Sometimes we forget – or more aptly put, consciously ignore – the actual partitioning process that took place during the 1947 Partition. It appears almost as if we imagine that this country came out of thin air, like a miniature big bang. We pretend as if this land had no past before the Partition year, and then this entire piece of land magically manifested itself out of the Arabian Sea on the eve of the 14th of August 1947.
Nothing represents this attitude better than the helpless, melancholic and discarded heritage sites spread all across the country – especially the ones that have a Hindu, Sikh or Jain association. Our national consciousness pretends that somehow the huge flocks of migrants from these communities, even as they were crossing the eastern borders during Partition, took all their buildings with them too!
Nevertheless, that pre-Partition past continues to live among us, and it continues to somehow survive amid the omnipresent societal neglect and occasional hostility towards these sites.
In a recent and much appreciated turn of events, a new wave of consciousness has spread among a few who are getting intrigued about this these heritage sites. A growing number of people are now using their social media platforms to share information about these sites, and are trying to reclaim this discarded past. As a result, many online communities of these enthusiasts have emerged.
I myself am among one of these new-wave “explorers” who talk about this subject on social media.
Sadly, outside the bubble of these communities, the general public still doesn’t really recognise the existence of this heritage. To them these buildings are just buildings. In fact, to a lot of the general public, these sites present a golden opportunity to grab some land, and then to utilise them as a dumping ground or to use them as punching bags for expressing their frustration.
Independence Day celebrations are almost upon us. It is that time of the year when the entire nation celebrates the creation of Pakistan, as a result of partition of the Indian Subcontinent, and Independence from the British Raj.
The biggest example of our ‘punching bag’ analogy would be the aftermath of the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition in India. Taking full advantage of this aggression on the other side of the border, fanatical mobs over here in Pakistan tore down some 30 Hindu temples across the country. Ordinary people were sucked into this mob campaign, as the fanatics spewed out their venomous agenda with conviction. The result was tragic: centuries-old history gone in a blink.
The sites that are safe from the aforementioned directly destructive tendencies are being used as housing units, stores, warehouses, cattle pens and what not. This adaptive use of buildings can perhaps be justified under some circumstances, as it utilises these spaces to provide housing and business. But the horrible modifications and encroachments on these buildings have no justification, and should at all costs be discouraged.
While authorities can be blamed for not taking proper care of these heritage sites, the public cannot escape the blame either. The fact of the matter is that our relevant authorities simply lack resources to take care of all these buildings. So, sometimes they lease or rent the property to members of the public. And then the public does to these buildings whatever they want. Sometimes, in fact, the public just takes it for themselves! They destroy the property, encroach on it and do whatever they want for their own convenience, having no regard for what the consequences of their actions might be.
The new wave of interest in heritage gives hope. But from a preservation perspective, it is of paramount importance that this hobby of the few translates into a nationwide effort.
So, whatever we can do in individual and group capacities, we must do it to save our precious physical heritage for the future.
Now that interest has been shown on social media spaces, the next move is to spread awareness on a wider scale. This will involve educating others (and ourselves) about the correct procedures to preserve these sites, and keep an eye out especially for the less protected structures.