Eight kilometres from Chakwal city, heaps of animal waste and overgrown parthenium, colloquially known as gajar booti, overshadow the crumbling walls of a small structure in the Dhakku village.
The building and its surrounding area was once a gurdwara used until 1947. Among those who worshipped here was Sardar Chattar Singh Kohli, the father-in-law of former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh. The gurdwara in the Gah village where Mr Singh himself was born is also in a dilapidated condition.
Hindus and Sikh were an integral part of the rural population prior to the partition.
In many villages, the land once used for temples and gurdwaras has been occupied by influential villagers. In others, this land is misused without any action from the concerned authorities. “In Pakistan, except for very few grand temples and gurdwaras, the rest have been left to decay. In India, with a very few exceptions, the plight of mosques and imambargahs is the same,” said a retired Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) official.
According to the ETPB, there are 1,221 temples and 588 gurdwaras in Pakistan. However, the ETPB only looks after 12 gurdwaras and 10 temples, which means that of the 1,809 listed places of worship only 22 are under its care.
According to the ETPB, 109,369 acres of land were left by Hindus and Sikhs, of which it has leased 75,055 acres of agricultural land and 15,849 units or urban land. The ETPB earned around Rs1.08 billion from these lands in the 2015-16 fiscal year.
A senior ETPB official said mandirs and gurdwaras were not included in the rented land because places of worship cannot be leased out according to an agreement between India and Pakistan. In addition to mandirs and gurdwaras, schools and health facilities built by Hindus and Sikhs have also deteriorated. In the Chakwal district, prior to partition, all the public schools other than the Government High School (now known as the Government Postgraduate College Chakwal) and the Islamia High School were built by either Hindu or Sikh residents.
The most well-known of these are Sant Singh Khalsa High School (now called Government High School No.1 Chakwal) and Aariya High School (Government Postgraduate College Chakwal’s computer science department). In the Hasola, Neelah, Bhoun and Munday villages, the major educational institutions were also built by the Sikh and Hindu communities of Chakwal.
The historic Sant Singh Khalsa High School building, which was built in 1910 and later rechristened, was demolished a year ago after the authorities failed to preserve it. The grand Aariya High School building, which now houses a public school’s computer science department, is also on the verge of collapse.
The building stands on Committee Bagh Road. It was built between 1930 and 1935, through the efforts of various Hindu residents of Chakwal. Among them were Bir Chand and Gyan Prakash, brothers and timber merchants. They contributed to the construction of the school by building a portion in memory of their grandfather Bakhshi Kesar Mal Jaggi.
Published in Dawn, August 21st, 2016