The building became public property 72 years ago, during the partition of India and Pakistan. For the local Church, the authorities’ decision “is a very positive gesture”. “It is a great example of religious harmony, and shows a positive picture of Pakistan to its minorities,” Catholic activist says.
Quetta (AsiaNews) – Pakistani authorities have returned an old Hindu temple to the Hindu community in Zhob, a district located 337 kilometres north-east of Quetta (capital of Balochistan).
Built in the 19th century, the temple became public property 72 years ago; for three decades until last year, it served as a school.
The ceremony with which the provincial administration returned it to 60 local Hindu families took place on 6 February in the presence of religious leaders, politicians and minority representatives.
The guests of honour included Maulana Allah Dad Kakar, khatib of the main mosque in Zhob and high representative of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) Islamic party. The local deputy commissioner, Saleem Taha, and some Hindu elders were also present.
Kakar handed over the keys to the temple to Saleem Jan, president of the local Hindu community (Hindu Panchayat). During the unveiling of a commemorative plaque, the latter expressed the satisfaction of his community, highlighting its good relations with Muslim neighbours.
“In our area,” he said, “Muslims and Hindus share joys and sorrows, celebrating their religious holidays together.”
Jan explained to those present that his co-religionists were forced to use a mud building as a temple with a high risk of collapse.
The deputy commissioner noted the restitution of the temple is a major gesture for several reasons.
Given the widespread belief that the province of Balochistan is unstable and dangerous, especially for religious minorities, "this event shows a different side of the story, one of peace and solidarity,” Saleem Taha explained.
The school, he went to say, was installed in the temple following the departure of the Hindu population for India during the partition of 1947.
"Yet, the beauty of dialogue and interfaith harmony found expression in the decision of local residents to keep the original structure of the place of worship intact," he added.
For the local Church, the restitution of the temple to the community to which it belongs "is a very positive gesture".
It shows and promotes the idea that “we are all Pakistani,” said Fr Saleh Diego, vicar general and member of the National Commission for Interreligious Dialogue of the Archdiocese of Karachi, on behalf of Card Joseph Coutts.
The clergyman congratulated the Hindus of Zhob and the government for its decision.
For Kashif Anthony, a member of the commission and of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, the ceremony was “an important and historic moment, not only for Hindus but for the whole country.”
“It is a great example of religious harmony,” he added, “and shows a positive picture of Pakistan to its minorities.”