Words and actions that show respect for places of worship
By Afzal Hussain Bokhari
Lawlessness is a worldwide phenomenon and despite adequate vigilance odd incidents do happen. A similar incident on December 30 caused embarrassment to KP government on national and international level. A group of angry people gathered in Teri area of Banda tehsil in Karak district. They surrounded the Samadhi (shrine) of Hindu saint Paramhansji Maharaj and raised slogans before finally setting it ablaze. Police said that before staging a protest the crowd held a meeting at Shanka Adda. The protesters remained around the shrine for quite a few hours and dispersed only after it was completely razed.
The act of vandalism drew condemnation from activists of minority rights. In the Karachi registry of the Supreme Court PTI MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar met Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmad of Supreme Court and apprised him of the desecration of the Karak shrine. The CJP took notice of the issue and directed the Chief Secretary and IGP of KP to submit to him a report today (Monday) while hearing of the case would start from tomorrow (Tuesday), the fifth of January.
Initial reports did not say if any case was registered on the day of occurrence but later reports said an FIR was registered against more than 350 persons. Police also arrested about 40 persons including Mohammad Sharif and Rehmat Salam, described by the law enforcing agency as ‘central characters’. Meanwhile, the IGP Dr Sanaullah Abbasi paid an emergency visit to Teri and examined the affected site. He was accompanied by the Additional IGP (Investigation), Commissioner Kohat and the DIG Kohat Tayyab Hafeez Cheema. Later, an upright police officer and head of the one-man commission on minority affairs Dr Shoaib Suddle met CM Mahmood Khan to discuss the Karak shrine issue. Chief Secretary Dr Kazim Niaz and minority MNA Dr Ramesh Kumar were also present.
The CM later promised that the government would reconstruct the shrine. For this purpose he formed a four-member body and directed it to complete the reconstruction in 10 days. The body would be headed by the provincial Secretary for Communications and Works. Other three officials who would act as members of the high-powered committee included Secretary for Aquaf and Religious Affairs, Director of Archaeology Department and the Deputy Commissioner of Karak. Meanwhile, after visiting the damaged shrine a Sindh-based humanitarian organisation expressed satisfaction over the measures being taken for its reconstruction.
The Karak shrine dispute dates back to the beginning of the last century. In pre-partition days the Hindu saint Paramhans Maharaj died in 1919 and his last rites were performed in village Teri. His devotees, mostly from Sindh, used to visit the place to pay their respects. The practice continued up to 1997 when some local people dismantled the ‘samadhi’.
It so happened that in February 2014 the then DC Karak wrote a letter to the deputy secretary of the provincial home department that a Hindu shrine was constructed at the place where Shri Paramhans Maharaj had died in village Teri. This was a legal document which provided legitimacy to the Hindu community’s claim. This document was acquired and produced through a petition in the Supreme Court by the patron of Hindu Council Dr Ramesh Kumar Venkwami MNA who was then in PML-N but later joined PTI. In 2015 the SCP ordered the KP government to restore and reconstruct the shrine.
One of the known figures in the community of English-language newspapers Mohammad Hasan Musanna passed away on December 21 after a protracted illness. Staying away from tobacco and alcohol all along he remained mentally and physically fit for most of his 94-year-long life. It was after the death of his caring wife in March 2020 that he started feeling lonely. On his landline number he mostly attended the phone calls himself. To close friends he said he had to be careful about his walk and complained of appetite loss.
He joined the Pakistan Times (PT) in 1948 and remained associated with the paper’s Rawalpindi edition. After retirement from PT he joined in the mid-1980s Peshawar’s newly-started daily newspaper the Frontier Post (FP). After a comfortable routine in Rawalpindi the new life was a strange experience in the makeshift offices beside the old ice factory next to the Iranian consulate. He literally witnessed the rise and fall of the FP. When the paper fell into bad times he returned to Rawalpindi and joined the daily The Nation. After some time he switched over to the daily The News of the Jang group of newspapers with a much bigger setup and larger circulation. With such an active life coming home on retirement was itself disturbing.
Out of his three sons and one daughter only Mahmood Hasan strayed into his journalism for some years. In the well-established newspaper the Saudi Gazette he worked on sports pages. A couple of years back he called it a day and returned to Pakistan. With his savings he bought in Jhelum some land and set up an agricultural-cum-dairy farm. Skilled labour was available locally. Mahmood just played the boss. Hasan Musanna’s home in Islamabad (house number 525, Street 18, Sector G-8/1) started getting regular supplies of pure milk and wholesome meat along with vegetables and fruit. But for Hasan Musanna everything seemed too much and too late. He was never a gormandiser at any time. One never noticed a double chin on his face or an overgrown tummy above the trousers belt. Being the younger brother of writer Hasan Askari he enjoyed intimate relationship with other top writers of the Urdu-speaking world. One noticed that his interaction was unique with highbrow writers like Muzaffar Ali Syed and Aftab Ahmad Khan.
One may apologise for the slight diversion but at one stage Hasan Musanna persuaded his old colleague from the Pakistan Times Syed Abu’al Barkaat to join the Frontier Post when this paper shifted its offices in front of the Askari Flats (between the Gulberg railway crossing and the office of the Political Agent of former Khyber Agency). With his Master’s in Psychology Syed Abu’al Barkaat was the nephew of late religious scholar Maulana Syed Abu’al Aala Maududi. He was the most soft-spoken and learned person one ever met. It is with utmost love that one recalls his son Mustafa and the physically challenged daughter. Syed Barkaat was always on time for breakfast, lunch and dinner not because he was fond of food but chiefly because his daughter would never break bread without him.
In Lahore he used to work in the Pakistan Times which was located in Mian Iftikharuddin’s property, the huge PPL Building. PPL stood for the Progressive Papers Limited which also housed the daily Imroze, newsweekly Lail-o-Nihar and the Sport Times (written as Sportimes). On fourth of April 1979 former PM ZA Bhutto was hanged. Syed Barkaat was stepping down the stairs of the PPL Building when a newspaper hawker frantically shouted to sell the one-page special supplement about the hanging. Syed Barkaat stopped the hawker, bought the whole “Zameema” bundle and burnt each and every copy in front of the PT offices.
Due to a sensitive temperament he felt temporarily disoriented by the ZAB hanging. Therefore, some sympathetic friends quietly managed to legally send him to China where for some years he worked for the Urdu service of Radio Beijing which on powerful medium-wave transmitters was incredibly clear all over the Indo-Pak subcontinent and UAE. In Beijing Radio, he himself opted to be in charge of the “listeners’ mail” in which he spoke to listeners on microphone and answered their letters. To a question about the quality and content of the letters, he said letters from India and Sindh (Bhutto connection) were generally better. To cut it short, one has fond memories of Hasan Musanna and high regards for Syed Barkaat.
Urdu, Hindko and Pashto mushaira sessions have been quite popular in the cultural history of Peshawar. This time on Christmas the National Commission for Inter-Religious Dialogue and Acumenism organised an Urdu-Hindko mushaira in Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church. About 20 poets took part in the event. Apart from Peshawar itself the participants came from Islamabad, Kohat and Nowshera. The event was presided over by senior poet of new sensibility Nazeer Qaiser who travelled all the way from Lahore despite extremely cold weather, thick smog and Covid-19 SoPs. An appreciative audience accorded warm response to the poetic pieces that Nazeer Qaiser and other guest writers presented. Organiser of the event Father Sohail Patrick thanked the guest poets and the audience for attending the event by braving the wintry December chill. He said that the message of Christmas had always been to bring humanity closer for the cause of peace.
There was a time when Peshawar boasted the presence of educated members of Christian community who used to be the part and parcel of all intellectual activity. These included Professor Herbert M Close (Edwardes College), his Peshawari colleague Professor Thakur Das, Kailash Isaac (an official of the United States Information Service: USIS), his younger brother Dr Dennis Isaac (Radiologist), Dr Victor Gill (Dentist, who ran the Seventh Advent Church located opposite the offices of Peshawar Cantonment Board near the PAF cinema), Harold Jonathan (librarian Peshawar University) and his wife who taught English in the University Public School). A couple of them passed away, some moved abroad while others have started showing signs of years and therefore taken a back seat.