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70 women, children yet to return home: HRCP team visits Nowshera temple

PESHAWAR, July 02 2005: About 70 Hindu and Christian women and children of the Lal Kurthi area of Nowshera Cantonment, who left their homes when a temple was ransacked by a mob, have not yet returned to the locality.

The Lamba Vera temple, which was ransacked and a part of it set on fire by a mob protesting against alleged desecration of Holy Quran, is situated in a compound which also has homes of 21 Hindu and Christian families.

The men in the compound told a fact-finding team of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on July 1 that when the protest started they requested SHO Haji Bahadur Khan to provide security but police arrived there after the temple and eight houses had been ransacked and looted.

The HRCP team included activists Tariq Khan and Zaheenullah Jan and some journalists.

Large contingents of police were posted at different places in the district, especially at the time of Friday prayers. A police squad is maintaining round the clock watch on the temple, which is being repaired and restored on the orders of the provincial government.

“The women and children immediately left the compound and moved to places of relatives in other parts of the city and in Attock, Taxila, Rawalpindi and Mardan,” said Rehmat Lal, an elder of the locality.

The temple’s caretaker, Sodesh Kumar, said people of the locality were scared and not sure if they should bring their families back.

He said: “We had fixed July 15 and 16 for the Balmeek festival of Sath Sangh in the temple but now we have to discuss with our elders whether to go ahead with the programme.”

He said he had escaped through a backdoor when the mob reached the temple.

He said local Public Safety Commission chairman Mian Jamshed Kakakhel had also informed police about the threat to the temple built in 1928. Mr Kumar alleged that some policemen who were at the place acted like silent spectators.

“I have returned from the house of a relative in Attock this morning, but my daughter-in-law and grandchildren are still there,” said Kaki Hayat, the only woman who could be seen in the compound. She said the attackers had damaged everything in her house.

Another resident, Arjun Das, said the attackers were about 500 in number.

The man charged with sacrilege, Yousaf Masih, had medical history of mental ailment, police claimed. He and 13 others arrested in connection with the attack on the temple were sent to the judicial lock-up by a magistrate on Thursday.

Deputy Inspector-General, Mardan range, Dr Suleman, who is supervising the investigation into both the cases, told the team that the inquiry conducted so far suggested that the act of the accused was unintentional.

The accused, who is over 55 and suffering from hearing impairment, is lodged in the Peshawar Mental Hospital in the Peshawar Central Prison.

Dr Suleman said an FIR had been registered against the 13 arrested for the attack under Sections 295-A (insulting religious beliefs of any class), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapons) and 149 (members of unlawful assembly) of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act.

He said more arrests were expected.

Nowshera District Police Officer Zaibullah Khan said that before the attack on the temple officials had held talks with leaders of the mob and they agreed to disperse. Later, they reassembled and were again persuaded to disperse. But while they were engaged in negotiations, a group of people attacked the temple.

Source: Dawn