Decades of Devotion: Hindu Priest’s Quest for Rightful Compensation

As the Hindu community of Abbottabad celebrated Holi at the local temple, Darshan Laal, aged 60, and his family find themselves in a poignant situation. “We will observe the rituals within our household,” states Imma Darshan, his spouse, highlighting the family’s detachment from communal festivities.

Historically, the family actively participated in religious events at a temple in Mansehra, where Laal was the resident pujari (priest). Their current exclusion stems from Laal’s dismissal, purportedly influenced by political interference, compelling them to celebrate religious holidays and perform rituals privately.

Laal reflects on his contributions, “I revitalized a small temple, once neglected and surrounded by refuse, into a revered site celebrated for its Mahashivratri and monsoon festivals.” Despite his dedication over three decades and receiving accolades from both authorities and devotees, his tenure ended abruptly without formal recognition.

While Mansehra doesn’t officially have a Hindu population, it serves as a spiritual hub for approximately 30 Hindu families from the Hazara region, including those who, like Laal, would travel daily from Abbottabad to Mansehra for worship.

“In the course of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration’s previous term in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Ravi Kumar, a Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) advocating for minority interests, allocated special funds for temple renovations. Despite my extensive contributions to its maintenance over the years, he expressed concerns regarding my involvement with the temple, ultimately leading to my removal,” Laal revealed in a conversation. He further elaborated that Kumar favored the appointment of a new priest, facilitating his settlement in the area by updating the temple’s address on the newly appointed priest’s identity documentation within three years.

When approached for a comment, Kumar refuted Laal’s claims, clarifying that his role as an MPA does not extend to influencing the hiring or firing of temple personnel. He pointed out that such decisions fall under the purview of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB).

It is noteworthy that although the Hindu population in this region is sparse, the Mansehra temple attracts devotees nationwide biannually for special celebrations.

Laal, a devoted father of three, reflected on his unwavering dedication to the temple’s service, spanning over three decades of his life.

“I have not pursued any alternative means of livelihood. Currently, my family is our main source of support,” he disclosed, noting that his children receive complimentary education at a private school in Abbottabad.

Laal shared his ongoing dialogue with the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), “The ETPB consistently assures me that upon the appointment of a suitable chairperson, my position will be restored.” He recounted multiple visits to the ETPB’s main office in Lahore and their regional office in Hassan Abdal, along with several occasions where officials visited the temple, offering promises of reemployment contingent upon future directives. Yet, to date, no such directive has been issued.

Laal also highlighted his deep connections within the local Muslim community. He pointed out that during the Eid Milad-un-Nabi celebrations, Muslim community members host events with active participation from the local Hindus. Conversely, during Hindu festivals such as Diwali and Holi, Christian priests and Muslim clerics, including the Hazara khatib, extend their well-wishes to Hindu families, often bringing sweets and gifts as gestures of goodwill.

Zafar Iqbal, a prominent religious figure and an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, shared his high regard for the Darshan family, acknowledging their significant standing within the community. “They exemplify integrity and honesty. The selfless contributions of Laal are invaluable to his community. Hence, I urge the competent authorities to rectify the injustices meted out to his family,” he articulated.

Despite being removed from his role at the temple, Laal finds solace in visiting the temple weekly, a practice that offers him peace. He expresses a desire for recognition and compensation for his three decades of service, envisioning a local from Abbottabad to succeed him as the temple’s caretaker upon his retirement.

The local Hindu community remains hopeful that the government will intervene to ensure Laal receives the acknowledgment and compensation he deserves for his years of devoted service.

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