Twenty-two-year-old Sanashli Kumari belongs to the village of Kotli Gujran in Narowal district, belonging to the Hindu community. Aside from the morning and evening pooja, she carries out all religious rituals within her home, including Amaus and Poonam. This is due to the absence of a temple in her village as well as in Zafarwal Tehsil, located fifteen kilometres away.
Sanashli states that she and her family reside peacefully alongside their Muslim neighbours in the village. She says they have not encountered religious discrimination. However, the absence of a Hindu temple in the vicinity leaves her feeling that her life is incomplete.
Sambal Arya, twenty-four, belongs to the same region and echoes the same sentiment. A professional lawyer and a member of Tehsil Bar Zafarwal, she emphasises that the issue extends beyond Zafarwal; indeed, the entire Narowal district lacks a functional Hindu temple.
For many years, numerous Hindu families have inhabited the villages within the three tehsils of Narowal district – Narowal, Zafarwal, and Shakargarh. However, they lack any temple to conduct marriage ceremonies, perform pooja, or engage in other religious rituals.
As per K Ratan Lal Arya, a former member of the district council in Zafarwal city, a participant in the district peace committee, and a former president of the Pak Dharmasthan Committee (an organisation representing the Hindu community), Narowal district encompasses 1,253 Hindu settlements comprising multiple families. Although there are 45 existing temples situated in both urban and rural parts of the district, the local community is unable to make use of them. This is because all these places are under the custody of the Evacuee Trust Property Board, which has leased out the temple buildings.
He conveys that all five temples in Zafarwal City were rented out through auctions conducted by the Sialkot circle of the board. This practice has been established for a significant period. The Shawala temple, with an area of 27 marlas, was leased out in 1961. Currently, the dwelling is inhabited by the family of a woman named Soraya Bibi, who pays an annual rent of two thousand rupees.
Ratan Lal further asserts that the Evacuee Trust Property Board has also rented a temple in Chowk Shaheedonwala to Buta Ansari for Rs 800. In another temple established in the same area, the family of a person named Acho Qasab resides and this is a commercial area.
He mentions that the department receives an annual rent of two thousand rupees for the ‘Jammun Gate Mandir’ from an individual named Ghani Ghamman.
The Bohliwala temple, spanning a total area of 77.5 kanals, boasts fertile grounds. In this year’s auction, its annual contract has been set at 860,000 rupees for the first time.
Pandit Tarsimlal, a Hindu religious leader, elucidates that Hindu weddings are traditionally held in temples. However, in the Narowal district, these ceremonies also take place within homes.
Sawan Chand, the president of the representative Hindu community organisation ‘Pak Dharamsthan Committee,’ resides in Faisalabad. He notes that following the formation of Pakistan, the Narowal district was home to 45 Hindu temples. Unfortunately, these temples also suffered damage in the aftermath of the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 and the Babri Masjid tragedy.
He explains that the Hindu community in Narowal district had repeatedly requested the authorities leading to the one-room Bohli Mandir renovation in Zafarwal in 2013. However, the derelict Waqf Property Board only allotted the temple land to someone a year later.
Sawan Chand says that the government has generously granted Kartarpur Gurdwara to the Sikh community, investing substantial funds. If a similar effort is extended to restoring the ‘Bohli Mandir’ in Zafarwal, it could greatly benefit the Hindus.
Deputy Commissioner Narowal, Muhammad Ashraf, clarifies that the district administration lacks direct involvement in matters concerning religious sites. The Hindu community must approach the Waqf Property Board on issues pertaining to the temple.
Tanveer Hussain, the Deputy Administrator of the Waqf Property Board, Sialkot Circle, has stated that he has yet to receive any requests for the allocation and restoration of temples within the Narowal district.
According to him, a request has been submitted by the Hindu community from Zafarwal for the acquisition of agricultural land next to a temple, and this application is currently under review.
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Ratan Lal corroborates the official assertion of applying for land adjoining the Arya temple but disagrees with the Waqf Board’s stance regarding the temple’s restoration.
In his capacity as the president of the Asthan Committee, Ratan Lal recalls that he made requests to the former Deputy Manager of the Evacuee Trust Property Board, the Deputy Commissioner of Narowal, and other relevant authorities, urging them to undertake the restoration of the temple in Zafarwal.
He asserts that no legal impediments exist to the restoration of any temple. If there are any obstacles, they originate from the actions of officials and employees who alter Hindu temples’ status and reallocate them to different individuals.
Pandit Mangat Ram Sharma has made allegations that individuals have constructed animal shelters and fodder storage facilities within the temples in collaboration with the Evacuee Trust Property Board.
Tanveer Hussain refutes the allegations put forth by the Hindu community, deeming them groundless, and emphasises that the department abides by all legal requirements during auctions and allotments.
Published on 11 Aug 2023