The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Secular pillar of piety
- death threat greets temple crusader

Ten days ago, Yeasin Pathan received a death threat. The frail man hardly seems a likely target of hate, but he does have enemies aplenty.

The reason behind the ruffled feathers is an old one: the Muslim school peon has single-handedly crusaded, for the past three decades, to save the decaying terracotta temples of Pathra. The more recent provocation: that Yeasin was actively raising money for the Durga puja in his village, 20 km from Kharagpur.

The predominantly-Muslim village has, for the most part, accepted Pathan’s struggles as a secular act of love for the community and its history. But threatening calls and letters have been regular, ever since the Gujarat riots.

On Panchami, he was invited to inaugurate the Adi Ballygunge puja, where he has been a “source of inspiration” for the creator, Ranadhir Dhar. “I tracked down Yeasin bhai after reading about his work… Last year’s pandal was a replica of the larger temples at Pathra,” recalls Dhar. Despite his continued influence on Dhar’s works, it was a reluctant Pathan who arrived in the city on Thursday evening. “Because of the threats, the police have told me not to leave the house after 4 pm without notifying them. Though I am not worried, I have a family… They are very nervous whenever I leave.”

His concerns never cloud his conviction. “It is amazing to see the puja in our village… Ninety per cent of the girls who visit are Muslim. Some pray, while others don’t, but everyone is very excited,” smiles Pathan, somewhat wearily. The idea of “showing off” by attending the inauguration is distasteful for the recipient of the Kabir Purashkar. His passion, however, takes precedence. “The Puja committee here has agreed to help us in the next phase of restoration,” he explains. Pathan has just returned from Delhi, where he met the ASI to finalise the next round of temple restoration, slated for November.

Pathan is critical of what he considers “wasteful expenditure” in the name of the Pujas. “Also, if you come to the village, everyone takes off their shoes before entering the mandap. There are no compromises for devotion.”

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