The houses in Soldier Bazaar which were demolished on Saturday used to be spaces where 40 people built their lives and nurtured their children. Now, they are nothing more than debris which the homeless will use as pillows as they sleep under the open sky.
Around three or four houses and a century-old temple, the Shri Rama Pir Mandir, were demolished by a private builder. The swift operation seemed to have emerged out of the blue and caught the residents unawares.
“We are protesting against the injustice by staying out on the streets. We won’t leave or move in with our relatives,” said Kaali Das, an elder of the community. “We will sit on the road till our temples and houses are rebuilt.”
Other members of the Hindu community are also livid at the demolition of the temple. A petition had been filed in the Sindh High Court, seeking a stay order against its demolition. On Saturday, the court did restrain the local administration and the private builder from tearing down the pre-partition temple till December 7, but it was razed before the stay order could come in.
The homeless as well as other members of the community made their way on Sunday to the press club, vociferously demanding justice. “We don’t have any shelter. Our children spent Saturday night shivering in the cold. We were made homeless in just seconds. What was our fault?” shouted Pooja. Around her, women clad in bright saaris beat their chests, crying that the temple was desecrated.
People holding placards demanded the President to help rebuild the temple. “If a mosque was desecrated, the culprit would have been killed immediately. But nobody seems to be bothered about the temple,” said Lal Jee of the Soldier Bazaar Panchayat.
The residents of the neighbourhood whose houses were spared during the operation are providing food to the homeless people but demanded the government to help out as soon as possible.
Pakistan Hindu Council’s patron, Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, said the police had seized the deity of Shankar Bhagwan and have yet to return it. “During the operation, the police put all the deities in their vehicle and took away all the gold ornaments as well as the crown. While the other deities have been returned, the idol of Shankar Bhagwan and gold has yet to be given back.”
However, DSP Pervaiz Iqbal of the Nabi Buksh police station refuted the claims. “What would we do with their deities? We don’t have them and neither do we have the gold.”
Conspicuous by absence
Earlier on Sunday, reports floated that the provincial minorities minister, Mohan Lal, would visit the site. But he didn’t show up and hasn’t taken notice of the incident so far. The minister for excise and taxation, Mukesh Chawla, who has on various occasions stated that the minorities enjoy full protection in the province, has yet to take action as well. He was unavailable for comment.
MPA Pitanbar Sewani vowed to bring up the issue in the upcoming session of the Sindh Assembly. He said the Protection of Religious Minorities Properties Act 2012 was badly needed. He said the bill would be presented in the next Sindh Assembly session. “We will introduce the bill soon and hope that it is passed by the house. The law will protect the houses of worship of the religious minorities and punish the perpetrators.”
A video report on the incident can be viewed here.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2012.