Over 30 people, mostly members of a radical Islamist party, were arrested after a Hindu temple was destroyed and set on fire by a mob protesting its expansion work in northwestern Pakistan.
The attack on the temple in Terri village, Karak district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on Wednesday was strongly condemned by human rights activists and leaders of the Hindu community.
On Thursday, the provincial government ordered authorities to reconstruct the damaged temple to bring the guilty to justice.
The temple was attacked by the crowd after members of the Hindu community received permission from local authorities to renovate its decade-old building, according to witnesses.
The mob, led by a local clergyman and supporters of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party (Fazal ur Rehman group), destroyed the newly built facility next to the old structure, they said.
According to local police, they arrested more than 30 people, including the leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Rehmat Salam Khattak, in an overnight raid. According to KPK Sanaullah Abbasi, the provincial police chief, over 350 people have been named in the FIR.
Mr Abbasi said that all sections of the law relating to terrorism were added to the FIR against the defendants. Police will provide protection to worship minority places in the province, he added.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court took note of the attack on Thursday and ordered local authorities to appear in court on January 5.
According to a statement from the Supreme Court, the Hindu legislature and the head of the Pakistani Hindu Council, Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, called on Supreme Justice Gulzar Ahmed in Karachi to consider the issue.
“The Pakistani Chief Justice expressed great concern about the tragic incident and informed the MP that he had already taken note of the matter and settled the matter in Islamabad on January 5,” the statement said.
The court ordered the one-man commission on minority rights, the KP chief secretary and the KP police inspector general to visit the website and to submit a report on January 4th.
CPP government special assistant for information and spokesman Kamran Bangash said Thursday that the government would reconstruct the temple that was damaged by the mob attack.
Instructions have been given to Deputy Commissioner and District Police Officer Karak to take immediate steps to rebuild the temple, Bangash said.
The government has an obligation to protect the minorities and their places of worship, he added.
Pakistani Minister of Religious Affairs, Noorul Haq Qadri, denounced the destruction of the temple against the teachings of Islam. He said that the country’s constitution ensures the protection of religious places belonging to minorities.
Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari condemned the attack and promised to bring the guilty to justice.
“Strongly condemn the burning of a Hindu temple by a mob in Karak, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa,” she said in a tweet.
“(The) K-P government must ensure that the guilty party is brought to justice. MOHR goes further. We as a government have a responsibility to ensure the safety of all our citizens and their places of worship,” she added.
Pakistani Parliamentary Secretary for Human Rights, Lal Chand Malhi, strongly condemned the attack on the temple.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister Mahmood Khan described the attack on the temple as an “unfortunate incident”.
He ordered those involved in the incident to be arrested immediately.
Khan vowed that his government would protect places of worship from such incidents.
Hindu community leader Peshawar Haroon Sarab Diyal said there is a samadhi run by a Hindu religious leader at the temple site and Hindu families from across the country attend samadhi every Thursday.
The samadhi of Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj is considered sacred by the Hindu community. It was built where he died in Karak Teri village in 1919.
The samadhi controversy broke out many decades ago.
According to information submitted to the Supreme Court on a 2014 case, the Hindus had visited the shrine until 1997 when it was dismantled by locals.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ordered the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to restore and rebuild the Hindu shrine.
The order was issued at the request of a Hindu legislature who claimed that the shrine was occupied by an influential cleric in the area.
Police officers said a meeting of clergy took place in Shanki Adda in Teri, Karak, ahead of the attack on Wednesday.
The angry people raised slogans and vowed not to allow any construction work on the shrine.
The protesters were peaceful in the initial stages, but when some clergy were provoked, they turned violent and attacked the shrine, police said.
Hindus form the largest minority community in Pakistan.
According to official estimates, there are 75 lakh Hindus in Pakistan. However, according to the community, over 90 lakh Hindus live in the countryside.
The majority of Pakistan’s Hindu population lives in Sindh Province, where they share culture, traditions, and language with Muslim residents. They often complain of harassment from the extremists.