Police say peaceful protests against the expansion of a Hindu saint’s century-old shrine turned violent after “provocative speeches” by clerics in a remote village of Khyber Pakthunkhwa province.
Although Muslims and Hindus generally live peacefully together in Pakistan, there have been other attacks on Hindu temples in recent years.
A mob in northwestern Pakistan have attacked and set ablaze a century-old Hindu shrine, prompting condemnations from the top officials and Muslim-majority country’s Hindu community.
Wednesday’s incident took place in a remote village in Karak district, some 100 kilometres southeast of Peshawar, the capital of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakthunkhwa.
“This is not the first incident of its kind, unfortunately, intolerance towards religious minorities has been growing in Pakistan for the last five years, with more frequent attacks on places of worship,” said Hindu rights activist Kapil Dev.
The incident comes weeks after the government allowed minority Hindus to build a new temple in Islamabad on the recommendation of a council of clerics.
Local Muslim clerics had organised what they told police would be a peaceful protest against the alleged expansion of the shrine, Rahmatullah Wazir, a police officer in the town, said.
He added that clerics leading the protest started “provocative speeches”, following which the crowd attacked the site.
There have been several attacks on Hindu temples in Pakistan in recent years.
READ MORE: What does a temple tell us about Pakistan’s vision of nationhood?
Protests over shrine expansion
District police chief Irfanullah Khan said resentment towards the shrine, which was not in regular use, has been brewing for years, particularly after recent renovation work was carried out.
“The police have registered a case against some 20 people and with the help of videos, we will trace more culprits,” Khan added.
Khan, quoted by Dawn newspaper said the shrine’s curator had “secretly” acquired a house next to the property and the protesters were against its construction because they assumed the shrine was being expanded.
He said the mob destroyed the under-construction house due to which the shrine next to it also suffered damage “collaterally”.
Kamran Bangash, the provincial information minister, also confirmed the attack and the veracity of the videos seen on social media to the AFP news agency.
“We believe in freedom of religion and those who were involved will not be spared,” Bangash said.
The attack drew strong condemnation from human rights activists and Pakistan’s minister for human rights, Shireen Mazari, who took to Twitter to condemn the burning of the Hindu saint’s shrine and urged law enforcement officials to ensure the arrest of those involved.
Mazari said the government has a responsibility to “ensure the safety and security of all our citizens & their places of worship”.
The site was first built in the early 1900s as a shrine, but the local Hindu community left in 1947 and by 1997 the site had been taken over by local Muslims.
In 2015, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered it be handed back to the Hindu community and the shrine rebuilt, on condition that it would not be expanded in the future.
Hindus are the largest non-Muslim majority in the country, which gained independence from British rule in 1947 when the subcontinent was partitioned into Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India.
Source: TRTWorld and agencies