Hindu temple controversy an opportunity to educate nation: IPS roundtable
People protest against the construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad during a rally in Lahore. AFP
Sensitive matters like building a Hindu temple in Islamabad should be dealt with very diligently on the back of careful need assessment, proper planning and adequate homework.
The judgement now is in the hands of the Council of Islamic Ideology, whose verdict not only should be based on facts, figures and on-ground realities, but also needs to be articulated enough to be used to educate the masses.
The thoughts were shared in a session titled ‘Minority Rights in Pakistan in the Specific Context of Hindu Temple Controversy’, which was organized by Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), Islamabad to have a look at the intricacies of the issue. The session was chaired by the Institute’s Executive President Khalid Rahman.
Sharing his views over the matter, Rahman said that the matter, however, would have attracted much less criticism if it was backed by proper homework.
He was of the view that there was no denying the fact that the constitutional rights of non-Muslims in Pakistan should be protected. However, even in Western democracies, there are criteria and procedures for religious communities to construct new places of worship.
The discussants raised questions if the population of Hindus in Islamabad qualifies to have a temple built in its prime location. They also looked at the matter from economic, constitutional, humanitarian and international contexts, maintaining that while the development can also be seen as a step towards promoting a soft image of Pakistan, it also remains a fact that there was adequate space for the less than 3000 Hindu population in Islamabad and Rawalpindi combined to perform their religious rituals and festivals.
The session was also told that there were 428 temples across Pakistan - including 11 in Sindh, 4 in Punjab, 3 in Balochistan and 2 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - out of which only 20 are in actual use and others are dysfunctional because of the absence of Hindu population after the Partition in their vicinities.
Studying articles 20, 36 and 37 of the constitution of Pakistan were suggested to know about the provisions of minority rights in the country's constitution, while also urging to have a look and the legal obligations of international law before deciding over the matter.
It was also highlighted that the Dalit organizations and their leaders – whose population accounts for more than 90 per cent of the four million Hindus in Pakistan and is not even allowed in temples run by upper castes – have also distanced themselves from the Islamabad mandir controversy and have instead demanded the government to establish a university in Nagarparkar, Sindh.
Concluding the session, Rahman said that since the matter now has been forwarded to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for ruling, it should base its judgement on facts, figures and ground realities. It should take all the concerned stakeholders on board to hear their viewpoint, collect the data about the population of the Hindu communities in the twin-cities, ascertain how many of them actually are concerned about building the temple in the capital especially when there already exist a few in Rawalpindi, and then if the genuine need is established as a result of all this exercise, all these cogent arguments should not only be used to form the verdict but also to educate the nation over such issues.