Construction of the first Hindu temple in the Pakistani capital Islamabad began on Tuesday, a long-standing demand by the minority community put in action under the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The site of the Shri Krishna Mandir (temple) complex, will include a crematorium, accommodation for visitors, a community hall and a parking space spread across an area of 4 kanals (2,023sq metres).
The plan was approved in 2017 under former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government, but construction had been delayed until this year by administrative hurdles.
“This is a very big step for the Hindu community and Pakistan,” Pritam Das, an Islamabad resident and real-estate professional, told Al Jazeera.
Das said Pakistani Hindus across the country, and especially in Islamabad, were grateful to Prime Minister Khan and his government for facilitating the construction of the temple and other related facilities, which he said was much needed considering the steady growth of the capital’s Hindu population.
“This will send the soft image of the government of Pakistan to all over the world,” Das added.
Pakistan is home to about eight million Hindus, according to estimates from the country’s Hindu Council. The last official figures were released in 1998, when the population of the minority community was put at three million. Most Hindus are based in the southern province of Sindh, which borders India.
The latest numbers on religious minorities in the 2017 census are yet to be published.
Islamabad is home to an estimated 3,000 Hindus.
“For the Hindu population in Islamabad, there is no place to gather … there was no temple, there was no community hall … which caused many issues for the community,” Lal Chand Mahli, parliamentary secretary on human rights and a member of the governing party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), told Al Jazeera.
The capital also lacks a crematorium, which is needed for Hindu funeral services, Mahli noted. This meant people were forced to take their deceased loved ones to their hometowns for burial, sometimes travelling hundreds of kilometres.
Furthermore, the new temple complex will work as a cultural centre for many Hindu visitors from far-flung places such as Sindh province.