Even as hostilities along borders continue, the Supreme Court of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) converted a letter it received from a Delhi-based Kashmiri Pandit Ravinder Pandita into a petition and directed its government to protect the most revered Hindu shrine Sharda Peeth in Neelam Valley across Karnah tehsil of Kupwara district. Chief Justice Chaudhary Muhammad Ibrahim Zia issued directions to take steps to protect the abandoned temple and also trace other temples and gurdwaras to put them in heritage list for preservation.Justice Zia had received a letter from Pandita, who is also founder of Save Sharda Committee, in December last week. Taking cognizance of the letter, the court issued notices to the government and asked the Registrar to inform Pandita. “In case failure on the part of state functionaries in carrying out of the judgments, you may approach this court for redress of your grievances (sic),” Registrar Supreme Court Riaz Ahmad wrote to the Save Sharda Committee.Kashmiri Pandits remain highly devoted towards this ancient temple. The place was also once a celebrated centre of learning in the subcontinent like Nalanda and Taxila. The native script of Kashmiri language, Sarada, is also named after the deity of this temple Sharada Devi.The committee is seeking protection of Sharda Peeth and other Hindu temples and also permission to restart pilgrimage to this site, like that of Amarnath pilgrimage. The PoK apex court also urged Kashmiri Pandits to approach the authorities concerned in India and Pakistan and authorities in PoK for restarting the pilgrimage. After the first India-Pakistan war on Kashmir in 1947-48, the areas of Mirpur, Muzaffarabad, Neelam Valley and Gilgit-Baltistan came under the control of Pakistan. While Gilgit-Baltistan is now a separate entity, the rest of areas were merged into PoK, which has headquarters in Muzafarabad.Following the brief 1947-1948 Kashmir war between Pakistan and India, Sharda Peeth came under the control of the newly formed government of PoK. According to Lt General (rtd) Ata Hasnain, who has served along this region, the Neelum Valley is one of the most sensitive sub sectors in the vicinity of the Line of Control (LoC). “From Kel in the North via Athmuqam and Dudniyal to Tithwal (our side) the valley is under the complete domination of the Indian fortified positions along the LoC. There is a cartographic bulge on the eastern side called the Bugina Bulge which is a swathe of territory hugging the slopes of the Shamashabari,” he said. He believed that on the pattern of issuing visas for visits to Ajmer Sharif for Pakistani devotees or for Nankana Saheb in Pakistan for Sikh devotees, the same spirit could be extended to Kashmiri Pandits to allow them to visit the Sharda site.The abandoned temple site was heavily damaged in the October 8, 2005 earthquake. Earlier, in 2014 and 2015, two citizens of PoK — Rehmatullah Khan and Ghulam Nabi — had approached the court seeking restoration and reopening of temples and gurdwaras. Appreciating the efforts of Save Sharda Committee, the Chief Justice urged its office-bearers not to restrict themselves to the restoration of the Hindu temples but also focus on protection of holy places and symbols of other religions as well.

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Supreme Court in PoK intervenes to save Sharda temple