Invoking the 11th August 1947 speech of MA Jinnah to the constituent assembly of the nascent theolog- ical state of Pakistan carved from India, – “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of wor- ship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State”, Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani Patron-in-chief, of the Pakistan Hindu Council opened the glitter- ing prize distribution ceremony today. The day was extremely relevant to the event as it was – “World Heritage Day” which also saw the unfolding of the First ever Nationwide Book on ‘Pak Minorities 100 Heritage Sites’ at the country’s Prime Minister Secretariat Auditorium, in Islamabad today.
A coffee table colourful book “Top 100 Minorities Heritage Sites of Pakistan” by Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani was released to commemorate the occasion of the first-ever National level- ‘Photo Contest of Minority Heritage Sites of Pakistan’.
The book was cataloged via this Photo Contest of Minority Heritage sites in Pakistan and the ceremony for the Prize Distribution of the contest was broadcast live for two hours on all Pak TV Channels and social networking sites.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif as the chief guest, skipped the occasion, which was graced by Pakistan’s Education and Human Right Ministers Pak watchers in India looked with keen interest at the unfolding events in neighbouring Pakistan initiated by a Hindu MNA Dr. Venkwani Speakers present on the occasion spoke about the restoration and preservation of a treasure trove of art, cul- ture, and heritage structures and creating Tourist Circuits connecting the restored sites, which could accrue huge returns and add to the failing economy of Pakistan, with the public-people partnership.
Incidentally, the country has a history of being too jit- tery about holding minority events and deeply fearful of security. Hence, the venue for the event where selectees of the contest were to be felicitated and honored was kept a closely guarded secret and was only shared with the 100 shortlisted participants, a day in advance.
The extra cautious invite by email read -“All winners in the list will receive a prize. All of those who have con- firmed through Emails are requested to reach HEC (Higher Education Commission) Auditorium, Islamabad along with the original CNIC (Computerized National Identity Card) before 1:00 pm on Tuesday, 18th April 2023.
Official HEC vehicles will be moved from HEC to the Prime Minister’s Secretariat at 01:00 pm (Sharp). Nobody is allowed to reach PM Secretariat directly due to security issues”.
Zahid Karamwala who was one of the selectees in the list of 99 others told this writer from Islamabad -“As many as 40 winners from far and near arrived and were hosted at the Pak PM’s Secretariat. Each of the present selectees received prize money of Rs 10,000, along with a certificate and the coffee table book, which featured their own select- ed photograph.” Adding-“I am deeply overwhelmed by this acknowledgment of our work and dedication towards heritage sites, especially the neglected ones belonging to the minorities. This is also a big tribute to our “India Pakistan Heritage Club” that has spurred many amongst the public of both countries to see heritage sites fondly mentioned in stories by their elders on both sides of the dividing line between the two nations.
Pakistan Hindu Council Patron Dr. Venkwani during his address to winners of the contest who had arrived from all around the nation regretted -“We (Pakistan) did not use our huge pool of diversity to benefit the nation, including, art, culture, and heritage, we just frittered it away”. Adding – “Pakistan possesses a rich cache of 1256 Temples includ- ing Hindu, Jains, Buddhist sites and 520 Gurdwaras, and scores of churches dot our cities and countrysides, out of these Pakistan’s Evacuee Trust Property Board (PETB) has been able to make only 31 functional. Making them func- tional would mean huge sentiment and historical tourism potential for Pakistan. He urged his country -“Let’s become a team, let’s become a nation!”
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