SRINAGAR — With communal violence gripping various parts of India, there are many Kashmiri Muslims who have been taking care of temples for decades. All this shows a great example of communal harmony and love between various communities.
Bashir Ahmad Sheikh, 70, was around 40 in 1989 when Kashmiri Pandits left the valley. Seeing no one in his locality to guard the temple, Bashir along with his father started guarding and taking care of Zia Devi temple located at Bijbehara in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district over three decades ago.
“There are no Pandits left in this area. So we have taken it a responsibility to guard and take care of this temple,” he told the news agency KINS.
“We have also made fencing around the temple. We keep keys with ourselves. When any Hindu comes here, we open the temple so they can worship here and then we close it again,” Sheikh said.
All the money coming from devotees has been kept in the temple, he said. “We believe it is our duty to keep the temple clean in the absence of Pandit brothers in this area who left Kashmir in 1990. We have been guarding to ensure that no miscreant creates any damage to it,” Sheikh said while asking Kashmiri Pandits to return to the valley.
His son Bilal Ahmad Sheikh, 50, said his family has been guarding it for the last more than 30 years.
He said his whole family is looking after the temple to show an example of communal brotherhood. “Our Pandit brothers left Kashmir and now the responsibility lies on us to ensure there is no damage to their property or temples. We want the return of Pandits to the valley so we can live together as we used to before 1990. We were living harmoniously with the Pandit family before they left the valley. It is a great pride for us to serve the temple. No religion teaches hatred,” he said.
There are 952 temples in Kashmir of which only 212 are operational. Some are closed while others are in dilapidated condition.
The government has undertaken a temple renovation project as a confidence-building measure so that the displaced Kashmiri Pandits could return to their homeland.
Similarly, in Srinagar’s Nishat area, Nisar Ahmad Alai and his father have been looking after the Gopi Tirtha Mandir. They take care of the temple and clean its surroundings.
Alai says that everyone should respect each other’s religion and religious places. “If we don’t see any differences on the basis of religion then everyone will live a peaceful life,” he added.