Brick by brick, that’s the trick
Centre’s recent request to the Pakistani establishment in Islamabad to take note of dire threats faced by Hindu temples and shrines located in our western neighbour is a welcome move. Last week, the union government sent off a clandestine plea to its Pak counterpart to save the 79-year-old Baba Balaknath Temple in Rawalpindi, Sindh, from being razed to the ground in order to make way for an educational and housing complex. While the institution-building impulse on the part of Pak authorities is a noble one, must it erect a future on the grave of a syncretic past? Built in 1935 inside the Chaklala cantonment in Rawalpindi, Balaknath Temple has been a symbol of strength and hope for Pakistan’s dwindling Hindu believers, who, along with Christians and other religious minorities, have been living under a shadow of fear for long. Persecution and threat of being hounded out, targeted by extremists, have haunted Hindus in Pakistan since partition, but, of late, it has escalated. Incursions along the Line of Control, faceoff with Indian soldiers and troops of Border Security Force, as well as the diplomatic standoff over thorny issues, have only aggravated the problem for religious minorities in both the countries. While the memories of 6 December 1992 haunt Indian Muslims and the demolition of Babri Masjid remains one of the blackest chapters in Indian history, instances of desecration of Hindu temples and shrines, as well as bombing of churches, litter the unstable book that is Pakistani sociopolitics. In the last four years, 16 instances were recorded in which Hindu temples were targeted, attacked and partially or completely brought down by fanatics hell bent on carrying out misguided crusades.
As per the Simla pact signed in 1974, protecting religious shrines and ensuring religious sentiments are not lawfully hurt are governmental obligations of both New Delhi and Islamabad. However, both have failed miserably in implementing that, allowing communal intolerance to fester and get out of control. India has seen political inaptitude and erosion of secular ideals take a toll of its sociopolitical fabric, confusing electoral gains with stability and vote banks with identity. Cynical exploitation of communal paranoia on the part of political parties has resulted in destruction of local histories, ecologies, while separatism has been fanned by those with vested interests. Temples, shrines, mosques or churches are not just sites of religious devotion- they contain parceled histories and accounts of the past. Desecration of shrines is an insult to the collective memory of a people, and no reasoning along lines of development or growth can truly explain or heal the wounds thus inflicted. Hence, even as the Modi regime braves diplomatic standoff to save Balaknath temple in Rawalpindi, it must also ensure that mosques and churches in Indian heartlands get the same careful treatment, and not suffer because of governmental apathy.