Peshawar, a city once diverse and rich, has lost its character to extremism and extortion. The Asamai Gate temples are the most recent victim of KPs cultural destruction. Their demolition has started, though archaeologists and activists have taken measures and have been able to halt further destruction.

The structures are in close proximity with Masjid Mahabbat Khan, a reminder of religious harmony of the past. Three ancient Hindu temples and a small gurdwara complex are located near the Asamai Gate. Time has been cruel to these structures and only the minarets of the temples remain intact as Sikhs and Hindus left the area. However, the worst is yet to come in the form of the monuments being turned into a shopping plaza. The news of total destruction of the sites sparked a protest by the members of the All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement on Saturday. Thankfully, the Auqaf Department has assured them of protection of the sites and has sealed the Hindu temples and gurdwara.

For those on the side of new developments and construction, there must be some realisation of the sensitivity of building concrete jungles. The disregard for the character of a locality by architects and planners in Pakistan is appalling. Many towns and cities have seen ugly concrete towers come up. Lahore’s walled city is littered with ugly structures, and has lost many historic facades and buildings; Murree, a hill station, is now a jungle of concrete and mortar, with no consideration of aesthetic or of the potential of landslides; and Peshawar, a spiritual home for Sikhs, has become so unpleasant to live in that there is a slow exodus of minorities from the city.

In the case of cultural relics, and the sentiments of minorities, it does not matter if the minorities themselves do not own the land. It is the responsibility of the government, in the interest of preserving our history and culture to make sure that these sites are marked as heritage sites. It was unfortunate that they had not already been marked, and that demolition had already begun and people had to protest.