Islamabad Pakistan Hindu temple Lal Chand Malhi
The groundbreaking ceremony of Islamabad's first Hindu temple was performed by Parliamentary Secretary on Human Rights Lal Chand Malhi with other members of the Hindu Council in Islamabad. Image Credit: MNA Lal Chand Malhi

Islamabad: A local lawyer from Islamabad has challenged in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) the federal government’s decision to construct a temple for the Hindu community of Islamabad.

In Tuesday’s hearing, the petitioner claimed that a temple for Hindus already existed in the model village of Saidpur (a tourist site in Islamabad) and the government, instead of constructing a new temple, should renovate the existing one.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and officials of the Religious Affairs Ministry, Interior Ministry, Capital Development Authority (CDA) and Chairman of the Union Council H-9 have been made respondents in the case.

No provision of temple in masterplan

The petitioner, advocate Tanveer Akhtar, has argued in his petition that in the masterplan for Islamabad there was no provision for a temple on the site where it was going to be built in Sector H-9. Therefore, the lawyer argued: “The land allotted for the construction of the temple be withdrawn, along with the funds allocated for the project.”

Last week, the prime minister had approved a grant of Rs100 million (Dh2.18 million) for the construction of the first Hindu temple in the capital.

Majority welcomes government move

While the news about the construction of a new Hindu temple was generally welcomed in Pakistan and religious minorities, particularly the Hindu community, saw it as a fulfilment of their long-standing demand, a handful of extremists and fundamentalists spoke out against the new initiative and vowed to resist the move.

The petitioner also lamented that the government didn’t have enough funds for the construction of a mosque, but released funds for building a temple. He requested the court to issue a restraining order.

Following the petitioner’s arguments, Justice Amer Farooq of the IHC remarked that the CDA should clarify whether or not the temple in H-9 was part of the masterplan for Islamabad. The court issuing notices to the parties adjourned the hearing with a date in office.

3,000 Hindus live in Islamabad

According to Pritam Das Rathi, a retired civil servant living in Islamabad, some 3,000 Hindus — working in the Health Department (particularly in hospitals), CDA, non-government organisations, federal secretariat and other private departments — were living in Islamabad and on its periphery, but there was no temple or cremation ground for these people.

The temple in Saidpur village is a national heritage site and a place of tourist attraction. The temple there is no longer used for prayers, but it is only a tourism point, he said.

“Wherever Hindus live, they need a temple to pray, a cremation place to perform rituals for their dead. Unfortunately, in Islamabad, we do not have any such place and it was our consistent and persistent demand with successive governments for construction of a temple in the federal capital, which is an international city,” Rathi reasoned.

The proposed temple has been the result of persistent efforts by the Hindu community, which first took up the matter with the National Commission on Human Rights and drew its attention to the site of a temple in the masterplan for Islamabad.

Three-in-one complex for Hindus

When asked if there was a site allocated for the Hindu temple in Sector H-9 in the masterplan for Islamabad, he said of course there was one. Or else the CDA would not have approved it.

Besides, it is not going to be a temple alone. It is going to be a complex consisting of a temple, a cremation ground and a community centre where the Hindus could hold conferences, celebrate festivals such as Holi and Diwali, Rathi further said.

When his attention was drawn to the opposition from certain sections of the society in Pakistan to the idea of a temple, he said that in all the four provinces and even in the former tribal areas, Hindu temples existed and members of the local Hindu community went there to offer prayers. It is only Islamabad that didn’t have such a facility.