The Pulse | Society | South Asia

After Ghotki, Pakistan Should Abandon its Glorification of Temple Vandalizers

The abandonment of the Islamist narrative has long been an existential question for Pakistan.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
After Ghotki, Pakistan Should Abandon its Glorification of Temple Vandalizers
Credit: Pixabay

Last week, an Islamist mob vandalized three temples, and damaged a school and houses belonging to the Hindu community in Ghotki, after the principal of the local Sindh Public School had been accused of blasphemy by a student. 

The principal was taken into custody and a First Information Report (FIR) was registered by the police under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which establishes the death penalty for offending Islam.

Despite the arrest of the principal, who has since been shifted to an undisclosed location for his own safety, communal tension gripped Ghotki, with the local Hindu community fearing more aggression from Islamist mobs in a country where outraged sentiments have resulted in entire localities belonging to religious minorities being razed.  

Where Christian communities are largely targeted in Punjab owing to the demographic distribution, local Hindus are often attacked in Sindh, where they’re more densely populated. 

In May, mob violence broke out in Mirpurkhas where a Hindu doctor had been accused of blasphemy. In February, the Sham Sundar Shewa Mandli Temple in Kumb was the target of an arson attack, where idols and religious scriptures – including Bhagwat Geeta and Guru Granth Sahib – were set ablaze. 

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Ghotki was the scene of violence in July 2016 as well, when a 17-year-old Hindu boy was shot dead after being accused of desecrating the Quran. In March 2014, a Hindu temple and dharamshala were set on fire in Larkana for similar blasphemy allegations. 

When the temples aren’t being torched by Islamist mobs, they are often demolished under the auspices of the Evacuee Trust Property Board, with local municipal administrations razing temple sites to facilitate construction of commercial centers and private properties. 

A 2014 survey revealed that 95 percent of the places of worship belonging to religious minorities in Pakistan no longer exist, with many of them having been converted to “toy stores and restaurants.”

Indeed, the mob killings and destruction of temples isn’t the only way the Hindu community is violently marginalized in Pakistan. Over 1,000 non-Muslim girls, a vast majority of them Hindus, are forcibly converted to Islam annually, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

Member of the National Assembly, and the head of the Pakistan Hindu Council, Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani revealed in 2014 that on average 5,000 Pakistani Hindus migrate to India every year.

Historically, the persecution of Hindus in the country has emanated from the circumstances of the state’s creation and its founding ideology called the Two Nation Theory, designed by the founders of Pakistan to underline the differences between Muslims and Hindus of the subcontinent.

Since the creation of Pakistan, that founding antagonism against Hindus was gradually etched in the national narrative as illustrated by the school curricula.

“Hindus have tried all their means to harm Muslims… The foundation of [the] Hindu set up was based on injustice and cruelty… Hindus… used all means to weaken and harm Pakistan…” are examples of how the community is often referred to in government textbooks

Similarly, among those glorified as part of the “history of Pakistan” are the likes of Muhammad bin Qasim who “saved the people of Sindh” from the “atrocities of Hindu Raja,” as described in the Civics Class IX & X book from the Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore, 2001.

Among those lauded as heroes of Pakistan are Tipu Sultan who in a 1790 letter to then Bekal Governor Budruz Zuman Khan took pride in forcibly converting 400,000 Hindus. Prime Minister Imran Khan has often touted Tipu Sultan as his hero.

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What often united Muslim invaders from the millennium leading up to the Indo-Pak Partition was their vandalizing of Hindu temples. The destruction of the Somnath temple at the hands of Mahmud Ghaznavi in 1024, continues to be celebrated as a “Muslim conquest over Hindus,” despite many historians questions the credibility of the claims made as part of later traditions.

Even so, the demolition of Somnath temple remains etched in the Islamist folklore in Pakistan to such an extent that the country has named nuclear warheads carrying missiles after Ghaznavi – ostensibly emblematic of “Muslim Pakistan” intimidating “Hindu India.”

In Pakistan, Ghaznavi doesn’t just symbolize Muslim supremacy over Hindus, but also Sunni supremacism given his attempted cleansing of the Ismaili Shia population in Multan in the year 1005.

This misplaced glorification of genocidal invaders, the legal sanction to Islamic supremacy and the state’s capitulation to religionist groups, facilitate mob vandalism as witnessed in Ghotki last week. 

While abandonment of the Islamist narrative has long been an existential question for Pakistan, there is hope that the country might take the requisite steps to finally turn the corner.

That hope emanates from the local Muslims guarding the temple in Ghotki against further destruction as an expression of solidarity with their Hindu neighbors, with civil society protests against the mob eventually culminating in cases being registered against the vandalizers.

Prime Minister Khan’s insensitive reaction to the Ghotki incident notwithstanding, the government set a progressive example by sacking a minister for anti-Hindu bigotry in March this year. Even the historic Holi address of Khan’s predecessor Nawaz Sharif in 2017, where he endorsed pluralism, suggested that an Islamist interpretation of history was being revamped, albeit with the requisite revisionism.

For Pakistan, overcoming the Islamist inertia and embracing religious pluralism isn’t merely about righting the societal wrongs, it is also critical for its global standing. 

At a time when Khan is looking to fight Pakistan’s case at the United Nations General Assembly, he needs to realize that any support on Kashmir hinges on the abandonment of its wrongs from the past, many of which were founded on radical Islam and the masochistic penchant for jihad.

While leaders condemn the rise of Hindu nationalism in India, it is important to differentiate its opposition to Hindutva ideology from bigotry against Hindus.

More importantly, for any condemnation of actions across the border to carry substance, Pakistan would need to abandon its own adherence to religious supremacism and uphold the sanctity of human rights.