government under the Evacuee Property Act 1957.

The Hindus say that they are Pakistani first and Hindu later. Some of them returned to Pakistan within months of migrating to India in 1947 because they said they could not settle there. Now they question their decision as the government continues to ignore their plight.

But they say they will not give up without a fight. In reaction to a recent rape incident with one of the daughters of a senior Hindu priest on the premises of the compound, the enraged members decided to take a stance against the perpetrators. But this has had its consequences.

The butchers have long been involved in misusing the premises and disrupting the rituals and activities of the Hindu residents.

“Unconcerned with the hygienic conditions of a residential area, the butchers continue to slaughter animals within the compound, including cows, which we find particularly disturbing,” Buddhiyaram Maheshwary, a resident of the compound told The News.

Maheshwary says that after the takeover of the Shiv temple, he now performs his

religious rituals in what is now the replacement to the older temple, a small room within the compound. Measuring barely 8 feet by 6 feet, the replacement temple does not have room for more than two people to worship at a time.

“It is impossible to perform pooja (prayers) in congregation in such a small space which is why we are limited to saying our daily prayers at home. We cannot celebrate our religious festivals freely either and have to resort to Mandirs situated in other parts of the city,” said another resident, Mulbai.

The followers of the self-styled Pir, Syed Hussain Mian Bukhari, claim that the temple has been a Muslim place of worship for over 50 years.

“Our Pir Sahab has been practicing religion for decades now. He is the descendant of the late Syed Abbas Mian Bukhari who was quite well known,” said one Bilquis Bano, who also lives in the compound.

Attempts have been made to erase all memories of the original Shiv Mandir. Tiles depicting Hindu deities have been scraped. But some tiles are still visible and this belies the claim of the place being a Muslim place of worship.

When confronted with this fact, Syed Hussain himself confessed to this correspondent that the large room was indeed a temple initially that has been illegally taken over by the Muslims after claiming they had taken permission from the Evacuee Board. “We are ready to vacate the area, if the government guarantees our habitation elsewhere,” he added helpfully.

Revealing the history of the place under dispute, Buddhiyaram told The News that before partition the compound consisted of several small houses that were used as Ashrams by different visitors.

Following independence, around 100 Hindu families that resided in the compound migrated to India. Most of them, however, returned shortly after because they were unable to settle there.

“My family was one of the 50 families who returned,” said Buddhiyaram adding, “even today I do not want to leave this country for I am a Pakistani first and a Hindu later. All we are asking for is our due right to practice our religion and faith that even the constitution guarantees.”

Bobby Maheswary, son of Buddhiyaram Maheswary, is a local Union Council member elected on a minority seat. He says that apart from the encroachment, the slaughtering of animals on the premises is a deplorable act.

“It is not just the foul smell of blood. The internal organs of the animals lie exposed everywhere and it is really disgusting and insulting for us Hindus to walk past them,” says Mulbai.

Lawyer Amarnath Motumal, who is also the president of Hindu Panchayat Karachi Division and a council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said that cows are tied and slaughtered in the open — an act that disturbs the entire adjacent neighbourhood.

But how can a slaughterhouse be run within a residential premises, ask the original residents. “The slaughterhouse also has some rules to follow and maintain a hygienic atmosphere. They are not only insulting the minority settlements but are also violating the rules of the government,” complained one elderly woman.

Bobby Maheswary also said that a team of vets was recently called for inspection so that the place could be formalized as a slaughterhouse. These vets refused to give their approval.

Seventy-year-old Dawood, who runs a decoration business in the locality, claims that he is trying to settle the dispute.

He says he has been witness to the situation for the past 32 years and blames the authorities for encouraging encroachment in the compound.

The Baghdadi police themselves help the Muslim land grabbers by forcing the Hindu residents to sign on the residential document in exchange for a very little amount, which subsequently gives them the right to use the land,” he discloses.

Using his position as a council member, Bobby said he has made several complaints to higher authorities, including the local area police, Town Nazim and Chief Minister of Sindh, about the unauthorized construction of houses and forced eviction of his community members.

He has also filed a complaint with the Ministry of Health but no action has been taken to date. “Each official blames the other and shifts responsibility. I don’t know where to go. I feel really helpless,” said the frustrated young man.

Bobby also suffered personal trauma recently for his attempts to get justice. Both he and his wife were recently attacked and abused verbally by some members of the butcher clan because he filed a formal complaint.

“My wife who is pregnant was totally shaken. I cannot afford to risk her or my child’s life at the moment so to avoid further complications I will not pursue the case until my wife delivers,” says Bobby now.

So much is the harassment in this small compound that some mothers refrain from sending their children outside to play as they are harassed by Muslim children.

“They use swear words and for a single mistake a Hindu makes, they abuse our entire cast. That is quite offending.”

While most were forcefully asked to vacate the compound, some families willingly left to avoid further harassment. This is what the butcher clan wants.

Karachi’s Hindu community is approximately 1.5 million and most who reside here belong to the scheduled castes. “This community is very scared of fighting for their rights and different quarters have been taking advantage of their vulnerability,” said lawyer Motumal.

The question now remains as to who will win this battle for control of the compound. Many ask whether the government will look the other way as a revered Hindu place of worship is desecrated and their members keep being provoked by a clan of butchers.

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