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Last among equals?: Hindus in Gracey Lines face eviction, razing of temple

Last among equals?: Hindus in Gracey Lines face eviction, razing of temple

Remove the white part of the national flag if you cannot give minorities justice, a Hindu resident of Gracey Lines said regretfully.

Named after the second Commander in Chief of the Pakistan Army General Douglas Gracey, the area is located in Block 4 of Chaklala Cantonment Board (CCB). Almost 50 families including Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs and Muslims reside the area, many of which have been here since the 1930s. Most of the people are daily wagers and live hand-to-mouth. The average daily income of the residents is between Rs7,000 and Rs9,000. There is also a Hindu temple in the area called Maharishi Valmik Swamiji”, which was built in 1935.

The Pakistan Army is trying to confiscate land from the residents of Gracey Lines for the construction of a housing and education complex. In December 2013, 70 kanals were allotted to the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO), an engineering branch of the army, for construction of FWO housing and Education Complex. Residents of the area have been issued with eviction notices, which also apply to the temple and a Hindu graveyard.

FWO have already started construction on the graveyard area. Incidentally, under the demarcation of the Rawalpindi Military Estate Office (MEO) in 1933, 4.2 kanals were allocated for the graveyard, only 1.5 kanals of which are available to the community. The rest has already been built over.

Residents of the area are worried by the situation but they were also afraid to share too many details because they have been asked by “some army officials” to stop sharing details with the media.

Nadim Sunil, a Hindu resident of the area, told The Express Tribune, “We had a choice at the time of partition whether to go India or to live in Pakistan. Our forefathers willingly decided to stay in Pakistan. “Their fears were erased by Quaid-e-Azam, who promised that the rights of minorities would be protected at any cost,” he said.

“We believe in the words of the Quaid,” he said, quoting Jinnah’s address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947, “You will find that in course of time, Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims,” which was in explanation of an earlier statement, “We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle — that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one state.” But many in the area felt less than equal. “Did we commit some mistake that we were being treated in such a manner,” Sunil asked.

We have been offered Rs2 million by the military as compensation for the demolition of the temple, he said. “Would you accept any amount to allow the demolition of your only place of worship?,” he asked, his eyes beginning to well up. “We are ready to vacate our houses but we should be given space to live near the temple,” he said.

Deadline deal

He said that the eviction notification was issued on December 12, 2013, but they were only informed on August 5, 2014, less than two weeks before the deadline. “The army had our water connections cut and we are forced to drink unclean water now,” he said.

He then showed a copy of a renewable lease agreement under which the land was given to the community for 100 years. “After only 82 years they are asking us to vacate the land,” he said.

“We even shifted our funeral pyre to Attock so that it would not disturb Muslims living nearby. When we have never disturbed anyone, why are we being asked to vacate our houses,” he asked.

Victor John, another local resident, said Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians have been living here for the last 82 years without any ill-will towards each other. “It would be a cruel act to expel them from the locality,” he said.

“We are mistreated at every platform in this country despite the fact that we are equal Pakistanis,” he added.

Khurram Shehzad, a Christian who had converted from Hinduism, from the locality told The Express Tribune that they often felt that belonging to a minority group is a stigma.

“We are denied real work and are forced to do odd jobs,” he added. He said that they set up Sudhar Young Hindu Welfare Society (SYHWS) to challenge the decision in court, they could not afford the costs. That is when minorities MNA Isphanyar Bhandara, himself a Rawalpindi resident, stepped in to arrange a lawyer and cover the legal fees.

“The FWO has even constructed toilets over our graveyard,” he said.

He said they have written to every relevant military office and also the Punjab chief Minister, “but no one bothered to give us a response”.

Jagdesh Bhatti, patron-in-chief of SYHWS, told The Express Tribune that there are two temples within the same building and pointed to a picture of a Hindu god with the inscription “Saiva Karae Somraj Sohantra Akaash Raj Sohantra”, and said that we consider this place a separate temple because we had no other place available to construct a separate temple. He said that Army Public School (APS), next to the temple, stretches across 15 to 20 kanals while the temple is a mere 10 to 12 marlas. He hoped that the affected people would be allowed to resettle around the temple if their houses must be razed.

The office of the Inter Services Public Relations director general directed The Express Tribune to contact Colonel Shafique for comment on the issue, but the colonel did not respond to multiple phone calls.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2014.

By Muzaffar Mukhtar

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