Over 30 people, mostly members of a radical Islamist party, were arrested after a Hindu temple was vandalised and set on fire by a mob protesting against its expansion work in northwest Pakistan, officials said on Thursday.
The attack on the temple in Terri village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's (KP) Karak district on Wednesday drew strong condemnation from human rights activists and Hindu community leaders. On Thursday, the provincial government ordered authorities to reconstruct the damaged temple as it vowed to bring the culprits to justice.
The temple was attacked by the mob after members of the Hindu community received permission from local authorities to renovate its decades-old building, according to witnesses. The mob, led by a local cleric and supporters of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party (Fazal ur Rehman group), demolished the newly constructed work alongside the old structure, they said.
According to local police, they arrested more than 30 people, including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader Rehmat Salam Khattak, in overnight raids. Over 350 people have been named in the FIR, Provincial Police Chief KPK Sanaullah Abbasi has said. Abbasi said all the sections of law relating to terrorism have been included in the FIR against the accused. Police will ensure protection to worship places of minorities in the province, he added.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Thursday took notice of the attack and ordered the local authorities to appear before the court on January 5. According to a statement by the apex court, Hindu lawmaker and the Pakistan Hindu Council chief Ramesh Kumar Vankwani called on Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed in Karachi to discuss the issue.
"The chief justice of Pakistan showed grave concern over the tragic incident and informed the member of parliament that he has already taken cognisance of the issue and has fixed the matter before court on January 5, at Islamabad," according to the statement. The court has issued directions to one-man Commission on Minorities Rights, KP chief secretary and KP inspector general of police to visit the site and submit a report on January 4.
Chief Minister's Special Assistant for Information and spokesman for the KP government Kamran Bangash said on Thursday that the government would reconstruct the temple, which was damaged in the mob attack. Deputy Commissioner and District Police Officer Karak have been issued directives to take immediate steps for reconstructing the temple, Bangash said.
The government is bound to give protection to the minorities and their worship places, he added. Pakistan's Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri termed the destruction of the temple against the teaching of Islam. He said that the constitution of the country ensures protection of religious places of minorities.
Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari strongly condemned the attack and vowed to bring the culprits to justice. "Strongly condemn the burning of a Hindu temple by a mob in Karak, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, she said in a tweet. "(The) K-P government must ensure culprits brought to justice. MOHR also moving on this. We as a govt have a responsibility to ensure safety & security of all our citizens & their places of worship," she added.
Pakistan's federal Parliamentary Secretary for Human Rights Lal Chand Malhi strongly condemned the attack on the temple. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan termed the attack on the temple as "an unfortunate incident." He ordered immediate arrest of those involved in the incident.
Khan vowed that his government will protect worship places from such incidents. Leader of Hindu Community Peshawar Haroon Sarab Diyal said that a samadhi of a Hindu religious leader exists at the temple site and Hindu families from across the country visit the samadhi on every Thursday.
The Samadhi of Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj is considered sacred by the Hindu community. It was built where he died in 1919 in Teri village of Karak. The controversy over the samadhi erupted many decades ago.
According to the details submitted to the Supreme Court in 2014 in a case about it, the Hindus had been visiting the shrine till 1997 when it was dismantled by the locals. The apex court in 2014 ordered the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to restore and reconstruct the Hindu shrine.
The order was issued over a petition of a Hindu lawmaker who had claimed that the shrine had been occupied by an influential cleric of the area. According to police officials, a meeting of clerics was held at Shanki Adda in Teri, Karak before the attack on Wednesday.
The enraged people were raising slogans, vowing they would not permit any construction work at the shrine. The protesters were peaceful in the initial stage but on the provocation of some clerics, they turned violent and attacked the shrine, police said.
Hindus form the biggest minority community in Pakistan. According to official estimates, 75 lakh Hindus live in Pakistan. However, according to the community, over 90 lakh Hindus are living in the country.
The majority of Pakistan's Hindu population is settled in Sindh province where they share culture, traditions and language with Muslim residents. They often complain of harassment by the extremists.