Md. Yeasin Pathan a retired school peon is fighting all odds for more than four decades, indifference and intolerance to preserve and restore 34 Hindu medieval temples by the placid waters of river Kangsabati in West Bengal's Pathra (Midnapore).
The history of Pathra goes back to the Gupta period when the place was the vicinity of Tamralipta port, a gateway to Southeast Asia. From the 8th Century to the 12th Century, it was an important hub for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. A majestic Vishnu Lokeshwar statue was dug out in the village in October 1961. It exposed both Hindu and Buddhist influences, indicating that practitioners of both religions frequented Pathra.
Many of the existing temples however have been left behind by 18th century zamindars of Pathra.
The 67-year-old (DOB 4th March 1952) Md. Yeasin Pathan is a resident of Hatihalka village in West Midnapur district and started his journey to save these temples in 1976. In his childhood Yeasin spent hours wandering in the temples and the zamindar's abandoned lands.
The villagers stole the bricks that made up the temples to build their own houses. Even the descendants of the zamindar's family had no worries about lifting these bricks. A century's neglect, local theft and the unpredictable Kangsabati River had taken a toll on the buildings. The temples lay deserted and served as a shelter for anti-social elements. Nobody was interested in listening to Yeasin’s idea of conservation.
Fellow Muslims found him Un-Islamic, Hindus thought he wanted to steal the structures. The Hindus warning him not to interfere in the “matters of the temple”. The Muslims denounced and shunned him for “serving idolators”. His family asked him hard questions concerning why he wasted away all their money on awareness rallies and temple repairs and upset the villagers.
Md. Yeasin Pathan continued undeterred. He wrote extensively about the temples of Pathra, their history and the importance of conserving them in self-published book “Mandirmoy Pathrar Itibritto”. He kept visiting Kolkata and Delhi petitioning the government to save the monuments in Pathra.
He continued, persuaded, and began gathering support. He formed the Pathra Archaeological Preservation Committee(PAPC) in 1990, an NGO that finally brought Hindus and Muslims together as members. This joint interest was a salve to the ever-simmering communal tensions. He told them they would all benefit if tourists come to Pathra.
August 13 1994, Md. Yeasin Pathan received the ‘Kabir’ award from the then President Shankar Dayal Sharma for preserving Hindu temples despite being a Muslim.
Then on, he petitioned the central government for help and began visiting New Delhi to seek help from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Md. Yeasin Pathan said - "We will remain united. When the temple was constructed, Hindu brothers came together and helped. We had formed a committee to preserve these temples. We also made people understand that temple, mosque and churches are national treasures. It's important to preserve these temples in order to portray the past."
On July 16, 2003, the Archaeological Survey of India processed a notification to acquire 28 temples out of 34 temples and a premise of 20 bighas.
Now Local Hindu and Muslim people are happy with Pathan's work.
Pathan’s new fight is to get 70 farmers their compensation for the land they had to give up around the temple.
Yeasin Pathan is unable to find of how much money he spent on restoring the temples of Pathra. As a man with four children, and a modest peon's salary of about Rs 10,000, he often took many loans to put into the renovation, printing his magazine and book.
He is very ill with a blocked artery in the heart and kidney stones. “I can't do this anymore. I have nothing left,” he says in an interview with The Telegraph.
Today the battle continues. Despite suffering from kidney and heart blockages, Yeasin has been knocking on every door and making trips to Delhi to start renovation work. But it’s taken a toll on the retired school peon and he’s slowly becoming disheartened.