In a hurried operation on Saturday, a builder demolished a century-old temple in Soldier Bazaar while the Sindh High Court was hearing a petition seeking a stay order.
Apart from razing down the pre-partition Shri Rama Pir Mandir, the private builder also demolished three or four houses located next to it. Nearly 40 people became homeless as a result.
"They destroyed our mandir and humiliated our gods," said an angry Prakash, pointing towards the huge debris of concrete, stones and walls of the temple. The demolishing team did place the statues of four Hindu deities on the side but the residents accused them of taking away their gold jewellery and crowns.
Pointing to the bruises on his arms, Lakshman said that, "they hit me with their guns when I tried to stop them. I told them to kill me instead of destroying our holy place."
Banwri recalled that the demolition teams arrived around 11 in the morning. She was preparing breakfast when she heard the thundering noise of a bulldozer. She rushed outside, only to receive instructions to bring her bed, cupboard and other essential items outside the house. "I watched my house go down in just minutes and I couldn't do anything."
She added that, during the demolition, the area was cordoned off by the police and Rangers with tents put up all around. Outsiders were not allowed to enter, she added. Saveeta was among those 40 people who lost her house. "The dowry that I had given to my daughter for her wedding is all buried here," she said with tears. With her husband out of station, she and her three children would be spending the night under the open sky.
There are around 150 Hindus in the neighbourhood and nearly four families live in each of the houses that were destroyed, according to an elderly resident, Kaali Das. "People were living in cramped houses, separated only by curtains. Over here, we live like animals," he said, adding that some of these houses were as high as three storeys.
Angered by the builders' actions, the crowd demanded the government arrange tickets to India for them. "If you don't want us, we will go to India," screamed a woman. Another man added that, "our temple is as sacred to us as your mosque is to you."
For their part, the police denied the existence of the temple completely. The police maintained that they had orders to remove the encroachments. DSP Pervaiz Iqbal of Nabi Buksh police station said, "There was no temple there. There were just Hindu gods present inside the houses and we made sure that they were safe."
The people were given plenty of time to remove their belongings out of the house, he said. "We did not injure anyone. In fact those people threw stones on us and our SHO Abid Hussain Shah was injured."
The residents managed, however, to fish out a plaque of the temple from under the debris. Maharaj Badri, who lived inside the temple, also denied that the land was encroached upon. "Our ancestors have been living here way since independence. We are not encroachers," he said.
Military Lands and Cantonment director Zeenat Ahmed insisted that the temple was "untouched" and denied that it was demolished. The operation was against illegal occupants, she said, adding that temples are old grant property (evacuee property). "The builder had possession of the place since years and these people were encroachers, and encroachers have no religion," she added.
A video report on the incident: