IN a move that augurs well for the country interfaith relations, the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan commenced the construction of a Hindu temple complex in Islamabad began last Tuesday. The temple will be the first Hindu place of worship in the Pakistani capital.
Seen as Pakistan government’s outreach to the minority Hindu community, the initiative was taken in deference to a long-standing demand of the minority community. The site of the Shri Krishna Mandir (temple) complex, will include a crematorium, accommodation for visitors, a community hall and a parking space spread across an area of four kanals (2,023sq metres).
While the plan for the temple got approval way back in 2017 during Nawaz Sharif’s rein, the construction could be undertaken only this year, after a delay of three years, due to administrative hurdles.
Al Jazeera quoted Pritam Das, an Islamabad resident and real-estate professional as saying, “This is very big step for the Hindu community and Pakistan.”
Das expressed gratitude from his community to Prime Minister Khan and his government for taking the project to its logical conclusion. He said the temple was badly needed in view of the growing population of the Hindus in the National Capital.
“This will send the soft image of the government of Pakistan to all over the world,” added Das.
While as per the estimation of the country’s Hindu Council around eight million Hindus live in Pakistan, Islamabad is home to an estimated 3,000 Hindus.
The population of the minority community was three million in 1998 when the last official figures were released. Most of the Pakistani Hindus live in Sindh, the southern province which borders India. Census data for religious minorities in the country in the 2017 are yet to be published.
The Hindu population of Islamabad was feeling the need for a religious place in the absence of a temple or community hall they could gather for religious or cultural events and celebrate festivals.
Besides, there was crematorium in the country’s capital for the funeral service of the Hindus. In the absence of this basic religious service, Hindus here have no option but to carry their dead for funeral to their hometowns, hundreds of kilometers away.
The new temple complex will double up as a cultural centre for many Hindu visitors from all over the country.
Pakistan government will provide Rs 100 million ($1.32m) fund for the temple and associated facilities, local media outlet Dawn reported. The prime minister is said to have directed the Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Noor-ul-Haq Qadri to release the funds.
To a question during a news briefing, a group of law makers said Khan directed Qadri to formulate a bill in two months addressing the contentious issue of forced conversions – of which the Hindu community, especially women, have been a target.
Ever since he came to power in August 2018, Imran Khan promised to improve the lot of minorities in the country and restoration of religious shrines belonging to them. Only last year, the government announced restoration of 400-odd Hindu temples across the country as part of its plan to showcase the heritage of minorities, particularly Hindus and Sikhs.
The Pakistani government inaugurated the Kartarpur corridor Last November. The corridor leads to one of the holiest sites in Sikh religion, where Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak spent his last days. The corridor allows visa-free travel for approximately 5,000 Sikh pilgrims a day to the temple, crossing the border with India.