Top judge’s directives come as National Assembly denounces incident, with PTI lawmakers declaring it a ‘conspiracy’
The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Friday lashed out at the Punjab police over its failure to protect the Ganesh Temple in Rahim Yar Khan, and ordered the immediate arrest of all culprits and provision of resources for its restoration.
On Wednesday, a mob of hundreds descended upon the Hindu temple in Bhong town of Rahim Yar Khan district, damaging its infrastructure and vandalizing statues of the deities housed within it. The mob also blocked a section of the Sukkur-Multan Motorway, with the rioters claiming they were protesting against a local court’s decision to grant bail to a 9-year-old Hindu boy who had been taken into custody over allegedly urinating in a madrassa.
Clips of the mob violence went viral on social media on Wednesday evening, prompting the Supreme Court to take suo motu notice of the incident. Government ministers also slammed the incident, stressing that the culprits would not be allowed to escape justice. The top court subsequently issued summons to the Punjab chief secretary and the inspector general of police, directing them to appear before the chief justice and present a report on the incident.
“The temple was attacked. What were the administration and the police doing?” Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed asked the officials during the hearing. The IGP responded that district officials had been present at the scene, adding that their priority had been to protect the homes of the Hindu community around the temple when the mob attacked it. He also clarified that police had added terrorism clauses to the case.
The chief justice said that if the bureaucracy could not ensure the safety of the areas under their administration, they should be removed, singling out the commissioner, deputy commissioner and district police officer for their failure in protecting the temple. He said the incident had damaged Pakistan’s reputation internationally and censured police for doing nothing more than “watching the spectacle,” as the temple was desecrated.
“The police failed in fulfilling its responsibility,” regretted Justice Qazi Amin upon being informed that, thus far, no one had been arrested in the case. He also noted that even if the arrests were made, the police would release the suspects on bail—which can only be granted by courts—and try to make the parties “reconcile” and bury the issue.
“Three days have passed and not one person has been arrested,” the chief justice pointed out and criticized the police for lacking “enthusiasm” to tackle the case. “The matter would have been resolved by now if there were professionals in the police force,” he said.
He also pointed to the terror that Hindus in Pakistan must be feeling after the attack. “Hindu temple was demolished. Think what they must have felt. Imagine what would have been the reaction of Muslims had a mosque been demolished,” he said, adding that a failure to immediately arrest the culprits had left the Hindu community feeling vulnerable and seeking assurances that such incidents would not be repeated.
Referring to the original issue of a 9-year-old boy being arrested for allegedly urinating in a madrassa, he questioned the basis of the case. “What do you expect from a 9-year-old? What does a 9-year-old know about religion? Do the police have any idea about the mind of a young kid?” he said and ordered the removal of the station house officer who had permitted the arrest.
During the proceedings, Additional Attorney General Sohail Mahmood informed the bench that Prime Minister Imran Khan had taken personal notice of the incident, with the chief justice saying he should continue to do so, but the court would now examine the legal aspects of the case. The court also ordered the formation of village committees for peace and religious harmony, and adjourned the proceedings until Aug. 13.
Also on Friday, members of Pakistan’s National Assembly condemned the attack on the temple, terming such incidents “unfortunate.” Opposition lawmakers slammed the police’s failure to arrest the culprits, demanding that the prime minister and interior minister justify the delay.
PTI MNA Jai Prakash blamed the temple’s desecration on police negligence, saying the prime minister had taken immediate notice. PTI MNA Shunila Ruth, meanwhile, described the incident as a “conspiracy,” claiming the incumbent government supported the Hindu minority. Another PTI MNA, Lal Chand Malhi, also sought to offload blame on a “conspiracy,” claiming such incidents intended to defame Pakistan.
In a video statement, Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said Pakistan’s flag had two colors—green for Muslims and white for non-Muslims—and it was the government’s responsibility to respect both groups. “We hold as much respect for the white color as we do the green,” he said, adding that Pakistan was not India.
“No fascistic ideology will be allowed to govern this country,” he said, adding that the prime minister, the judiciary and the military backed the vision of a progressive Pakistan that ensured the rights of all its citizens.