High rise, low blow

Sindh’s ancient Hindu community is facing attack from several quarters at once, the fact notwithstanding that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) currently running Sindh is supposed to be the most religiously tolerant and liberal party in the country. This year alone, the Hindu community of Thari desert nomads was ravaged by drought-induced famine; last week a Hindu temple in Larkana, the PPP’s stronghold, was set ablaze by rampaging mobs after accusations of blasphemy were levelled against a Hindu. The incident occurred over the Hindu festival of Holi and one sociopath also took the opportunity to mix acid with the dye that Hindus throw on each other during the festival, sending several people to hospital. Now this week, the Supreme Court (SC) has taken suo motu notice of the potential destruction of a 150-year-old temple in Karachi at the hands of property developers building an underpass meant to connect the new Bahria Town high-rise with the main road near Clifton beach. Hindu activists are protesting that these construction activities will tear the temple apart. 
The issue here, however, is not religious targeting of Hindus but the fact that they can be ignored as part of Pakistan’s underprivileged and disenfranchised religious minorities. The controversy surrounding the development is deeper than just construction of the underpass, which raises its own questions. The development is allegedly being made on evacuee property that belongs to the government as part of a trust. Area residents say most of the land belonged to local Hindus who fled during partition. Besides, it is strange that a private developer is being allowed to construct infrastructure such as the underpass when this is the government’s responsibility. Moreover, why the construction of the underpass is being undertaken without proper environmental and other impact assessments is another question. It could be that rules are being bent or broken in favour of the private developer, one of the biggest real estate tycoons in the country and a controversial figure. The Chief Justice of Pakistan has ordered an impact report within the next two weeks, but Hindu activists say the damage will be done by then. The just thing for the Supreme Court to do is issue an immediate stay order halting construction until all the controversies surrounding the project are sorted out. More importantly, efforts must be made to protect the rights of Hindus and other minorities because they are a sacred trust of the state.  *

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Aaj Kal