Pakistani Valmiki temple faces demolition
But the Kalibari area is part of the city's military cantonment and is run by the army.
The army is saying that the people who run the temple, as well as the owners of some 70 houses in the neighborhood, must leave.
They have been served with eviction notices.
The army wants to pull down the existing buildings and replace them with a high-rise shopping complex.
The army says that Kalibari is the property of the local cantonment board, and it has the right to vacate it.
It has been trying to clear the area for the past 15 years, and has met stiff resistance from the Hindu residents.
The presence of the Balmiki temple, which is the hub of the Hindu community in this crowded neighbourhood, has become a sensitive issue.
The head priest, Ramlal, who has looked after the temple for the last 35 years, says the property in Kalibari belongs to the minorities.
"In 1861, four Hindu merchants were the owners of half of the cantonment area. They built the houses in the Kalibari area to house their employees. They have been living here since then," Ramlal told BBC News Online.
He said the army would have confiscated the land and property a "long time ago" if they owned it.
Local people do not want to move out of the area.
"We have spent our entire lives in our house or the temple. They are a part of our lives now," said Ms Devi Das.
Ramlal, who is also the local Hindu leader, said that residents of Kalibari are not prepared to live in any other neighbourhood in Peshawar.
But he said that the people would vacate their homes if they were
promised accommodation in the high-rise complex.
Don’t Demolish that
The main prayer room of Balmiki temple in Peshawar
The Peshawar Cantonment Board authorities withdrew their orders and reverted the decision of demolishing a residential Compound inhabited by some 70 families of the Balmiki Hindu community which also houses a 150-year-old temple, for the persuasion of building up a commercial plaza on the site,” a responsible gesture by both state and civil society”. Surley this was not because of any justice or sense of fair play but to the unexpected reactions and by this consideration of a possible public relations fiasco on the international front.
What exactly was the issue and is it settled for all or still need considerations? Who is balmaki community? Here are some facts and details.
The Cantonment Board authorities issued notices to the residents of Kali Bari on October 11 to vacate their houses till 30th October, at stake was a five-kanal piece of land in the Kalibari area of Peshawar Saddar that Peshawar Cantonment Board decided converting into a commercial plaza by claiming ownership of this piece of land due to the lease expiration of adjoining property, whereas the residents mostly Balmaki Hindus and some Christian families have the claim of ownership too as they are residing here before partition.
Divided into two compounds called Chorasi Ehata and Gaadi Ehata respectively, the area comprises 68 to 70 housing units and a Hindu temple, the Balmiki Mandir, all dating back to 1861.The owner of the property, a Brahman Hindu called Mehr Chand Khanna, migrated to India in 1947, but the premises were never vacated as the residents decided to stay on in Pakistan.
The issue became evident after the notice of demolishing the compound including the temple, issued by Peshawar cantonment board to the balmiki people for the evacuation of the area, which was of a high concern not only it was reinforcing the image of intolerance towards minorities, but over & above for the displacement of people, and above that the temple, which is not an abandoned relic but a living place of very worship for the Balmiki people residing in the compound and outside.
According to the first hand info collected by Mr Ali Jan (member of SCN a small group of conscience citizens in Peshawar), there are two temples The one on the main kala bari road, the other just across the road a smaller one consists of a large room, a courtyard and adjoining rooms served as 'hostel' for visitors and guests with a freshly painted writing indicating the date of its establishment as 1861, in bona fide threat of demolition, located inside the compound due to the reasons of cultural barricade being used by the families specially younger women who gather and pray in the hall every morning (Women and again women from minority community, the most vulnerable were under the expected deprivation of losing privacy and religious services at the same time).
Inside the compound living is as same as it has always been since before partition and a slums livings as of any advantaged group or community with apparent poverty, unemployment, 8-12 family members on average, hardly any facility of basic health and good education, though the gas, electricity and water is available but not as basic right but as they pay for this.
Balmiki sect falls outside the three castes recognised by Hinduism. In other words, they are the untouchables that still suffer disabilities in India and are consigned to the role of garbage collectors. In Pakistan, too, for a long time the Balmiki have been the 'khakrob' (sweeper) community, but with the Passage of time their status in society is gradually improving. In Sindh and Balochistan, their population has decreased after 1947. Their largest settlement is in Multan (Punjab) where they are known as the city's oldest community. Needless to say, the Balmikis have done their contribution able-bodied being the citizens of Pakistan.
Sociological studies have been conducted and betterment in their conditions has been noticed in the past years for which one reason can be the lack of religious sanction to the notion of untouchability, but being realistic they are still the worst disadvantaged among the minorities in Pakistan due to obvious reasons. The developments both at social and political spheres are paving the ways of mainstream social grouping, political representation and development opportunities etc .ie MNA Giyan Singh, representing the Balmikis in parliament whereas many councillors representing them in the freshly introduced local bodies at union, tehseel and district level indicates their political participation.
Infect the Minority Councillors presided by councillor Mr parvez ,their local organised group, many cognisant groups i.e. SCN very strategically started campaign on two basis human/minority rights and protection of a heritage of a religious monument .The issue gained momentum when the daily Times and The daily Dawn wrote editorials ,and Ardeshir Cowasjee famous columnist indicated this issue in his Sunday column, than the support through letters started emerging from around the world but before that, after the intervention of ministry of defence from the central govt all was timely and enough (as yet) put in PCB leaving the temple alone.
This balmaki issue coincided the recent climate change, apparent thaw towards peace between India and Pakistan both at state and civil society levels, although the issue transpired right in the middle of the city Peshawar in a Province with Pro Taliban image, a hub for many religious political ups and downs in Afghanistan, having religious majority ruling alliance gearing to promulgate shariaa laws ,having tight differences with the central govt and clear tense relations with the local govts.(which are pet to the centre) ,though some moves averting this image are for sure very apparent i.e. Molana Fazalurrehamna ‘s private but quiet an official visit to India and meeting many govt and opposition leaders portrayed him a more understanding and liberal leader among the alliance. The Balmaki temple issue has also provided an opportunity to the provincial govt to restore their claims of assurance of rights to all which they should have availed more seriously. Where as the central govt’s intervention has endorsed their firmness towards assurance of rights and justice for all.
Infect both India and Pakistan strategically are moving towards a direction which will set their future ton, economically, politically both ,i.e. Pakistan’s moves at international fronts remained appreciable in averting its image of extreme Muslim state ,presidents, pm’s visits to china, France ,than recent Pakistan/ Indonesian agreement to work for a free trade , cooperate against terrorism +crime, and collaborate in defence production, again Pakistan’s efforts getting seat in ASIAN ,etc, where as India improving its relations with its immediate neighbours and beyond i.e. the Indo-Sri Lanka free trade& Comprehensive Economic Partnership spurring to mutual trade, agreements with Thailand and Myanmar on road building ,conclusion of India-China agreement on Sikkim-Tibet trade, linking up the North-South corridor with Afghanistan, through Iran, and Tajikistan, further to central Asia Vajpayee, the first-ever Indian prime minister to visit Tajikistan, and visiting Dushanbe in November to sign bilateral agreements on establishing joint anti-terrorism group.etc .
These all are interesting strategic moves from both of the countries, indicating their political and economic understanding and a determination to open their borders for neighbours and beyond. Although being immediate neighbours, the 50 years shaky relations will take time to settle down many outstanding issues bilaterally .ie beside this highly politicised Kashmir dispute, other issues .i.e. Baglihar Dam issue settlement in accordance to the1960 Indus Water Treaty.
But the moves like Balmiki, though small but anecdotes contribute echelon in terms of giving gestures of tolerance with the people living either sides, then Upcoming saarc convention is another important breakthrough awaited towards mutual relations, and in the meantime the travel and transit facilities etc, all these moves are the indicators (being optimistic ) that a great realisation of mutual neighbour-hood and beyond is very much in the main agendas at both sides ,i.e. both are under pressure of sending troops to Iraq or not , both have WTO, trade liberalisation era ahead to be dealt with, both in political decisive situations etc. There for this new phase of thaw can surly lead preparing regional responses since an economically strong, politically stable subcontinent and south Asian region is the must as the rest of the world gradually is moving in the same direction i.e. European Union being emerged as a powerful regional alliance moving towards balancing the world power.
Therefore the key to survive reverentially is in the very fact of strengthening the region where the issues like Babri mosque/Ram Mandir might instigate the differences but on the other hand peaceful resolution of Balmiki temple in Peshawar Pakistan, and homage of Muslims to Hanuman garhi Ayodhya India recently in November (the biggest and popular temple whose Mahanats are opposed to the politicisation of temple/ mosque issue, the Muslims came in the temple, offered prayers, and break their fasts, as a gesture for harmony in Ayodhya) are bridging, which is the essence. For this bridging, the recent Pak India people to people forum held in Karachi this month participated by more than 200 Indian delegates from different walks of life another people’s initiative for the restoration of peace in the region.
These moves from people in either country are strong indicators /clear messages of collectiveness, people’s strength, tolerance and greater aspiration of no more politicisation of temples and mosques. (Though the upcoming Indian elections and than the new govt will set either directions but) we the people of south Asia are optimistic for positive.
Coming back to the Balmiki settlers and temple issue, according to the latest information posted by Mr Ali Jan, Balmiki people are quiet satisfied by the support of civil society and with the decision of Peshawar cantonment board, they have not been given anything in writing but have been verbally assured by PCB that, temple will not be destroyed/ demolished and they will be provided another place for living.
But ironically this does not necessarily mean the chapter is closed infect this is a start of a new episode all the way, though the temple is saved but now there is a big question of resettlement of the people. Pakistan unfortunately does not have a comprehensive national level policy for the internal displacement that in this case obviously will lead towards unplanned, unsatisfactory resettlements, which surly need a due consideration.
Than again the local govts’ first tenure is getting end shortly, since, Balmiki issue comes under the jurisdiction of local board/councils and some how directly to the centre with ministry of defence, but Oqaf (a line department looks after religious recitals) comes under provincial govt, therefore though for the time being issue is settled but will be in more complex situation rolling between the centre, province and local councils lingering on leaving the people in a volatile situation.
The human rights groups specially working on minority rights and on the displacement issue in Pakistan should closely watch the process, infect the position/stand should be not to displace the residents at all.
SCN (Sarhad Conservation Network) (high sounded, small group of conscience people dedicated for the preservation of environment and heritage) Pakistan. http://www.geocities.com/scn_pk