Thursday, August 6, 2009

Monuments Vanish – Government Unfazed

Monuments Vanish – Government Unfazed
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Some wise men of India say what is good about this country the opposite of it is also holds true. Take for instance the discovery of ancient heritage sites. On average Indian newspapers fill one item every week describing in graphic details, the discovery of heritage site excavated by the Archeological Survey of India.

One relish the hard work done by the government body that was set up way back in 1961 to discover the glorious past of the country, and thank it to let every Indian feel proud of the wonder that was India.

Well that’s brighter side of the story; the opposite is, Archeological Survey of India is also responsible for the disappearance of thirty-five of its protected monuments across the country. These protected monuments were notified during the British rule.

India’s culture minister Ambika Soni placed this information before Parliament on March 27 2009 and listed 35 “centrally-protected monuments/sites that are not traceable now”.

“The disappearance came to light in the course of surveys of the monuments and it is not feasible to fix individual responsibility,” the Minister said in a written reply to the upper house.

She blamed “rapid urbanisation, construction of multi-storeyed residential and commercial buildings, implementation of development projects, etc.” for the disappearance of the monuments.

As many as 12 of the 35 entries; some have more than one structure are in Delhi. Uttar Pradesh has eight, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir three each, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat two each and Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Karnataka one each.

The 12 monuments missing from Delhi includes Moti Gate in Bazidpur; Phool Chadar, Mubarakabad; Barakhamba Cemetery; Alipur Cemetery; Joga Bai Mound, Jamia Nagar; Shamsi Talab, Mehrauli and Nicholson statue.

Among them is Moti Gate of Sher Shah Suri’s Delhi, notified as a centrally-protected monument in 1913. There is also no trace of the Alipur cemetery, which apparently fell victim to a bypass on the GT-Karnal Road in the 1980s.

Uttar Pradesh with eight untraceable monuments comes second. Most of these monuments are spread over Lucknow, Banda, Hardoi and Jalaun.

In Lucknow, the big monument lost is Imambara Amin-ud-Daula and many cemeteries. In other places, most of the monuments are cemeteries

What cannot be traced in Jammu and Kashmir are rock carving of Sitala, Narada, Brahma, Devi riding a lion and Radha Krishna in Kathua district. Also lost is cave temple of Visveswara in Kathua.

In Karnataka, a pre-historic site in Mysore cannot be traced while in Gujarat ancient site in Sejakpur in Surendranagar is lost. Haryana has lost Mughal Kos Minar in Faridabad and Kurukshetra. In Rajasthan, inscription in Fort Nagar and 12th century temple in Baran cannot be traced.

The figure does not indicate the true magnitude of the problem. The government’s list only mentions the “centrally-protected monuments,” a reference to the sites in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, which number 3,667 at present.

It does not include sites that at some time were “protected” by state authorities. Currently, there are about 4,000 of them across the country.

More important, the figure does not take into account the unprotected sites, many of which are not even identified as “monuments”.

Taking into account this colossal damage that is going on to the national heritage, the union government has recently launched National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities to place such little-known sites on record. It has been given a corpus fund of Rs 90-crore and a time frame of five years to identify and document such monuments and antiquities.

One hopes that the records will be set right and no future loss to its monuments and antiquities will take place. We leave this to future and talk about the present where the stand-off between Archeological Survey of India and Muslim worshippers continues.

The Muslim worshipers are demanding to open the gates of protected mosque, to cater to the religious obligation keeping in mind the growing population and keep such places of worship in service for which they have been constructed.

Recently a group of people tried to forcibly enter the ASI protected the Jamali Kamali mosque at Mehrauli in South Delhi to offer Friday prayers but were chased off by the Delhi police.

Responding to the incident, Home minister P Chidambaram said; the Government would not allow prayers in monuments protected by the ASI except in 12 structures where they were being offered for years.

We are for defacto status quo. But in no other protected monuments prayers will be allowed to be offered," Chidambaram said. Among the 12 places of worship, five are in leading monuments and seven where prayers have been offered on Fridays.

One wonders at the wisdom of the government in prohibiting the Muslim worshippers from using their places of worship. The late Rajiv Gandhi who had the dubious distinction of the opening the gates of Babari Masjid at Ayodhya to the Hindu group, had then defended the ban on the Muslims to worship in the protected monuments, saying these architectures are in depleted condition and from safety point of view it was advisable not to pray in such mosques.

We can argue with the government over this issue but when we take into consideration the disappearance of the 35 protected monuments, one has think, whether such places of worships would be safer with the government or in the custody of the worshipers for whom it’s a necessity at least five times a day.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

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