Preserving national heritage sites

A duty every country must observe

 Cross post

National heritage is ‘anything of national significance which is handed down and preserved through generations especially, architecture, landscapes, documents, and other artifacts; also, a body set up to carry out this preservation’.

Each of us has parts of the past that connects us to the future. Old photographs, turned sepia. The old pan-dan that a grandmother used. A family house holding wonderful memories. A piece of jewellery passed down from one generation to the next. Whatever we treasure, a part of our past is part of our heritage. It’s not just personal heritage that is important. Equally important are preservation of gardens, parks and sites declared as national heritage buildings. These can be subdivided into three segments: National Heritage, Local Heritage and Urban Historic Cores as detailed on the website of Heritage Foundation of Pakistan.

Though the National Archeological Department has traditionally been responsible for preserving these site, it falls also upon every Pakistani to do their share in ensuring the sites are not made damaged or polluted in any manner by their visits. Local heritage (monuments and places locally situated) have suffered greatly. This is mainly due to lack of availability of funds. One example of decay and dilapidation is Khairpur. Farooq Soomro writing a piece in a local daily speaks from his heart about the decadence setting in. (April 10, 2015) Extracts from his article, “The road curved and passed near Faiz Mahal which was the residence of Mirs of Khairpur. The once mighty walls of the residence have lost its height due to the raised ground level of the road which has been built over and over…. I could not find the staircase to go to the top but according to one of people there, it had been broken.” He writes of the gloriously colourful work on walls and roof with colorful pieces of glass and tiny mirrors, exquisitely hand crafted and woefully ignored. Bollywood legend Dilip Kumar’s residence in Peshawar was declared as part of national heritage by the government of Pakistan. The house reportedly covers an area of 130 square meters and has three stories. Two stories have already collapsed in many places.

A good endeavour was the creation of ICCROM that was created in 1956 in the spirit of international collaboration to provide assistance to those nations facing the challenges of restoring and preserving the tangible symbols of their culture after the war. Indeed restoration owing to war is also one cause of heritage destruction. One example is destruction of five out of six of Syria’s UNESCO National Heritage Sites as viewed via satellite images, reports BBC News. (September 19, 2014) Global Policy Forum laments,The United States and its allies ignored the warnings of organisations and scholars concerning the protection of Iraq’s cultural heritage, including museums, libraries, archaeological sites and other precious repositories. Arsonists badly burned the National Library and looters pillaged the National Museum. Looters also damaged or destroyed many historic buildings and artifacts. The US constructed a military base on the site of ancient Babylon. Coalition forces destroyed or badly damaged many historic urban areas and buildings, while thieves have ruined thousands of incomparable, unprotected archeological sites.”

Writes Muhammad Rafique Mughal, “In 1947, Pakistan adopted the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act 1904 for some time but in 1968 created a new legislation called the Antiquities Act which repealed the 1904 AMP but retained most of its clauses in a modified form to suit the changed cultural and political realities. Under the Antiquities Act of 1968, any building dating prior to 1957 was defined as ancient. It also made a clear distinction between an ancient monument and an antiquity respectively dealing with standing buildings and moveable cultural objects. An important legislation provided for the federal government to assume custody of the antiquities or the building as a guardian if it was in danger and important aspect of history was threatened to be lost. It prohibited dealing in, copying and export of moveable antiquities without the approval of the federal government. The Antiquities Act of 1968 was replaced with another one of 1975, amended in 1990 by which an ancient object was defined to be not less than 75 years old. Integral with the management strategy is proper maintenance of the sites, an aspect which is also related to an overall security and protection of archaeological remains in order to keep them in presentable state as source of inspiration, learning and recreation for the visitors.”

We must remember that the sites stand exposed all the time not only to impacts of war and acts of terrorism but also natural calamities. One example is destruction of Jinnah’s residency in Ziarat by BLA. Reportedly the floor, front of residency and balcony were destroyed in the attack. According to a local newspaper report, “Not only was the historic building destroyed in the attack but also the Quaid’s personal effects, that were preserved as part of Pakistan’s heritage and history, were also reduced to ash along with several portraits of the Quaid.”(June 16, 2013)

In September 2015, after almost 15 long years of renovation, the majestic hall of the Dukhnivaran Sahib Gurdwara in Ludhiana was opened to the public. Says the news report, “Chandeliers hang from the ceiling of the rectangular hall adorned with intricate floral design. The “palki” is made of 8kg of pure gold donated by devotees. Artists from across the country were called in to design the hall based on the Rajasthani design. Close to 40,000 people visit the Gurdwara, which was built around 1932, everyday. The belief is that anyone who prays here will have their wish granted.” What a beautiful tribute to a place of heritage. Also recall how in 1782-83 AD, Maratha King Mahadaji Shinde, brought the Three Gates of the famed Somnath Mandar captured and taken away by Mahmud Ghazni, from Lahore after defeating Muhammad Shah of Lahore. It was and remains a part of Hindu national heritage today.

Nations preserve their heritage. It is who they are, who their next generation will be. They protect and nurture their roots.

Was it not Theodore Roosevelt who said, “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: and tweets at @yasmeen_9.

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