A century-old Hindu temple, which was vandalised and set on fire by an irate mob of radical Islamists in northwest Pakistan last year, has been opened to devotees by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed who had ordered authorities to reconstruct it, according to a media report on Tuesday.
In December last year, century-old Shri Param Hans Ji Maharaj temple in Teri village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Karak district was vandalised and demolished by a mob led by some local clerics belonging to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F).
Chief Justice Ahmed at the time ordered authorities to reconstruct the temple and instructed them to recover the money for the restoration work from the attackers whose act had caused "international embarrassment" to Pakistan.
On Monday, Chief Justice Ahmed attended a grand function at the rebuilt temple to celebrate Diwali festival and to express solidarity with the members of the Hindu community, the Express Tribune newspaper reported.
Addressing the inaugural ceremony, Chief Justice Ahmed said that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has always taken steps to protect the rights of minorities and it would continue to do so in the future, the paper reported.
According to the Constitution, the Hindus enjoy the same rights as people of other religions in Pakistan, he was quoted as saying by the paper.
While assuring that the Supreme Court will ensure protection of religious freedom to the country’s minority communities, he asserted that no one has the authority to destroy or harm a religious place of worship belonging to another community.
The community presented the Chief Justice with a turban and a digital Quran. He was invited to the event by the Pakistan Hindu Council, which also hosted pilgrims from Sindh and Balochistan provinces.
Pakistan Hindu Council patron-in-chief and member of the National Assembly Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani expressed gratitude to the measures taken by the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court, the report said.
Kumar, a senior leader of the ruling Tehreek-e-Insaaf Party headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, said that if similar steps are taken to inaugurate four other historic temples, it would help improve the country’s image in the world, the report said.
The rebuilt shrine is associated with a saint, Shri Param Hans Ji Maharaj, in Karak district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the temple was established in 1920.
Last month, the apex court also ordered the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government to recover USD 1,94,161 from the culprits involved in vandalising the shrine.
More than 100 people who were involved in the incident were arrested, as per the apex court directive.
In 1997, the shrine was first attacked and severely damaged, and Vankwani had approached the apex court in 2015 seeking help to restore the holy place and restart the annual pilgrimage.
After the Supreme Court issued directives to the provincial government to restore and preserve the Teri temple, the Pakistan Hindu Council started holding the annual fair in 2015.
Since the temple is being managed by the local Hindu families, it comes administratively under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province government and not under the Evacuee Trust Property Board’s control.
Hindus form the biggest minority community in Pakistan. According to official estimates, 75 lakh Hindus live in the country.
The majority of Pakistan's Hindu population is settled in Sindh province where they share culture, traditions and language with Muslim residents. They often complain of harassment by the extremists.