The construction of Pakistan's next tallest building in Karachi is seen by the country's Hindu minority yet another attack in this Muslim-majority country of 180 million.
KARACHI — For 150 years now, the Shri Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple has been the center of spirituality and festivity for the Hindu worshipers living in this southern Pakistani city. More than 25,000 pilgrims, coming from all parts of the country, gather here every year for a grand, spiritual festival.
Yet this Hindu temple is now under threat. Just a stone's throw away, property tycoon Malik Riaz is constructing the country's future tallest building — a large commercial plaza. To ease the flow of traffic near the project, a flyover and an underpass are also being built.
While Riaz and builders say this project will be beneficial to all Karachi citizens, Hindus depict it as yet another assault on their faith — a minority religion, in a Muslim-majority country. The community fears their sacred underground temple is too fragile to survive the surrounding heavy drilling.
“Our places of worship have regularly been targeted," said Hemat Kumar, a Hindu. "But we have remained peaceful so far, hoping that some sense would prevail.’’ According to him, this project is clearly an attack on their faith.
The Hindu Council, along with human rights activists, have organized several protests to denounce the building of the skyscraper in Karachi. "You don't see new temples and churches coming up in this country, only mosques," said Zohra Yusuf, the chairperson of the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
"There is a greater responsibility for the majority, Muslims, to protect such places of worship." Hindus make up less than 3% of Pakistan"s nearly 180 million population.
Tensions between Muslims and Hindus
The community took the matter to the court, which had already ordered builders to halt the construction, at least temporarily. Yet after an appeal, the court allowed the project to resume.
The building developer, Bahria Foundation, is convinced that the construction of this commercial plaza is crucial to Karachi's "prosperity". It promises the temple won't be harmed. "We are trying to change the construction design so that the temple won't be damaged," said Muhammad Irshad, one of the engineers working on the project.
Yet besides construction matters, several Hindu temples have been under attack in recent months in Pakistan. The community's places of worship in the cities of Larkana, Hyderabad and Mithi were recently attacked by Muslim groups. They were "taking revenge" for the alleged insult to Islam during the Hindu Holi festival.
Worshipers at the Shri Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple have no confidence whatsoever in the state. One of them, Shakeel, says all they can do is pray for God's help.
Hemat Kumar is also convinced that, even if the temple survives all the drilling and digging, the opening of a huge commercial complex will make it difficult for people to access the temple. "It's happened before with another temple," Kumar said. "We kept shouting but nothing happened, and now one can easily access that temple anymore. The same thing is going to happen here."
Outside the temple, construction work is now in full swing. The developer wants to build Pakistan's next tallest building within a few months.