The Jain community struggles against odds of many kinds. Their identity is at stake. Their religious places are at stake. They come from a distinct faith. However, they are taken to be a sect of Hinduism.
In 1992, Babri mosque was demolished by fanatics in India, triggering a domino effect in Pakistan among enraged fanatics. Their rage found some solace in pouncing upon the Jain Temple in Lahore, damaging it considerably. The enraged fanatics in Lahore assumed Jain community a denomination of Hinduism.
Jain Temple of Lahore, located in the heartland of the country, gets media attention, but the Jain community has different temples across the country. Gujranwala has Jain Temple too on the Grand Trunk (GT) Road.
Gujranwala Jain Temple has been under the control of those who were to be its protectors in the sight of at least the landmark decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan by Justice Tassadduq Hussain Jillani issued on 19 June 2014 that directs and declares in its paragraph 37 (v):
“A Special Police Force be established with professional training to protect the places of worship of minorities.” Page 31
Gujranwala Jain Temple remained under the occupation of the Police Department for a long time, where they operated a Police Station for many years. Hindu Auqaf Board challenged the case in court and after two and half decades, it was released from the police occupation.
Ehtisham Shami, a journalist from Gujranwala, recalls that since his childhood he had been seeing the Police Station Sabzi Mandi in the Jain Temple and a part of it as a state-run girls’ primary school. He recalled that it had been under police occupation for at least thirty to forty years.
Ehtisham Shami added that Hindu Auqaf Board challenged this occupation in the court of law and now the Police Station Sabzi Mandi has been moved to a nearby place. This Jain Temple is now under the control of the Auqaf Department.
In March 2022, the third generation of a Jain family who migrated to Delhi, India in 1947, visited Gujranwala’s Jain Temple. The visit was kept in much secrecy, local journalist Ehtisham Shami told IBC, speculating, “Perhaps their local hosts here in Gujranwala had assumed some security concerns for their guests.”
However, they posted the details and pictures of their visit on Facebook when the guest had left for Delhi.
Bhabhra Areas in Various Parts of Pakistan
Ehtisham Shami told IBC that the descendants of the old Gujranwala Jain community visited the temple of GT Road Gujranwala. They also visited their ancestors’ homes in the Mohalla Bhabra Bazaar with much emotional attachment.
However, an historian and author of a book on the Jain community observed that though the population of the Jain community in Pakistan is fast decreasing, yet their cultural heritage in the form of temples remains a cultural capital of the country. Mr. Qaisar noted that Bhabhra-named areas in Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, or Charsadda (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) are reminiscent of the Jain community in Pakistan. Bhabhra is the name associated with the Jain community.
Iqbal Qaisar said that during the 1947 partition, the entire Jain community migrated from Punjab. However, some were left behind in the Tharparkar region of Sindh province. Many of these also migrated after 1971 to Rajasthan in India.
However, the few Jain people left in the Tharparkar area might be around 200 to 250. Many of these now identify themselves as Hindus because Hindus have still managed a reasonable population, Altaf Hussain told IBC who is a resident of the Tharparkar region and an Assistant Professor of History in a government college.
Altaf Hussain remarked that in addition to migration of the Jain community nearly all the religious literature available here in Tharparkar region is of the bigger minority Hindus. The smaller Jain minority left in Sindh attaches their identity to the bigger minority group, Hindus. He opines that this might probably be the reason that Lahore’s Jain Temple had mob justifications for Jain identity mixing with Hindus too. However, he notes that one Jain Temple is still functional in the Tharparkar region.
The significance of Jain Temple Gujranwala
‘Mahaveera is one of the important and last of the 24 religious leaders of the Jain community,’ tells Mr. Iqbal Qaisar while talking to IBC, adding that Aatma Ramjee was an important monk of the Jain community.
“These monks are called acharyas. Aatma Ramjee had a large number of adherents in the areas comprising current Pakistan. He built many Jain Temples in areas now making Pakistan. He had a huge influence in Punjab, and the Jain people who migrated from Punjab are Aatma Ramjee adherents. They settled after migration in Delhi, Punjab, Maharashtra, and these are in the hundreds of thousands in number there,” said Iqbal Qaisar
He further said that Aatma Ramjee died here in Gujranwala and his bodily remains were buried in a smaadh built in the Jain Temple. The adherents of his teachings wish and demand that they should be facilitated for paying homage to their religious places, especially to visit smaadh of Aatma Ramjee once or twice a year like Hindus and Sikhs are facilitated at their religious places.
When asked about the issue of long occupation and subsequent retrieval of the Gujranwala Jain Temple on a court order, the Deputy Secretary of the Evacuee Property Trust Board Faraz Abbas said:
“Many temples are being renovated on the directions of the Apex Court. We have done initial renovation work on the Jain temple Gujranwala and it will be completely renovated in the coming days.”
However, Faraz Abbas did not clarify any timelines for the renovation project.