West Bengal social activist Yasin Pathanto has decided to return his President's award in protest against 'growing intolerance' in the country.
Pathanto was honoured with the 'Kabir Award' in 1994 by the President for his contribution to forging communal harmony and setting an exemplary example of national spirit by restoring 18th century terracotta temples dedicated to Siva and Vishnu from decay. A devout Muslim by faith, Pathan has led a sustained campaign for over four decades to protect a cluster of 30 Hindu temples in West Midnapore's Pathra village that were left to decay due to neglect.
Pathanto founded the Pathra Archaeological Preservation Committee in 1986, involving local villagers from both the Hindu and Muslim community to save the magnificent terracotta temples left in ruin at Pathra. Faced with several hurdles, it was his relentless campaign that led to the Archaeological Survey of India finally taking over the 300 year old site for restoration work. Pathan says he received support from all communities in his mission to save the heritage structures.
"When I did my work, all communities, both Hindus and Muslims came up to help me. However, today we are seeing an increased assault on minorities," says Pathan. Now extremely frail and bed ridden, the 62-year-old retired school peon says he is pained by the given state of affairs in the country.
"I want to protest against social injustice and the atmosphere of intolerance spreading all over. I want to protect our culture of peaceful co-existence," says Pathanto.