A restored temple can turn into a popular tourist spot for the Jain community all over the world
On January 5, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) to start reconstructing the century-old samadhi (shrine) of a Hindu saint in Karak district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The samadhi had been set on fire by a crowd led by a local cleric in December 2020. The court also directed the board to submit details about all functional and nonfunctional temples and gurudwaras across the country.
In 1992, in a reaction to the destruction of the Babri Masjid in India, the Jain Digambar Temple, located near the famous Anarkali Bazaar of Lahore, was destroyed. As it held cultural and religious significance, the government promised to repair and rebuild the temple. The operational part of the premises now houses the office of the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) and the Solid Waste Management (SWM) department.
Article 25(1) of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees that all citizens are equal before law and entitled to equal protection of the law. Article 5 provides that adequate provision shall be made for the minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures. Article 33 declares that it is the state’s responsibility to discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian, and provincial prejudices among citizens. Every citizen of Pakistan must have the liberty to live freely and practice their culture and religion with utmost respect in line with clear constitutional provisions. The Holy Quran says “no compulsion in conversion of religion.” The consistent practice and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to his followers to respect every religion have set up great examples of protection of minorities’ rights.
Governments are under a legal duty to prosecute and charge those who attack and defile a place of worship. In fact, Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 covers any religious group whose place of worship is defiled.
Restoration of defiled temples and reservation of special funds for their preservation should be one of the highest priorities of the government, especially since the incumbents have been preaching the benefits of increased religious tourism.
The restoration of a Jain temple can turn it into a popular religious spot for the Jain community from all over the world. Jains are some of the most peaceful people in the world. Their religion preaches non-violence (ahimsa), non-absolutism (anekantavada), and non-possessiveness (aparigraha) as its basic tenets. Jainism was once the state religion of a large part of the sub-continent. The right to establish, maintain and manage religious institutions is a fundamental rights protected under an Islamic state recognised in our constitution. Articles 20 and 28 afford protection to language, script and culture of any minority group. Pakistan is also under a legal obligation to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), making it binding upon the government to protect and uphold the minorities’ rights to practice their religion openly.
The government must also take further necessary steps to declare these temples protected heritage sites and bring them under the scope of Special Premises in accordance with the Punjab Special Premises Preservation Ordinance 1985. Pakistan is a signatory to numerous international conventions that require it to provide its citizens the liberties enshrined in them. The minorities have the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. Protection of minorities includes protection of the moral and material interest resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which they are the authors.
Last year, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) renewed its designation of Pakistan as a country of particular concern, citing among other reasons “severely restricted freedom of religion or belief.” This is an alarming situation. We have to educate our children about reciprocity of religious obligations as guided by Islam in the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). They should be taught tolerance and acceptance of fellow children and their families hailing from other religions as equal citizens of this country. Pakistan’s commitment regarding this specific subject can place it at a better position in the international arena.
The writer is a former judge, an advocate and president of the Centre for Rule of Law, Islamabad - CROLI. Email: Judgemajid@hotmail.com