Lahore’s Hindu community: Putting on a brave face for bhagwan. By Ayesha Javed Akram
15 May 2004
LAHORE: If you were not looking, you could easily miss it. The only thing that will guide you to the great Hindu god Krishna’s home in Lahore is a meek black signboard on an unassuming yellow building. There is no grand 100-step staircase leading to a temple in the clouds; you have to squeeze your way through a snaking alley if you want to reach Krishna Mandir. But for all its humble trappings, this three-room temple is the hub of Hinduism in the Punjab.
Pandit Kashi Ram, in his thirties, says this is the oldest mandir in Lahore. “It dates back to the time when the river Ravi used to flow through the city,” he says while showing me around, which doesn’t take long because there simply isn’t that much to show. The mandir can be best described as minimal with only two small cubicles dedicated to worship. Devotees have to make do with photographs of the statues or moortis; there isn’t any place for the real thing. It is no wonder then that Hindus have to trek to Peshawar and Karachi for weddings and larger religious gathering. It becomes a real test of their faith on religious festivals like diwali and holi, when up to four hundred of them from all over the province flock to these three rooms.
Most estimates put the Hindu community in Lahore at no more than a few hundred, which is no wonder why their demands are rarely heard. Some time back, the walls of the mandir were pushed in, leading to an even tighter fit. For many years now, there have been appeals from the Hindu community for funds to improve the mandir but it was only last month that their prayers were answered and this appeal was finally accepted. A delighted Pandit Kashi Ram said Rs 1.2 million has been allocated for the improvement of the mandir, which will involve converting the three, little rooms into one big hall. He is also hopeful that the inflow of funds will lead to better pay for those who work at there. Who knows, we could even get air-conditioning, he says.
Minorities have long learned to keep a low profile in Pakistan. A capricious political climate and fluctuating public sentiment mean that it is safer to neither be seen nor heard too much. This could in part explain Pandit Kashi Ram’s eagerness to praise his neighbours. “They assist us during our religious festivals and we invite them to all major gatherings at the mandir,” he says.
But one look around the place paints a very different picture. The walls of the mandir are repeatedly pasted with posters and spoilt with graffiti. When I press him to speak about this, he admits that the first thing he has to do every morning is scrape the posters off the walls. And even though he has put up notices, cars are always parked in front of the mandir. He shrugs his shoulders. “If I ask them nicely they do sometimes move them,” he says.
And so while he insists that the mandir’s Muslim neighbours harbour no hard feelings, police have to be deployed there every time there is a gathering of even a hundred people because, as Pandit Kashi Ram admits himself, “kabhi bhi kuch ho sakta hai” (anything can happen any time). Sources at the Derasahib Gurdwara say that while the Hindu community in Lahore is much happier under the current government “they are still scared.”
If this is the case, then the Muslims of Lahore need to do much more before they can completely win the confidence of their Hindu neighbours, who continue to brave it out for their bhagwaan.