Monday, August 15, 2022

Pakistan: Gods Beyond Borders

The Imran Khan government is expected to respond favourably to demands from Hindus for the import of idols of gods that stopped after it suspended bilateral trade with India in August 2019. By Asif Ullah Khan

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On August 7, 2019, Pakistan downgraded diplomatic relations and suspended bilateral trade with India after the Modi government scrapped Article 370, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

The ban on bilateral trade has now created a peculiar problem for the Imran Khan government as the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) has sought its permission to import idols of Hindu gods and goddesses from India. According to senior Pakistan journalist Rauf Klasra, about 140 idols, weighing between three and four tonnes, of Shiva, Ganesha, Lakshmi and other Hindu gods and goddesses have been lying at the customs department in Karachi. Since cross-border trade between the two countries is halted, the PHC has had to bring in idols from India via Sri Lanka.

Klasra says the president of PHC has written to PM Khan saying the import of idols concerns only religious belief and faith and does not involve any commercial activity as they will not sell the idols for profit but donate them to temples. It is notable that Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, a member of Imran’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the national assembly, is the patron of the PHC.

Of late, the PTI government has taken steps to calm fears and anger among the Hindu community, which has seen a surge in Hindu girls being kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. In July 2019, while addressing an event to mark the National Minority Day, Imran called forced conversions “un-Islamic” and said: “There was no precedent in Islamic history for forcefully converting others and those who do so know neither the history of Islam nor their religion, the Quran or Sunnah.”

In another step to reassure Hindus, the government announced that it will reopen 400 temples across the country in a phased manner and hand them over to the local Hindu community.

According to a survey by the All-Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement, there were 428 temples at the time of Partition. Of this, 408 had been converted into toy stores, restaurants, government offices and schools and in some cases local land mafia had illegally occupied them. As a part of this plan, on February 8, a Hindu temple being used as a school for 39 years in the Balochistan city of Zhob was handed over to Hindu community leaders. The deputy commissioner of the area not only apologised for the 70-year delay in handing over the temple to the Hindu community but also said that the structure of the 200-year-old temple would be restored to its original condition.

Recently, the prime minister also suspended Mian Akram Usman, Lahore general secretary of the party, for putting up banners that contained text deemed offensive and derogatory to Hindus. Later, Usman took to Twitter and apologised to Hindus on both sides of the border, saying it was a printer’s mistake.

Pakistan Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, who is considered an “India hawk”, in a tweet said the PTI general secretary had been “reprimanded and posters were taken off immediately”. She termed it “a shameful and ignorant approach by the individual”.

In March 2019, the PTI-led government in Punjab province had sacked  Information and Culture Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan over his derogatory remarks directed against the Hindu community. It was reported that Imran, angry over the minister’s remarks, had ordered his removal.

Klasra says the matter of the idols has been referred to the federal cabinet and he is hopeful that Imran will approve it as a goodwill gesture to the Hindus of Pakistan.

Lead picture: UNI

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