India said on Wednesday it has conveyed its concerns to Pakistan over the reported vandalism, defacement and destruction of Buddhist heritage in Gilgit-Baltistan, which New Delhi claims as part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Several images shared on social media in the past few days had purported to show the defacement and vandalism of several ancient Buddhist paintings and rock carvings.
Responding to media queries on the matter, external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said: “We have conveyed our strong concern at reports of vandalism, defacement and destruction of invaluable Indian Buddhist heritage located in so called ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’ area of the Indian territory under illegal and forcible occupation of Pakistan.”
He said it was a matter of “grave concern that the Buddhist symbols are being destroyed and the religious and cultural rights and freedoms are being trampled with impunity in the Indian territories under illegal occupation of Pakistan”.
Srivastava added, “Egregious activities of this nature which display contempt for the ancient civilisational and cultural heritage are highly condemnable.
“We have sought immediate access for our experts to the area in order to restore and preserve this invaluable archaeological heritage.
“We have once again called upon Pakistan to immediately vacate all illegally occupied territories and end gross violation of political, economic and cultural rights of people living there.”
Pakistan has given near-provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan, a region that has witnessed several attacks by terrorist groups on the Shia Hazara minority.