Police arrested 14 people in overnight raids after a Hindu shrine was set on fire and severely damaged by a mob led by supporters of a cleric in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Karak district, officials said on Thursday.

The temple’s destruction on Wednesday drew condemnation from human rights activists and the minority Hindu community.

Local police said they detained at least 14 people in overnight raids and more raids were underway to arrest individuals who participated or provoked the mob to demolish the shrine.

The attack happened after members of the Hindu community received permission from local authorities to renovate the building. According to witnesses, the mob was led by a local cleric and supporters of a religious political party.

Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri called the attack “a conspiracy against sectarian harmony”. He took to Twitter on Thursday, saying attacks on places of worship of minority religious groups are not allowed in Islam and “protection of religious freedom of minorities is our religious, constitutional, moral and national responsibility.”

The incident comes weeks after the government allowed Hindu citizens to build a new temple in Islamabad on the recommendation of a council of clerics.

Although Muslims and Hindus generally live peacefully together in Pakistan, there have been other attacks on Hindu places of worship in recent years.

Supreme court takes notice

Meanwhile, Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed took notice of the incident and fixed the matter for hearing on Jan 5, 2021.

According to a statement released by the apex court, members of the National Assembly and Pakistan Hindu Council chief Ramesh Kumar called on the chief justice at the SC’s Karachi registry and discussed the issue.

“The chief justice of Pakistan showed grave concern over the tragic incident and informed the member of parliament that he has already taken cognizance of the issue and has fixed the matter before court on 05.01.2021 at Islamabad with directions to one-man Commission on Minorities Rights, KP chief secretary and KP inspector general of police to visit the site and submit [a] report on 04.01.2021,” it stated.

Police registered FIR

According to police officials, a meeting of clerics was held at Shanki Adda in Teri, Karak before the attack.

The enraged people were raising slogans vowing they would not permit any construction work of the shrine in the area.

The Samadhi (shrine) of Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj is considered sacred by the Hindu community.

The Hindu devotees, especially from Sindh, used to visit it.

District Police Officer Irfanullah said that a first information report (FIR) was registered against two local clerics identified as Maulvi Mohammad Sharif and Maulana Faizullah and several other unidentified persons.

He said that the protesters were peaceful in the initial stage but on the provocation of some clerics, they turned violent and attacked the shrine.

However, the local clerics claimed that the Hindu community had given a contract for the expansion of the shrine to a local contractor which was not acceptable to the people. The speakers in the meeting claimed that they were ready to accept the verdict of the Supreme Court of the country wholeheartedly.

The local people claimed that the Hindu community provided funds for the expansion of the shrine which was in violation of the court’s judgment.

The controversy over the Samadhi of Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj erupted many decades ago. The Supreme Court had in 2015 ordered the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to restore and reconstruct the Hindu shrine.

The order was issued over a petition of MNA Kumar, who was at that time in PML-N and later joined PTI. He had claimed that the Samadhi of Shri Paramhans Mahraj had been occupied by an influential cleric of the area.

A letter was written by the then deputy commissioner of Karak to a deputy secretary of the provincial home department in February 2014, which was submitted to the Supreme Court, had stated that a Hindu shrine was constructed at a place where Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj died in 1919 and buried in Teri village. His followers used to visit the place to pay their respect and the practice continued till 1997 when some local people dismantled the shrine.