KARACHI:

“You are free to go to your temple … in this Pakistan,” said Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah on the eve of independence.

Come to think of it, a wise mind might regret that no one asked him: what if there were no temples left?

Over the years, temples have disappeared from Pakistan’s largest city, their remains as a reminder of the past and a bleak future forecasts for Hindus in the port city.

The old temples

Pradeep * is aware of this. For him, the loss of their house of worship is the writing on the wall. Maybe this haunting reality made him reluctant to enter Kutchi Gali, or maybe he was trying to avoid better memories of the past. Either way, the suffering is clear.

In his youth, Pardeep, his father and uncle were often visitors to Shiv-Jo-Mandir there, in the middle of the busy Juna Market. Now only in their memories, the site is buried under a pile of rubbish.

According to him, the surrounding area has been encroached upon. He considers the only surviving room, will also soon be occupied and converted into a shop.

But it is not only Shiv-Jo-Mandir bells that echo through areas that had a Hindu majority before Partition, said Harsi Darsi. “At the other end of Kutchi Gali is Doolh Mandir, built so that it is connected to Shiv-Jo-Mandir. It has been replaced by residential and commercial buildings.”

In addition, he remembers, there used to be also Dharamshala [a resthouse for pilgrims] there. Now a shop that sells Naswar.

According to Darsi, who is the only Hindu household left in the area, all temple land was occupied during the reign of General Ziaul Haq. Problems worsened after the demolition of the Babri Mosque in India, and some of the remaining Hindu families in the area also left, he explained.

But this is not just the story of Kutchi Gali.

There used to be four temples on Moosa Lane – Jagdesh Mandir, Hanuman Mandir, Sheer Ganesh Mandir and Shiv-Jo-Mandir – and Dharamshala. The four have been encroached upon, while several Hindu families live near their bodies, said Sandeep, who lives nearby.

“The only temple [in the area] we can visit now stretching only a few feet, “he said, pointing towards the small temple.

Outside the closed door, a woman sat lonely and depressed.

Lakshmi, who visited the temple after two years, said it was usually closed.

Overcome by emotions, he said that the idol at the temple was brought here two years ago, from another temple that was destroyed.

“But this one is also being converted into a residential building now,” he exclaimed, explaining that 18 families living around him were forced to take money and vacate land.

Space shrinks

The story of the disappearance of Hindu temples continues on Fida Hussain Shaikha Street in Baghdadi, which has two small temples in a housing complex. According to some Hindu families, the land was “forcibly” occupied by the builders.

A devotee, on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that one of the two temples was destroyed while the other was closed. Standing outside the last closed door, he exclaimed, “Even Maharaj [a religious leader] no entry. “

According to Papoo, another Karachiite Hindu, the city was home to several large and small temples until the 80s. “Only a few of them are left,” he said. “They have been completely encroached upon or reduced to only a few meters.”

His words were reaffirmed by Mohan Lal, who claimed that there were two dozen temples near the harbor alone.

Criticizing the authorities for not caring about their situation, he said, “Like us Hindus, our temples also disappeared. Our shrines have shrunk and it hurts.”

Returning to Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan, he pointed out, “For Jinnah, Pakistan means a place where everyone has the right to worship freely.”

However, today his vision seemed like a distant dream.

* Name changed to protect identity

Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2020.



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