LAHORE: The Jain community is left bewildered over where to turn to free their temple from the clutches of illegal occupation by none other than the police.
The Samandhi of Shri Atmaramji Maharaj, reformer of the contemporary Jain community, has been occupied by the force since 1984, or some 33 years. As the property is in police control, no members of the land mafia have been able to establish a foothold—perhaps a blessing in disguise, depending on who the community deems easier to deal with.
The building had been housing the Gujranwala Sabzi Mandi Police station since its inception in 1984. As a result of correspondence between Police and Evacuee Trust Property Board, the station was shifted to a new building in 2003. However, traffic wardens and the Anti-Vehicle Lifting Squad still went about their business in the samandhi till 2015 when they shifted out. For the last two years, the building is home to the office of Gujranwala Deputy Superintendent of Police (Investigation-1).
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DSP Hafiz Ataur Rehman, planted on his seat at the centre of the samandhi, is using the area as his office, while one of the entrances is his retiring room. He confirms to The Express Tribune that he has been using the structure as his work space even since taking on the role of DSP some two years ago.
He says the police do not pay any rent for the building and boasts that land grabbers dare not take a claim due to the police presence.
A staffer of the DSP, meanwhile, reveals one of the rooms at the entrance is being used by garbage collectors. He says when the police station was set up, the SHO at that time constructed a mosque and three wash rooms which are still functional.
Gujranwala Evacuee Trust Property Board Assistant Administrator Abdul Matin Bhatti, showing several letters written by his department to the police over vacating the samandhi, says the then deputy secretary shrines Azhar Nadim Sulehri intervened and freed the structure of police. However, it was no permanent solution as one after the other, police have held possession over the building.
He assures though that the authority is working on getting the Samadhi renovated and free it from illegal police possession.
The building has 25 rooms on the ground floor and four on the second floor, complete with damaged ceilings. The octagonal building of the samadhi is in the middle of these rooms. It has a big central dome and four smaller ones at the entrances.
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There is a room with small arches which was once used for the worship of idols, a police official says.
Through plaques inscribed with writings, it is learnt that portions of the building were built at different times. According to one plaque, Lal Maya Das and Nanak Chan caste Bhabhra (Barar), residents of Gujranwala, constructed the building as Samadhi of Maharaj Shri Atmaramji in 1904.
Another marble plaque fixed into the floor says Lala Panju Shah and Nand Shah paid Rs 1000 on the marriage of Aziz Rajkumar and the same money was spent to make the floor. Another one in a room says the area was constructed by treasurer Lal Jaswant Raye to commemorate his mother Shrimati Saguwanti.
Acharya Vijayanand Suri
According to Jain history, Suri was also known as Atmaramji of Gujranwala. He was the first Jain monk in modern times to receive the title of Acharya by a congregation of Palitana. It was a notable event because not a single an ascetic has been conferred with the title of Acharya for four centuries. He was the first Acharya of contemporary Jain history. The man was born on April 6, 1837 and died on May 20, 1896.
In a letter written to Pakistan’s high commissioner in New Delhi in 2013, Jain Shakti Foundation General Secretary Mumbai Kanak Parmar requested the police station be shifted to maintain the sanctity of the samadhi.
If not, he asked that the statues etc at the Samadhi be relocated to the Lahore Museum. He also requested the place be developed as such that Jains may visit it periodically and pay their respect to a respected soul. He also requested a ban/restrain on the consumption of meat on the premises to maintain its sanctity.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2017.
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