Media reports coming across the LoC tell us that government there has, on the instructions of Prime Minister Raja Faroq Haider Khan, started repair and restoration work of the temples and gurdwaras "left abandoned by Hindu and Sikh communities in 1947 Sikh." This is undoubtedly a welcome development. Particularly so, given the highly polarized atmosphere prevailing in the sub-continent.
Hindu temples stand abandoned in Kashmir, on account of mass exodus of the community, in 1990. We wish our rulers take a leaf out of PM Haider Khan's book, in this regard. Because condition of these religious places is no better. This fact stands admitted by the state government itself. Reference can be had to the Aims and Objects of the lapsed Bill No 11/ 2009. This Bill was introduced to the Assembly by Ex CM Omar Abdullah but, for reasons well known, couldn't be rendered into a Law. The Government emphasized the necessity of the Bill thus "due to the disturbed conditions in the Kashmir Valley in year 1990, the majority of Hindus left the Valley and the shrines remained unattended. There are complaints that properties of these Shrines have been encroached and most of them are in dilapidated conditions. Many associations and bodies of the community have shown concern in this behalf."
Former Chief Minister , Mehbooba Mufti once termed Wakf Board as a community institution which needs to be developed on the modern lines. She said many projects of community help are under consideration of the Wakf Board which will be of great help to humanity. She said further if assets of Muslim Wakf Board are properly maintained it can generate enough resources to fund many big community welfare initiatives. Mehbooba told that in 2005 two universities and a nursing college were carved out of the Wakf resources.
Hindus of Kashmir would also like to take care of their religious places and utilize their properties and resources for the benefit of the society in the manner ex- C M had indicated Wakf Properties have been used . It is for this reason there is the need for a Law for protection, management and care of Shrines and Temples in Kashmir. Though there are spiritual reasons, essentially.
The plight of Shrines and temples is really bad in Kashmir. There is well documented record how the unscrupulous have plundered their properties. The undesirable activity goes on. It is unfortunate that role of those who were entrusted with the job of proper management of these Shrines and Temples has turned quite opposite. Properties are pilfered. These managers/pujaris have lost confidence of the community which, as rightly put out by ex CM, has resulted in "societal decay and erosion of social values in the system." It is unanimous demand of the displaced community to have such a law. True, a few have expressed concerns and feel apprehensive of the proposed law. There were sufficient provisions in the lapsed Bill to address the genuine concerns. Still, if any one feels more needs to be provided in this regard the issue can be sorted out by mutual interaction and exchange of views. After all, the Hindu Community is driven solely by the desire to save its sign posts of civilization, culture and faith.
Governor SP Malik must take the lead and appreciate the issue in same spirit and visualize a similar role for Shrines and Temple's property in the Valley as we see it for the Wakf properties – to serve the society. Shri Mata Vaishnov Devi Shrine Board could be a role model in this regard.
In 2012, we mourned when shrine of Sufi Saint Hazrat Syed Abdul Qadir Geelani went ablaze. Two years back Jawalji Shrine in Khrew area of Pulwama district was reduced to the ashes in a devastating fire. These recurring fire incidents of the shrines have raised concerns about their safety. Mehbooba Mufti had said that safety audit of all religious places in the Valley will be undertaking and measures initiated to ensure their security and safety. The announcement has, however, remained on paper only. We believe Governor will pick up the thread and have safety audit of the shrines in the Valley and takes into the consideration the displaced community's long pending demand of having a law for protection of their temples and shrines in Kashmir. This could be a one effective measure to ensure their preservation and security. Governor must reign in the caretakers turned cabals who have converted assets of these shrines and temple into a real estate and misappropriated them.
Governments over the period have been trying to take displaced back and rehabilitate them in Kashmir. Unfortunately, lack of mutual trust and absence of political will didn't allow a forward movement. We feel that Law for a transparent and democratic management of Hindu Shrines and Temples in Kashmir will certainly constitute a big CBM in this regard.
(B L Saraf is Former Principal District & Sessions JUDGE)