Karachi – When Laxman saw four men entering the Hindu temple with their shoes on, he instantly yelled at them to stop in their tracks. But the only reward he got for trying to protect the sanctity of his place of worship was a beating. With every punch and kick, he was called names like Bhangi (sweeper) and Kafir (infidel).
“I can’t explain how I felt at that moment. I was both enraged and terrified,” said the 35-year-old resident of the Shri Rama Mandir compound in Soldier Bazaar.
The demolition of the century-old temple stirred a sense of insecurity among the already frightened Hindu community in the city and reaffirmed its belief that people practicing the religion existed as second-class citizens in Pakistan.
“I said they can shoot me if they like, but I won’t let them go in with shoes,” said Laxman, a man partially paralysed by a stroke.
“Half of my body does not work, but at that moment, Rama Pir gave me the strength to fight, and I did what I could,” he said.
The men put the statues and tridents from the temple out on the ground. Then a bulldozer reduced the pre-partition Mandir to rubble. A number of houses in the compound were also demolished, rendering around a dozen families homeless. They even pried opened the donation box and took away the cash and jewellery, the residents alleged.
“We have been living in this compound since the British era”, said Maharaj Badriram, the priest of the Shri Rama Pir Mandir. “We never had any problems with the larger community, but the treatment meted out on this occasion was inhumane. People look to me for help, but now, I find myself helpless,” he said.
A 17-year-old Hindu boy, who took video footage of the planned demolition, claimed that some bearded men associated with a political party oversaw the destruction. “I don’t understand how people can insult the religion of others and expect respect in return,” he said.
The President of the Schedule Caste Federation Pakistan, Kalidas Khandara, said that people in the country take Hindus for granted. “They think we are weak, so they can intimidate us, but this time, it won’t happen.”
Hundreds of people from the Hindu community staged a peaceful rally from Doli Khata, Soldier Bazaar, to the Karachi Press Club to protest against the demolition of the Shri Rama Pir Mandir, which was illegally demolished on Saturday.
“Every time a temple is threatened, we have to run to the courts. It is the third time it has happened this year,” said Ramesh Kumar Wakwani, the head of the Pakistan Hindu Council.
“There should be a stipulated policy for our properties in this country; we are also a part of Pakistan.”
The protestors demanded that the government immediately restore the temple with all its dignity.
Wakwani said that the double standards against Hindus in the city could be gauged from the fact that those coming from outside and building shanty towns in Karachi get leases, but Hindus living here for more than a century were still considered illegal.
Speaking about the demolished temple, Kalidas Khandara of the Scheduled Caste Federation said that Ramapir Mandir was restored by the government in the year 2000, which went to show that the place of worship was not only registered, but received government grants as it was a\deserving heritage site.