A complex struggle over the expansion of the Bibi Pak Daman shrine is leading many to question the motives of those in power. Currently, it is believed that both the government and the Auqaf Department Punjab have gone against prior agreed-upon plans for expansion, and are instead pursuing a new scheme that does not even begin to do justice to the shrine.
The project was first initiated in 2007 by interested parties who wished to see a massive refurbishment of the holy place. It is believed to be the final resting place of Bibi Ruqayyah, daughter of the fourth Khalifa Hazrat Ali (A.S.). For this reason, it has immense religious and spiritual significance. However, many – amongst Shia communities in particular – lament the fact that this monument is not respected as it should be, despite the fact that Bibi Ruqayyah is considered to be a motherly figure deserving of the utmost love by thousands who frequent the shrine.
Reportedly, the shrine’s original condition was derelict to the extreme. It lacked proper sanitation, was too cramped to allow segregation between men and women, and the entire structure was held together by a flimsy tin roof. Perhaps what is most upsetting is that such conditions made it easy for common criminals to indulge in pickpocketing and even kidnapping. It was this scenario which compelled a number of activists to begin campaigning for an expansion and refurbishment of the shrine.
Between 2012 and 2017, a large sum of money was allocated for this project approved by the Auqaf department as well as the federal and provincial governments. Orders were also given to begin repossessing 14 canals of land around the shrine upon which numerous graveyards had been illegally built. The details of the project were also laid out. An extensive blueprint was made and approved, and work was started in 2018. According to reports, however, when famed architect Nayyar Dada was approached to lend support to this venture, things began to go sour.
It is believed that Nayyar Dada, with the cooperation of the Auqaf department and by permission of the court, bypassed all pre-set dictates in order to launch a different project of his own. Not only were the 14 canals not repossessed as ordered, but the expansion of the shrine was also reduced to a mere 2.5 canal area, according to a blueprint that seems insufficient. The parties that began this project and worked on it for twelve years feel this is grossly unfair and reeks of misconduct – even corruption.
However, upon contacting Nayyar Dada for further information, we found he does not believe that any such misconduct has occurred. According to him, it is merely a dispute over architectural design; moreover, he believes bypassing the previous orders and plans was not under his control as it was an order from court. As to the question of the 14 canals that rightfully belong to the shrine and should be incorporated in the expansion project, Nayyar Dada states he would be glad to start work on the land – if someone could manage to repossess it from those who illegally appropriated it.
It is the belief of those advocating for full expansion that they have been wronged. And certainly, many of the puzzle pieces do not add up. The situation becomes even more untenable when one realizes that all the parties wanted was an expansion of a holy place so it could be given the stature it deserves. If indeed the court, Auqaf, and Nayyar Dada have colluded against them for their own gain – allocating crores of money to just 2.5 canals of expansion, with no indication of how the funds will be channeled – then the matter requires investigation and more importantly, immediate support from the community.