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Thursday April 18, 2024

The greatest gift

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
April 21, 2023

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

After almost 76 years, the historic words of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah – which were delivered on August 11, 1947 during the constituent assembly session in Karachi – were once again echoed in the Prime Minister Auditorium, Islamabad. This time on the occasion of World Heritage Day.

Under the auspices of the Pakistan Hindu Council, my recent book titled ‘Top 100 Minorities Heritage Sites of Pakistan’ was launched, and prizes were also distributed among the winners of the ‘All Pakistan Minorities Heritage Photo Contest’. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was invited as the chief guest and Minister for Federal Education Rana Tanveer, Minister Human Rights Riaz Pirzada, Chairman HEC Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, vice chancellors of various universities, ambassadors, diplomats, photo contest winners, students and other participants were also present.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan is rich in countless hidden architectural wonders and ancient religious places with thousands of years of history. The Pakistan Hindu Council, in collaboration with the Press Network of Pakistan, had announced to organize a nationwide photo competition in December 2022. This was done to identify the holy places of worship of non-Muslim minorities including Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Jewish, Parsi and Christian communities across the country – which also reflect our glorious national heritage.

Chairman HEC Dr Mukhtar, who declared this initiative as a national cause, played a pivotal role from the first day to make it a success. The students from around 240 higher education institutions across the country were motivated to participate actively. The response was amazing as 1,256 pictures from 581 participants from across the country were submitted within a short period of one month. The jury consisting of renowned artist Misbahuddin Qazi and engineer Prem Talreja, along with myself, decided to select the top hundred heritage sites so that maximum contestants could be awarded. Further, we decided that the efforts of the participants should also be preserved in a book form.

In my address, I elaborated that Quaid-e-Azam had provided a clear road map to transform Pakistan into a model welfare state for the protection of the rights of non-Muslim minorities. I am proud that our elders were among those Hindu Non-Muslim families who gave up their intention to migrate on the appeal of Quaid-e-Azam and made Pakistan their motherland.

After joining parliamentary politics two decades ago, I laid the foundation of the Pakistan Hindu Council in 2005, which today is contributing towards the country’s development, religious harmony and national unity in collaboration with various schools of thought of society. I consider the judgment by the Supreme Court on June 19, 2014 as my biggest achievement which was in response to my arguments about the desecration of holy worship places and threats to innocent lives.

Similarly, I believe that the formation of a commission, comprising the chief secretary, the advocate general and myself in 2018 by the Supreme Court of Pakistan was yet another achievement due to which around 400 minority religious sites were freed from encroachment. Unfortunately, 200 sites are still encroached; some of those are also identified through this photo contest.

My recent achievement is the compilation of this book, which I dedicated to Quaid-e-Azam. This book is a gift to the new generation of Pakistan to connect them with our glorious past. It will be available in libraries of all Pakistani public/private universities and on the internet soon. This book will also be an excellent tool for the promotion of faith tourism at both domestic and international levels, through which we will be able to improve our country’s soft image globally as well.

The writer is a member of the

National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets @RVankwani