ISLAMABAD Hundreds of angry Pakistanis attacked a Hindu temple and set it on fire in southern Pakistan overnight following a rumour that a member of the Hindu community had desecrated the Koran, police and community leaders said on Sunday.
The incident took place just before midnight on Saturday after locals in Larkana district alleged that Sangeet Kumar, 42, had torn out pages of Islam's holy book and tossed them down on the street from the roof of his home.
"Our Dharamshala (community centre) has been gutted and the temple has been partially damaged. All the statues have been destroyed by the attackers," Kalpana Devi, chairperson of the local Hindu committee, told Reuters.
Hundreds of students from local Islamic seminaries attacked the temple holding batons, one witness, Javed Shah, said. Police arrived quickly to protect Kumar from the angry crowd.
"They acted smartly and took him out after making him put on a police uniform to save him from the wrath of the crowd," said Shah.
"It took nearly 20 minutes to break down the doors (of the temple) before they entered the compound and set it on fire. They also set fire to the temple before ransacking it."
Sindh province, where the attack took place, is home to most of Pakistan's small Hindu community which numbers about two million among a population of about 180 million.
Pakistan's rocky relationship with neighbouring India, a predominantly Hindu country, has fed tension between the two communities in smaller towns but outright acts of violence are rare.
Police said they were investigating the matter.
"The situation is not satisfactory," Deputy Inspector General of Larkana, Khadim Rind, told Reuters. "Sanjeet Kumar has been accused of desecrating the holy book by the locals. The accused is in our custody."
Tensions were high in the region following the incident, with Muslim protestors taking to the streets in several towns and setting fire to shops belonging to Hindus in the city of Usta Mohammad.
The Hindu Panchayat Council, a representative body of Hindu minorities, has appealed on Hindus to keep a low profile while celebrating the ongoing Holi festival of colours.
(Additional reporting by Gul Yousafzai, Writing by Maria Golovnina, Editing by Angus MacSwan)