Karachi, Dec 2: A century-old temple here was hurriedly demolished by a builder despite a Pakistani court hearing a petition seeking a stay on such a move, triggering protests by the minority Hindu community today.
Besides razing the pre-Partition Shri Rama Pir Mandir in Karachi's Soldier Bazar, the builder demolished several houses near it yesterday.
Nearly 40 people, a majority of them Hindus, became homeless as a result, The Express Tribune reported today. Following the demolition, the Pakistan Hindu Council organised a protest outside the Karachi Press Club this afternoon.
They protested the demolition by the builder and the lack of action on the part of authorities. The Sindh High Court is hearing a petition seeking a stay on any move to demolish Shri Rama Pir Mandir.
"They destroyed our 'mandir' and humiliated our gods," an angry man named Prakash was quoted as saying by the Tribune.
The demolition team placed the statues of four Hindu deities to one side, but local residents accused them of taking away gold jewellery and crowns that had adorned the statues.
Pointing to bruises on his arms, another man identified as Lakshman said, "They hit me with their guns when I tried to stop them. I told them to kill me instead of destroying our holy place."
A woman named Banwri said the demolition team arrived at around 11 am while she was preparing breakfast. She rushed outside when she heard the sound of a bulldozer and was given instructions to move her bed, cupboard and other essential items outside her home.
"I watched my house go down in just minutes and I couldn't do anything," she said. Banwri said that during the demolition, the area was cordoned off by police and paramilitary Pakistan Rangers. Outsiders were not allowed to enter the area, she added.
Saveeta was among the 40-odd people who lost their homes. With her husband away from Karachi, she said she and her three children would spend the nights in the open.
The area around the temple had 150 Hindu residents and some four families lived in each of the houses that were demolished, according to an elderly resident named Kaali Das.
"People were living in cramped houses, separated only by curtains. Over here, we live like animals," he said. Angered by the demolition, the Hindus demanded that the government should arrange tickets to India for them.
"If you don't want us, we will go to India," screamed a woman. Another man said the temple was "as sacred to us as your mosque is to you."
However, police officials completely denied the existence of the temple. They said they had orders to remove "encroachments".
DSP Pervaiz Iqbal said, "There was no temple there. There were just Hindu gods present inside the houses and we made sure that they were safe."
The people were given plenty of time to remove their belongings from their houses, he said. "We did not injure anyone. In fact, those people threw stones on us and our SHO Abid Hussain Shah was injured," he added.
The local residents managed to find a plaque of the temple from under the debris. Maharaj Badri, who lived inside the temple, denied that the land had been encroached upon. "Our ancestors have been living here since independence. We are not encroachers," he said.
Military Lands and Cantonment Director Zeenat Ahmed contended the temple was "untouched" and denied it was demolished. The operation was aimed against illegal occupants and temples are "old grant property," she said.
"The builder had possession of the place since years and these people were encroachers, and encroachers have no religion," Ahmed said.