For Lahore’s Valmiki Hindu community, a rundown ancient temple is ‘home’

An area of the Valmiki temple which houses all the idols. In Lahore, only five families remain who follow the Valmiki faith, and small groups of no more than 20 people gather at the temple to practice their rituals every Tuesday. (AN photo via Malik Shafiq)
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Updated 24 February 2020

For Lahore’s Valmiki Hindu community, a rundown ancient temple is ‘home’

  • The temple was reduced to rubble by an angry mob following Babri Mosque attack in 1992
  • There are only two functional Hindu temples left in Lahore

LAHORE: In the heart of Pakistan’s bustling eastern city, an ancient Hindu temple considered a ‘home’ to its devotees, is falling apart.

At the corner of a narrow Anarkali street in Lahore, an area peppered with quashed homes and tiny shops, sits the 1,200 year old Valmiki Mandir. It is one of Lahore’s only two functional Hindu temples and serves the small, impoverished Valmiki community of the city.

This picture taken on December 12 shows a part of the 1,200-year-old Valmiki Mandir in Lahore, Pakistan. It is one of the last two functional temples for Hindus in the city and the only one for followers of the sect. (AN photo via Malik Shafiq)

“The Valmiki Mandir is the only functional mandir in Lahore where people of our faith gather every Tuesday for prayer. It is in terrible condition. We run it at our own expense as the government does not give us any funds,” Bhaagat Laal Khokhar, the priest and custodian of the temple told Arab News, pointing to the peeling walls and broken doors of the building.

According to the Pakistan Hindu Council, there are roughly 8 million Hindus living in Pakistan, a Muslim majority country of 210 million people.

The sect of the Valmiki are devotees of the sage considered to be the writer of the epic Ramayana, a holy scripture to Hindus.

“The Valmiki sect of Hindu religion is the oldest one, and the books authored by Valmiki are the basis of the religion,” Laal said.

An area of the Valmiki temple which houses all the idols. In Lahore, only five families remain who follow the Valmiki faith, and small groups of no more than 20 people gather at the temple to practice their rituals every Tuesday. (AN photo via Malik Shafiq) 

In 1992, following the aftermath of the Babri Mosque attack in India, an angry, armed mob stormed into the Valmiki Temple and practically reduced it to rubble, setting the building on fire. The idols inside were destroyed, and the statues’ embellishments were stolen.

“They took way every valuable thing they could carry,” Laal recalled.

Since then, the temple has remained in a largely dilapidated state.

“No government has ever paid any attention to its renovation, reconstruction or functioning. My family has been serving this temple for seven generations on a self-help basis,” said Pandat Bhagat Ram, a spiritual leader of the Valmiki people.

For the handful of Valmikis left in Lahore, the temple is not only an important religious site, but also a home.

Ramesh Dhani, a young man who traveled 600 km to find work in Lahore, said the temple is where Hindus from different areas come together every week to share their stories.

“I am from Rahim Yar Khan and work in a market. There are several Hindus in the city who have come from other parts of the country. We gather here every Tuesday and perform religious rituals and interact with each other and share our happiness and sorrows,” Dhani told Arab News.

In Lahore, only five families remain who follow the Valmiki faith, and small groups of no more than 20 people gather at the temple to practice their rituals every Tuesday.

Currently, the temple’s property is being contested in the courts-- a case to which the Evacuee Trust Properties Board (ETPB) is a party.

“This mandir is not in the control of ETPB, rather a family is running the affairs of it. We have asked them to come, sit together and work with us jointly. We are ready to cooperate with them in all matters,” Fraz Abbas, Deputy Secretary of the ETPB told Arab News.

In November last year, the government of Pakistan announced it would renovate and restore 400 Hindu temples, on the occasion of the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor near Lahore.

At the time of partition in 1947, there were hundreds of temples in Pakistan, but roughly 20 have survived over the years. Lahore’s second temple, Krishna Mandir, lies in the city’s suburbs.

In 2014, a survey carried out by the All-Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement found that 95 percent of a total 428 temples in Pakistan had either been destroyed or converted in shops, offices and schools after 1990.

“I am from Dhami village in Bahawlpur district and work in a factory in Lahore,” said another temple-goer, Ravi Kumar.

“My family lives in the village and this temple is my home in the city,” he continued. “It gives me courage to live away... because every person who comes here every Tuesday is family to me.”

Fresh floods kill 66 in northern Afghanistan

Updated 19 May 2024

Fresh floods kill 66 in northern Afghanistan

  • Hundreds of people have died in flash floods this month that have also swamped agricultural lands in Afghainstan
  • The latest heavy floods hit multiple districts of Faryab province Saturday, resulting in human and financial losses

KABUL: Fresh floods killed 66 people in northern Afghanistan, a provincial official said Sunday, after weeks of flooding that has inundated farms and villages and swept away swathes of communities.

Hundreds of people have died in flash floods this month that have also swamped agricultural lands in a country where 80 percent of the population depends on farming to survive.

The latest heavy floods hit multiple districts of Faryab province on Saturday night and “resulted in human and financial losses,” said Asmatullah Muradi, spokesman for the Faryab governor, in a statement.

“Due to the floods 66 people were killed,” he said, adding that at least five people were injured and others were still missing.

The flooding damaged more than 1,500 houses, swamped more than 1,000 acres of agricultural land and killed hundreds of livestock, he said.

The floods came a day after provincial police said more than 50 people were killed in flash flooding in the western province of Ghor.

Just over a week ago, more than 300 people were killed by torrents in northern Baghlan province, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Taliban officials.

Taliban officials have warned the tolls would go up in regions impacted by flooding, as destroyed infrastructure hampered aid delivery and efforts to find the missing.

The death toll from the Ghor flooding rose from 50 to 55 on Sunday, according to Abdul Wahid Hamas, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

“More than 3,000 homes were totally destroyed due to the floods” in Ghor, he added.

Videos shared on social media platform X by the WFP showed currents of brown water crashing through walls of homes and churning through streets in Ghor.

Residents in Baghlan, Ghor, Faryab and other affected provinces found themselves without shelter, stripped of their homes and livelihoods.

“We were inside our home when rain started and all of a sudden, a flash flood came, we were trying to get things out but it washed away our home, our life, everything,” Ghor resident Jawan Gul told AFP on Saturday.

The flooding also sparked concern for the revered 12th-century Jam minaret, located in a remote part of Ghor, provincial officials said.

Images circulated to media showed brown torrents crashing around the base of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“The situation of Jam was very concerning,” Abdul Hai Zaeem, information and culture director in Ghor, told AFP, adding that mud was still piled high around the brick minaret.

The WFP warned that the recent floods have compounded an already dire humanitarian situation in the impoverished country.

Spring floods are not uncommon in Afghanistan, a country of more than 40 million people, but above-average rainfall this year has sparked devastating flash flooding.

Even before the most recent spate of floods, about 100 people had been killed from mid-April to early May as a result of flooding in 10 of Afghanistan’s provinces, authorities said.

The rains come after a prolonged drought in Afghanistan, which is one of the least prepared nations to tackle climate change impacts, according to experts.

Anti-microbial resistance causing 1 million deaths in Pakistan annually — health experts

Updated 19 May 2024

Anti-microbial resistance causing 1 million deaths in Pakistan annually — health experts

  • Self-medication, unjustified prescription, taking antibiotics for shorter duration major reasons of antimicrobial resistance
  • Officials and public health experts urge people not to use antibiotics without the advice of trained and qualified physicians

KARACHI: Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the third leading cause of deaths in Pakistan that directly or indirectly results in 1 million deaths in the South Asian country annually, officials and public health experts said on Sunday.

They said this at a press conference in Karachi in connection with the National Antimicrobial Stewardship Summit 2024, organized by Getz Pharma drug manufacturer in collaboration with the National Health Services Ministry, Health Services Academy (HSA) and the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Around 300,000 people die annually due to drug-resistant bacteria, while AMR contributes to 700,000 deaths because of complications following treatment of diseases, according to the experts.

The deaths are linked with “irrational use” of antibiotics as Pakistan is the third largest consumer of antibiotics in the world, after China and India, and consumed antibiotics worth Rs126 billion in 2023 alone.

“Antimicrobial resistance is now the third leading cause of death after cardiovascular disease and maternal and neonatal disorders in Pakistan because we now have infections caused by bacteria that are not responding to third- and fourth-generation antibiotics,” said Prof. Shahzad Ali Khan, vice-chancellor of the Health Services Academy in Islamabad.

“Abuse of antibiotics by doctors, quacks, and people themselves is making these important medicines highly ineffective,” he said, urging people not to use antibiotics without the advice of trained and qualified physicians.

The summit was attended by over 1,400 health care professionals, including health secretaries and directors-general from federal and provincial governments, officials from the NIH, Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan, medical societies and health care regulatory authorities, senior physicians and policymakers.

Khan maintained that antibiotics were “wonder drugs” that saved millions of lives during world wars and pandemics, but their “irrational use or abuse” had led to AMR, which was now becoming a global public health concern.

“Self-medication, unjustified prescription of antibiotics by quacks and physicians, taking antibiotics for a shorter duration, and the production of substandard antibiotics by some companies are some of the major causes of antimicrobial resistance,” he said.

Prof. Javed Akram, former Punjab health minister and president of the Pakistan Society of Internal Medicine (PSIM), said AMR was the third major challenge facing Pakistan after population growth and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

“People are now dying due to infections that are extremely hard to treat due to the resistance developed by bacteria against these medicines,” Akram said.

“On one hand, Pakistan has become the world capital of diabetes and other non-communicable diseases, and on the other, we have developed Extremely Drug-Resistant (XDR) typhoid, Multi-Drug Resistant (MDR) TB, and various other infections that are extremely hard to treat with most of the available antibiotics. This is because we have been using antibiotics like candies.”

He urged people not to consume antibiotics on their own, saying antibiotics have similar side effects as cancer treatment therapies.

Dr. Afreenish Amir, an NIH representative and senior microbiologist, said AMR had spread to almost all countries and regions, including Pakistan, owing to the “misuse and overuse” of antibiotics.

“This contributes to the increasing burden of infections due to resistant bacteria while limiting treatment options for managing such infections,” she said.

The experts also highlighted the “overuse and abuse” of antibiotics for livestock and said it was responsible for 80 percent of AMR in the veterinary sector. They called for creating awareness among the masses regarding the irrational use of antibiotics in humans, livestock and poultry.

In his keynote address, Prof. Zulfiqar Bhutta, a renowned pediatrician and public health scientist, urged people to get their children vaccinated against typhoid, saying Pakistan was the only country in the world where the Typhoid Conjugate Vaccine (TCV) was being administered to children to prevent the drug-resistant, water-borne disease.

Dr. Wajiha Javed, an associate director of public health at Getz Pharma, said over-the-counter availability of antibiotics, use of these medicines for a shorter duration, and unnecessary prescription of antibiotics by quacks and doctors should be looked into by the authorities.

She said substandard antibiotics containing less or low-grade raw materials were also responsible for AMR and announced that her firm was working work with the government to develop a national action plan on AMR.

On the occasion, a declaration was also signed between the Health Services Academy, NIH and Getz Pharma for the implementation of Antimicrobial Stewardship (AMS), while Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were also signed with 13 medical societies in this regard.

Deputy PM Dar, Saudi FM discuss Crown Prince’s visit to Pakistan, bilateral cooperation

Updated 19 May 2024

Deputy PM Dar, Saudi FM discuss Crown Prince’s visit to Pakistan, bilateral cooperation

  • Deputy PM Ishaq Dar this month said the much-awaited visit was ‘on the cards,’ but neither side has confirmed any dates
  • The statement came amid Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s efforts to increase bilateral trade and reach investment agreements

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar on Sunday held a telephonic conversation with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and discussed with him Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s proposed visit to Pakistan as well as bilateral cooperation between the two countries, the Pakistani foreign ministry said.

Dar this month said the much-awaited visit of the Saudi Crown Prince to Islamabad was “on the cards” and could materialize “any time” during May. But neither of the two sides has confirmed any dates.

His statement followed a series of high-level engagements between the two countries, including the visits of Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif to the Kingdom and a visit of the Saudi foreign minister to Islamabad.

On Sunday, Dar and the Saudi foreign minister discussed bilateral relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, exploring various avenues for further strengthening cooperation across multiple sectors.

“They reviewed preparations for the visit of the Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed Bin Salman Al-Saud to Pakistan,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Deputy Prime Minister Ishaq Dar underlined that people of Pakistan are eagerly looking forward to the visit of His Royal Highness at a mutually agreed date.”

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have lately been working to increase bilateral trade and investment, with the Crown Prince last month reaffirming the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite an investment package of $5 billion.

A high-level Saudi business delegation, led by the Kingdom’s Assistant Minister of Investment Ibrahim Al-Mubarak, this month visited Pakistan to explore investment opportunities in various sectors, including mineral, energy, agriculture and petroleum.

The visit by the Saudi Crown Prince would mark his first trip to Pakistan in the last five years. His previous visit took place in February 2019 during the tenure of former prime minister Imran Khan.

On Saturday, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi said the proposed visit would prove to be a “game changer” in bilateral ties between both countries.

“The historic brotherly friendship of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is turning into a beneficial economic relationship,” Naqvi was quoted as saying by his ministry. “The people of Pakistan are looking forward to the visit of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense, and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and serves as a top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Saudi Arabia has also often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid by regularly providing it oil on deferred payment and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.

Prayers from top Pakistani leaders as Iranian president’s helicopter crashes

Updated 19 May 2024

Prayers from top Pakistani leaders as Iranian president’s helicopter crashes

  • Iranian media says the helicopter landed roughly while crossing a mountainous area on way back from Azerbaijan
  • In April, President Raisi visited Pakistan as the two neighbors sought to mend ties after tit-for-tat strikes this year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday expressed concerns about the crash landing of a helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raisi in Iran’s northwest and extended their wishes and prayers for his well-being.

The helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian landed roughly when it was crossing a mountainous area in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to Azerbaijan, according to Iranian media.

The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the IRNA state news agency reported. Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV that one of the helicopters in a group of three had “come down hard,” and that authorities were awaiting further details.

“Heard the distressing news from Iran regarding Hon. President Seyed Ibrahim Raisi’s helicopter. Waiting with great anxiety for good news that all is well,” PM Sharif said on Twitter.

“Our prayers and best wishes are with Hon. President Raisi and the entire Iranian nation.”

President Asif Ali Zardari said he was “deeply concerned” after hearing news about the helicopter incident.

“My heartfelt prayers & good wishes for the well-being & safety of President Raisi so that he may continue to serve the Iranian nation,” he said on X.

Reacting to the development, former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said their thoughts were with President Raisi, FM Amirabdollahian and the brotherly people of Iran during this critical time.

“We earnestly pray for their safety and swift recovery,” he said in a post on X.

Raisi, 63, was elected president at the second attempt in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.

In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.

But many see Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi’s main policies.

In April, Raisi arrived in Islamabad on a three-day official visit to Pakistan as the two Muslim neighbors sought to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes earlier this year.

The Iranian president had held delegation-level meetings in the Pakistani capital as well as one-on-one discussions with Pakistan’s prime minister, president, army chief, Senate chairman and National Assembly speaker.

During the visit, Raisi had also overseen the signing of eight agreements between the two countries that covered different fields, including trade, science technology, agriculture, health, culture, and judicial matters.

Turkish FM arrives in Islamabad amid Pakistan’s efforts to attract foreign investment

Updated 19 May 2024

Turkish FM arrives in Islamabad amid Pakistan’s efforts to attract foreign investment

  • Pakistan last month completed a short-term $3 billion IMF program that helped stave off a sovereign default last year
  • The country is still dealing with high fiscal shortfall and has to meet a primary budget deficit target of $1.4 billion by June

ISLAMABAD: Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on Sunday arrived in Islamabad on a two-day official visit to Pakistan, the Pakistani foreign ministry said, amid efforts by the South Asian country to boost foreign direct investment.

Islamabad has seen a flurry of high-level exchanges from diplomats and business delegations in recent weeks from Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, Azerbaijan, Qatar and other countries.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has vowed to rid the country of its chronic macroeconomic crisis through foreign investment and efficient handling of the economy.

Upon arrival in Islamabad, Pakistan’s Additional Foreign Secretary Ambassador Ahmed Naseem Warraich received the Turkish foreign minister.

“Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan will call on Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif and hold extensive discussions with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Senator Mohammad Ishaq Dar,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The two sides will review the state of bilateral relations and assess preparations for upcoming high-level engagements between the two countries.”

Pakistan, which has been facing low foreign exchange reserves, currency devaluation and high inflation, completed a short-term $3 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) program in April that helped stave off a sovereign default last year.

However, the South Asian country is still dealing with a high fiscal shortfall and while it has controlled its external account deficit through import control mechanisms, it has come at the expense of stagnating growth, which is expected to be around 2 percent this year, compared to negative growth last year.

Pakistan has to meet a primary budget deficit target of Rs401 billion ($1.44 billion), or 0.4 percent of its gross domestic product, for the current fiscal year before the government presents its budget in June. The country is already in talks with the IMF for a fresh, longer-term bailout.