By Vijay Darda | 15-11-2021
Gulzar Ahmed got the temple, razed by the fanatics, rebuilt and went there himself to join in Diwali celebrations
Even as we were celebrating Diwali in India last week, something incredible was happening in our neighbouring country Pakistan. What happened was beyond imagination because it can’t be imagined in a fundamentalist country like Pakistan! Quite surprisingly, the Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed visited Teri village in Karak district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to participate in the Diwali celebrations organised at the historic ‘Samadhi’ of Hindu saint Paramhansji Maharaj. He was invited by the Pakistan Hindu Parishad. In a democratic country, all this would have been considered perfectly normal but in Pakistan the fundamentalists became uneasy with it.
The visit of the Chief Justice to the temple is considered to be a significant step against the fundamentalists and it sends out a strong message to them as it is the same temple which was vandalised and set afire last year by a furious mob led by a local Maulvi. The destruction of the temple was widely criticised all over the world and the question arose as to why such treatment was being meted out to the minority Hindu community? The government had maintained discreet silence about this incident, but Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed himself took cognisance of the incident and took a very strong stand. He ordered the government to rebuild the temple and recover the amount of `3.3 crore required for its restoration from those who attacked it. The government at first adopted a policy of apathy but due to the unsparing stand of the Chief Justice, it had to bow down and the rioters were penalised and losses recovered from them. As many as 109 people were arrested and 92 policemen including the SP and DSP were suspended. It may be recalled here that when Imran Khan took over, he had assured that he would get the temples renovated and the interests of minorities would be protected at any cost. The assurance notwithstanding, the temple was attacked and Imran could do nothing.
The Chief Justice even allowed the Hindu community to expand the temple and said the government will help it. But the government secretly accepted the diktat of the fundamentalists of that village that the Hindu community would no longer buy any land for the temple and that no big event would ever take place there!
By visiting the temple to participate in Diwali celebrations, the Chief Justice has sent out a loud and clear message to both the government and the fundamentalists that the rule of law will prevail at any cost. While ordering recovery from the accused, the Chief Justice observed that the rioters would keep attacking the temple until recovery was made from them and directed the administration to recover every rupee from them. It may be noted that this temple was attacked in 1997, too. While addressing the inaugural ceremony at the rebuilt Shri Paramhansji Maharaj temple on the occasion of Diwali, Chief Justice Gulzar said the Supreme Court has always taken steps to protect the rights of minorities and it would continue to do so in the future. He highlighted that Pakistan is run and will be run in accordance with the Constitution which provides for equal rights for all religions and stressed that everyone’s holy places need to be protected.
This reassuring statement of the Chief Justice while inaugurating the reconstructed temple comes as a major message for the fanatics in Pakistan. The message for the government which always bows before the religious hotheads is also amply clear that it needs to protect the minorities which is its duty under the Constitution. The Chief Justice also said that whatever he did was his responsibility as a judge. With this strong message, he underlined that the judiciary of the country is equal for all. It is the duty of the judiciary to protect the interest of every citizen.
I look upon the stand that Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed has taken as bold and liberal. The boldness of Chief Justice can be gauged from the fact that when Imran Khan’s government negotiated with the Taliban, the killers of hundreds of children, he ordered Prime Minister Imran Khan to appear before the court. I believe that this kind of stand of the Chief Justice will strengthen the confidence of the common man in the judiciary. The government as well as the local administration there is so weak that it is not able to contain the fundamentalists. Religious bigotry is a serious issue in Pakistan which has made it difficult for the beleaguered, marginalised and persecuted minorities to live. Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise and persecution of minorities is the undeclared norm. Statistics from Pakistan show that every year more than one thousand girls of a minority community are converted. In many cases, the girls are first abducted and later they are presented in court with the confession of conversion. The courts there too have expressed doubts on such conversions many a time. Actually the parents of the girls are unable to speak out of fear of being harmed.
The blasphemy law embedded in the Constitution of Pakistan has proved to be an effective weapon for the fundamentalists there. If a person accuses anyone of blasphemy, it becomes difficult for him to escape the law and public fury. Statistics show that in the last 30 years, more than 70 people were lynched by a mob on charges of blasphemy. There are at least 40 such people who are awaiting death or have been sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of blasphemy. This number would have been even higher had the Supreme Court not been alert! Usually punishment is pronounced in the lower courts but the high courts acquit most of the accused.
In view of the prevailing situation, can it be assumed that the action of the Chief Justice will make any difference in Pakistan? It is difficult to say because there is very little hope for the country which uses religion as opium to control the masses. One should only hope that the courts keep cracking down on the fundamentalists so that minorities do not have to bear the brunt. I beseech Allah Taala to keep Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed safe and sound.
And of course, as an Indian, I wish my neighbour well as there is an old saying that you can replace everything but not your neighbour! It is our responsibility to bring the neighbour on the right track and make him better, but the neighbour should be willing too to set his own house in order!