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Muqbil Ahmar

Muqbil Ahmar writes on culture and poetry. He is a writer and theater activist, who wants to bring about harmony and amicability in the present day society. Music, poetry and good food are his passions.

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World Heritage Day: A Sad Reminder of How We Treasure Our Past

Would we be the same if the very thread of our identities is destroyed with the superimposition of a new and fabricated worldview and history?

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India, a nation steeped in history and tradition, is losing its heritage sites fast. This part of the world has an intriguing and fascinatingly rich and varied heritage that is thousands of years old. Monuments and paintings, particularly in Delhi, are strong reminders of the many identities and histories that form the collective consciousness and becomes an inalienable part of ourselves—the various strands that weave themselves into local, personal and regional histories—often missing from our history textbooks. Would we be the same if the very thread of our identities is destroyed with the superimposition of a new and fabricated worldview and history?

I doubt that is possible. We would change irretrievably, much to the detriment of mankind and humanity. By the 1960s, there existed a big baoli (stepwell) with four levels in southwest Tughlaqabad—similar to Agrasen ki Baoli near Connaught Place—representing Delhi’s mediaeval architecture. Years of neglect later, the historical site has lost in elements in dozens. The degradation came to light after documents and images left by a Japanese team which surveyed the site (and more than 400 other monuments) in 1959–60. Another Japanese team has revisited the monuments after 55 years to assess the changes. Needless to add, the findings are disappointing. According to the team, many striking mosques and tombs that stood in the area have completely disappeared, whereas several others are hardly recognizable.

Let’s take another example: What was initially built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1351 AD) as a part of a hunting palace called 'Kushk-i-Shikar' or the 'Kushk-i-Jahan-Numa' has now been reduced to an eye-sore with all the construction and muck raking in the name of heritage conservation —swamped with dust and filth. The baoli which sits next to Pir Ghaib is completely hidden from view due to adjacent structures—it also serves as a temporary washroom for people nearby or passing by.

These are no isolated events but a long chain of abuse and neglect. India’s cultural heritage including historical ruins, tombs, forts, paintings, paintings, mosques have been the victims of a philistine attitude.

Here is the proof: according to the Archeological Survey of India, it has more than 3,600 monuments, plates, 100,000 rare books, original drawings, and manuscripts. The nodal agency has been woefully inadequate in its efforts to carry out its mandate. Its methods are archaic and leave much to be desired. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India, in its audit report on preservation of monuments and antiquities (2013), notes "irregularities in carrying out conservation works" and lays out the shortcomings in a descriptive manner.

No mandatory requirements for inspection by Superintending Archaeologist. Absence of complete and proper documentation of works estimates. Non-preparation of inspection notes after site inspection, faulty budgeting of conservation works, delays in work completion.

The audit report also goes on to point out that of the 1,538 monuments surveyed—of the 3,600 under ASI’s ambit—as many as 81 were missing. The developments sure go on to describe our apathy and negligence in matters relating to the past and its conservation. It seems we have taken the saying “Let barking dogs lie” too seriously. It’s high time we gave our historical relics their due respect for having been witness to the vagaries of times immemorial. What all they must have witnesses!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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