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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 10:08 GMT
Pakistani Hindu temple faces demolition

By Haroon Rashid
BBC correspondent in Peshawar

A 150-year-old Hindu temple in the Pakistani city of Peshawar has become the focus of a property dispute involving the army.

Hindu temple
This is the most important temple for the Hindus in Peshawar
The Balmiki temple is located in the Kalibari area of the city where a small Hindu community is concentrated.

But the Kalibari area is part of the city's military cantonment and is run by the army.

The army is saying that the people who run the temple, as well as the owners of some 70 houses in the neighbourhood, must leave.

They have been served with eviction notices.

The army wants to pull down the existing buildings and replace them with a high-rise shopping complex.

The army says that Kalibari is the property of the local cantonment board, and it has the right to vacate it.

Stiff resistance

It has been trying to clear the area for the past 15 years, and has met stiff resistance from the Hindu residents.

The presence of the Balmiki temple, which is the hub of the Hindu community in this crowded neighbourhood, has become a sensitive issue.

Peshawar temple
Head priest Ramlal says the temple was built in 1861

The head priest, Ramlal, who has looked after the temple for the last 35 years, says the property in Kalibari belongs to the minorities.

"In 1861, four Hindu merchants were the owners of half of the cantonment area. They built the houses in the Kalibari area to house their employees. They have been living here since then," Ramlal told BBC News Online.

He said the army would have confiscated the land and property a "long time ago" if they owned it.

Local people do not want to move out of the area.

"We have spent our entire lives in our house or the temple. They are a part of our lives now," said Ms Devi Das.

Ramlal, who is also the local Hindu leader, said that residents of Kalibari are not prepared to live in any other neighbourhood in Peshawar.

But he said that the people would vacate their homes if they were promised accommodation in the high-rise complex.

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