Friday July 01, 2022

Equal citizens?

March 23, 2019

At a moment when we have seen some in the world showing more humanity towards the oppressed – immigrants, refugees or minorities – Pakistan has a lot to do to prove that it too upholds such values.

The recent stand-off between Pakistan and India showed that Pakistan has matured under an unusually long democratic rule, whereas India is moving backward under the rule of the Far Right.

However, giving a message of peace to India or firing a minister who spoke against Hindu believers is one thing, and changing the superstructure on which stands hatred against minorities quite another – and far more important than the former. The Pakistani state needs to understand the difference between symbolic gestures and structural changes to build a progressive, more human future for all living in the country.

This question of how countries treat their minority communities has again come up for debate, post-Pulwama and the Pak-India standoff and especially in light of the brutal massacre of Muslim worshippers in New Zealand.

Now many would jump to conclude that in Pakistan at least no one is lynched for eating or not eating beef. This argument is further strengthened when we see images of Hindu believers celebrating Holi – the festival of colour.

Sadly, we are found wanting in some of the basics freedoms and rights we accord to our minorities, an example of which is the case of the Prahladpuri Mandir.

Imagine not being allowed to visit and perform religious rituals at a holy site. How much anger and resentment would that lead to? This is how the Hindu community in Pakistan must feel every year when they celebrate Holi, as they think of the origin of this festival which – according to some – originated in Pakistan’s Multan. This is also why the Prahladpuri Mandir in Multan is important for Hindus.

The temple is a sacred site for Hindus, having been rebuilt during Sikhs rule over Multan in the 19th century. However it came under attack very often by extremists. In 1992, when Babri Masjid was demolished in India, there was a retaliatory attack on the mandir. Since then the historical place is in custody of the Evacuee Trust which was supposed to reconstruct the temple and hand it over to the local Hindus. But, despite assurances and promises, nothing materialised and Hindus remain barred from visiting it.

There is always an air of grief with which Hindus speak of Prahladpuri Mandir. This is part of their yatra, but they have been forced to stay away from what they hold sacred. And, yet, why do we not hear any outcry? This is because the struggle of the Hindu community in Pakistan has been reduced to asking for mere basic rights, of being protected from the mobs that might set set ablaze their entire neighbourhoods or the temple they worship at.

The community’s representatives are either too weak to speak or (some) too invested in their own power to address this pressing issue which is close to all Hindu classes and castes. The state of the leadership can be easily gauged by the case of Karachi’s Laxmi Narayan Mandir, a pre-Partition temple, whose land was being given to corporations in 2012. Luckily, people from the community intervened and fought a legal case to stop the leader from handing the sacred place for business.

While establishing Kartarpur Corridor, is a laudable gesture shown by the government towards Pak-India peace and for winning accolades internationally, the question will always be what the state has done for the followers of the second largest religion, Hinduism, in Pakistan.

Pakistan should take pride in the religious and historical significance it has vis-à-vis Hinduism. One can only hope that next year the government and the civil society celebrate Holi to prove that they share in the festivities and happiness of ‘minority’ communities. At that time, perhaps before then, perhaps the government can also think of gifting back the important Prahladapuri Mandir to those who truly respect it. Only this way can the Hindus also have a sense of equality and feel what Muslims feel when they perform their pilgrimages.

The writer is a journalist covering human and labour rights.

Twitter: @Fawadhazan