Author and journalist Reema Abbasi wrote the book ‘Historic Temples in Pakistan: A Call to Conscience’ last year in which she painstakingly documented the Hindu past of the Islamic country. She travelled all over the country and visited over 40 sites in Sindh, Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. In the city to participate in the Jaipur Literature Festival, Abbasi speaks to Urvashi Dev Rawal about the varied heritages of India and Pakistan, the recent Peshawar attacks and the need to strengthen Indo-Pak ties. Excerpts:
What prompted you to write about temples in Pakistan?
I have already written about the social and political issues as a journalist. I thought it was important to highlight this aspect of our culture, especially because minorities face challenges here. The book is a labour of love and conviction. I travelled for 16 months and did intense research on the subject. The temples are the oldest symbols of our shared culture and history and there is no movement that aims to erode our ancient heritage.
But Pakistan is seen as unsafe for minorities.
I think there is a gulf between how Pakistan and its people are perceived vis-à-vis what they actually are. It is assumed that people are anti-minorities or that the attacks are directed at minorities. However, most attacks are actually against people and not against one religion or ethnicity. The violence in Pakistan has impacted Muslims as much as other communities. But most of those targeted are liberals.
How free is Pakistani media?
Media has a liberated life of its own. No one can keep it down.
You live in Karachi but where are you originally from?
My roots are in Uttar Pradesh. A lot of my relatives live there, Delhi and Mumbai.
What things do you like and dislike about India?
I haven’t quite found anything I dislike here. India is my second home. I love its secular ethos.
Do you think Indo-Pak ties need to be strengthened?
Yes. It is up to the people to seize the initiative. We have to force politics out of it. I think social, business and cultural contacts will strengthen ties.
How is Pakistan after the Peshawar massacre?
The Peshawar carnage was a turning point for the country. It has redefined the civil society. People are now demanding justice and refusing to bow down to terror. It was the government that acted late against terror.