Last week, two such incidents have been reported. In Karachi, the Military Estate Office assisted a private builder in the demolition of a Hindu temple and adjacent houses in Soldier Bazaar on the pretext that the Hindu community has encroached upon land which does not belong to them. In Lahore, 15 gunmen attacked an Ahmadi graveyard in Model Town and desecrated more than 120 graves in the process. The community has been under attack for quite some time now but the mass desecration of graves with shattered tombstones and dug-up graves was a first. The watchman and caretakers were also tortured when they resisted this barbarity against the dead. According to the Asian Human Rights website, the attackers identified themselves as members of a banned religious organisation.
Let us examine the case of the Hindu temple in Karachi first. The temple predates independence and hence, it cannot be a case of encroachment. Secondly, under what law did the directorate of military land and cantonments act to demolish a property in an area that is not even under its jurisdiction? If anything, that piece of land belongs to the Evacuee Property Trust Board which has nothing to do with the directorate of military lands and cantonments. On top of it all, the Sindh High Court had issued a stay order against the demolition of the temple. The fact that no action has been taken against the directorate of military land and cantonments in the past one week points out that some of us are indeed more equal than the others.
It should also be noted that these incidents are slightly different from the regular run-of-the-mill attacks on minorities. Apart from the regular dose of hatred against a particular community, greed for land — which is a limited resource — is at the heart of these incidents. A 99-year lease is the longest possible term of a lease of real property under historic common law. In Karachi, a lot of land that was leased for the 99-year period is either up for renewal or will be soon. Those who deal in real estate have been eyeing the highly prized commercial plots in the densely-populated areas of old Karachi with anticipation. There is an insane amount of money to be made off these properties and if a few people, especially those belonging to minority communities are made homeless, they know that it will not amount to much other than a few headlines in the newspapers.
The desecration of the Ahmadi cemetery is a similar story. Had they been in a Muslim graveyard, desecration of those graves on the grounds that non-Muslims were buried in an area reserved for Muslims would have made some kind of perverse sense (not that I am condoning that behaviour) but to go on and attack a place reserved for the dead of a certain community reeks of plans to take over that property for financial gains.
First published in The Express Tribune