By SJA Jafri + Bureau Report
ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court has dismissed a set of petitions seeking a halt to the construction of a Hindu temple in the capital Islamabad, with the matter now referred to the country’s Council of Islamic Ideology, government officials say.
The Islamabad High Court ruled on Tuesday that legal objections to the allotment of a 0.2 hectare (0.5 acre) plot of land for the construction of a Hindu temple and cremation site – a long-standing demand of the city’s Hindu community – were invalid.
Construction of the temple is, however, not assured, a government official said, saying recommendations have now been sought from the country’s Council of Islamic Ideology, an independent government body of religious leaders who advise government policy.
“The government has asked for consultation on the issue of whether it can be constructed or not, and whether public funds can be used to do so,” said Imran Bashir, an official at Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs.
“They will also advise if it be constructed in a place where there are already two other temples (in the metropolitan area).”
Bashir said no public funds had so far been allocated for the construction of the temple. The temple’s plot of land was allotted in 2017, and handed over to the local Hindu community leadership a year later.
Pakistan, a country of 220 million people, is home to a small minority of Hindus, roughly 1.6 percent as per government statistics.
The majority of the approximately 3.5 million Hindus live in the southern province of Sindh, but Islamabad’s small Hindu community has long demanded they be provided with a cremation site to perform the last rites of their dead.
Pakistan’s minorities, including Hindus, Christians and Sikhs, have often been targeted by religious hardliners, with the country’s strict blasphemy laws disproportionately applied against religious minorities.
“Those who deny a long-marginalised community the right to practise their faith freely not only betray his legacy, but also violate the human rights of religious minorities protected under Pakistan’s constitution and its international human rights obligations,” said Omar Waraich, head of South Asia at Amnesty International.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has promised that it will safeguard the rights of religious minorities, although sporadic violence against them has continued to occur.
“I want to warn our people that anyone in Pakistan targeting our non-Muslim citizens or their places of worship will be dealt with strictly,” Khan said in February. “Our minorities are equal citizens of this country.”
Last year, Pakistan gave Indians without visa access to the Kartarpur Gurdwara, one of the holiest sites in Sikhism.