MULTAN: A Muslim mob stormed a Hindu temple in a remote town in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province on Wednesday, damaging statues and burning down the temple’s main door, police said.
The attack followed an alleged desecration of a madrassa, or religious school, by a Hindu boy earlier this week, the police added.
In general, Muslims and Hindus live peacefully in the predominantly Muslim Pakistan, but there have been attacks on Hindu temples in recent years. Most of Pakistan’s minority Hindus migrated to India in 1947 when India was divided by Britain’s government.
In Wednesday’s assault, the mob briefly blocked a key road nearby after attacking the temple in the city of Bhong in Rahim Yar Khan district, police official Asif Raza said. He said the vandals were incited by a court ruling that granted bail to the 8-year-old Hindu boy in the alleged madrassa desecration.
The boy was earlier arrested on charges of intentionally urinating on a carpet in the madrassa’s library that housed religious books.
The mob alleges the boy committed blasphemy — an act punishable by the death sentence in Pakistan. Mere accusations of blasphemy have incited mobs to violence and deadly attacks in the past.
Raza said Pakistani troops were called in to restrain the attackers and bring the mob under control, but the temple had already been damaged by the time the soldiers showed up.
Ramesh Kumar, a Hindu community leader, said in a video posting on Twitter that the situation has been brought under control. He said the initially slow response from the police had made the situation and the damages to the temple worse.
According to details, hundreds of people reportedly vandalised a Hindu temple in Bhong town (60km from here) and blocked the Sukkur-Multan Motorway (M-5) after a nine-year old Hindu boy, who allegedly urinated in a local seminary, was granted bail by a local court on Wednesday.
Responding to the situation late in the evening, the district administration deployed rangers in the area after Deputy Commissioner Dr Khuram Shehzad and District Police Officer Asad Sarfraz visited the town.
Sources said on the complaint of a cleric, Hafiz Muhammad Ibrahim, of Darul Uloom Arabia Taleemul Quran, the Bhong police had registered a case against the boy under section 295-A of the Pakistan Penal Code on July 24.
They said some Hindu elders did tender an apology to the seminary administration saying the accused was a minor and mentally challenged. But, when a lower court granted him bail a few days ago, some people incited the public in the town on Wednesday and got all shops there closed in protest.
A video clip viral on social media showed charged people wielding clubs and rods storming the temple and smashing its glass doors, windows, lights and damaging the ceiling fans.
Later, the protesters also blocked the M-5 motorway for more than three hours.
District police spokesman Ahmed Nawaz Cheema said the rangers had been deployed in the troubled area and the situation was under control.
About the alleged late response by the police authorities, sources said senior officials were busy attending the police martyrs’ day ceremonies.
Mr Cheema confirmed the accused was a minor, and added that so far he had no information about his mental health.
There are reports of some old monetary dispute between Hindu and Muslim groups in the area which was stated to be the actual cause of the unrest.
A small town close to the River Indus and Sindh-Punjab border, Bhong houses a number of gold traders who originally hail from Ghotki and Dehrki (Sindh).
A PTI member representing minorities (who did not want to be identified) said he had been in touch with the local Hindu community and influential Rais family of Bhong since the issue surfaced.
He said the boy was sent to the Rahim Yar Khan district jail for security reasons.
The district and sessions court had granted bail to the boy four days ago.
The Rais family, according to him, had settled the issue amicably, but a local from the Sumro tribe ran a campaign against the minority community on social media which ultimately caused the unrest.
He said after getting the Bhong market closed, the mob also tried to attack some houses of the people belonging to the Hindu community.
M-5 spokesman Amer Sardar said as the motorway remained closed for almost three hours, traffic was diverted to the National Highway via Iqbalabad and Guddu interchanges.