A Hindu temple that was badly damaged last week by an angry crowd in central Pakistan has been returned to the Hindu community following repairs to the structure, a government official says.
The development on Monday came five days after a group of Muslims attacked the temple in Bhong, a town in eastern Punjab province, damaging statues and burning down the temple’s main door.
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They were angry that a court had granted bail to an 8-year-old Hindu boy who was accused of “blasphemy” for allegedly desecrating a local religious school.
District administrator Khurram Shahzad said the local Hindu community would soon resume worship at the temple. He added that security had been stepped up and the situation is under control.
The Hindu boy was arrested after allegedly urinating on a carpet in a school library housing Islamic religious texts. The mob at the time alleged the boy committed “blasphemy”, an act punishable by death in Pakistan.
Authorities later arrested dozens of people suspected of taking part in the attack on the temple, saying they will have to pay for the temple’s repair.
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said tensions are running high in southern Punjab, adding that the boy’s family has gone into “hiding … and so have many other members of the Hindu minority community”.
Though the charge of blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan, no executions have been carried out, Hyder said.
Since 1990, at least 79 people have been murdered in the name of the blasphemy laws, according to an Al Jazeera tally. Those killed include people accused of blasphemy, their family members, their lawyers and at least one judge.
Hyder said charges against the young Hindu boy has “sent shockwaves across the legal fraternity,” Hyder said. “This is a controversial law which has been questioned on several occasions,” he added.
In a statement emailed to Al Jazeera on Monday, rights group Amnesty International asked Pakistan government to “drop ludicrous blasphemy charges” against the boy.
“Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have long been abused to target minority groups, but this case marks a shocking and extreme departure,” Rimmel Mohydin, Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner, said.
“In the week that marks National Minorities Day in Pakistan, we urge the authorities to urgently repeal this pernicious legislation.”
Lal Das Sohni, a member of the Pakistan Hindu Council, said his community was “satisfied with the security”.
“The miscreants who attacked the temple, they have no connection with religion. We are residents of this place. The local Hindu haven’t had an issue with local Muslims,” he said.
“They live like brothers, there is no concept of Hindu and Muslim domination, even the landlords of area are with the Hindu community.”
Muslims and Hindus generally live peacefully in predominantly Muslim Pakistan, but there have been attacks on Hindu temples in recent years. Most of Pakistan’s minority Hindus migrated to India in 1947 when India was divided by Britain’s government.
In December 2020, a large mob destroyed a century-old Hindu temple in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Pakistan ranked the highest globally in incidents of mob violence and criminal charges against those accused of blasphemy, according to a May report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which surveyed incidents between 2014 and 2018.