KARACHI: As hundreds of Hindus celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi at Laxmi Narain Mandir in Karachi on Friday, little did they know the very pre-Partition era temple they were present at stands safe and sound owing to the unyielding struggles of a lower-caste Hindu, a Muslim lawyer and a Christian man.
Ganesh Chaturthi is a Hindu festival celebrated all across Pakistan, particularly with religious passion in Laxmi Narain Mandir, the only temple in Karachi that is near water – a sacred element in Hinduism.
Every year on this day, Hindu devotees’ anticipation reaches its climax as they conclude their 10-day worship period and make clay images of Ganesh, a Hindu deity, and eventually immerse it in a lake amid loud and ecstatic slogans: Ganpati baba, moria! (Lord Ganpati, visit us again next year).
Laxmi Narain Mandir, off Native Jetty flyover, was built in 1943 by The Hindu Charitable Bathing Ghat Association. The temple holds utmost importance as it’s located near a riverbed, as mandirs are traditionally meant to be as water is considered an essential requirement in scores of customs and rituals.
Thus, the riverbed next to Laxmi Narain Mandir in Karachi is often dubbed as important as River Ganges in India.
For almost a decade now, the issue of demolishing Laxmi Narain Mandir has made headlines, has been fought in courts and protested, rather discreetly, over. In March 2007, a part of the temple was demolished to give way to the construction of a food street in the vicinity. A temple within the Laxmi Narain temple known as Jhoolay Lal Mandir does not exist anymore.
In 2012, a minister at the time, known to have clout, tried to demolish the pre-Partition era temple under the guise of development.
But one man stood up to the powerful Hindu elite. He was a lower-caste Hindu named Kailash Wishram, whose petitions still lie in the corridors of the Sindh High Court.
Kailash has been struggling to save the temple from demolition and being transformed into a commercial site. His mother, Bhaani Bai, is now the caretaker of the temple, while he is on run these days to avoid the wrath of the people he is fighting against.
"They see me as a wall obstructing them from getting hefty amounts of donations in the name of the mandir's care. But I will keep working on my struggle and expose those who are plundering the resources given in the name of God," says Kailash, who has spent thousands from his own pocket to renovate the mandir whenever a festival is due.
He filed a petition in the Sindh High Court against a bid of demolition without the caretaker’s consent in September 2012. “I had memories of what happened in 2007 when Jhoolay Lal Mandir was razed to the ground, and that was precisely why I took this initiative despite the risks that I knew would ensue,” he said.
Within three months on December 8, 2012, Kailash was able to get the SHC order against any attempt to demolish the temple, even if it was carried out for the sake of reconstruction, thanks to an advocate Zain Jatoi, a Muslim lawyer. “Jatoi sahab helped me at a time my Hindu fellows were shying away from the cause I had taken up,” Kailsash recounts.
The SHC had passed an order against the demolition of the temple, directing, instead, those who wanted to rebuild it ‘out of sheer religiosity’ to renovate the already existing temple. This order was an achievement for Kailash as this meant that not even an inch of his revered temple could be destroyed on the pretext of reconstruction.
Forces trying to demolish the temple were also required to submit a work plan for renovating it. The court gave them four months to do execute the plan with care in order to avoid obstructing the believers from performing their rituals.
Till this date, the proposed renovation did not see the sun’s light as evident by the Nazir report submitted to the court. Unperturbed, Kailash carries on the fight and has started renovating his temple on his own, urging his Christian friends – who obliged immediately – to execute the sacred task for Ganesh Chaturthi, lead by Asif Masih.
Kailash, despite being on the run for days now, is still hoping against hope that the matter of the temple’s demolition and reconstruction get resolved one day.
His life has been reduced to the application after application he files at courts to save the historical temple from being handed over to commercial groups, or an all-out demolition he fears if carried out will be of great injustice and loss to the Hindu community in Pakistan.
As the night of Ganesh Chaturthi fell and dozens of the Hindu deity's replicas were immersed in water at Laxmi Narain Mandir, the only thing Kailash said he prayed for was the safety of the temple and protection of his and his family's lives.
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