Selling heritage!

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In the year 2008 Srinagar and Leh (old) towns were included on the New York-based World Monuments Fund (WMF) watch-list of the 100 most endangered sites across the globe. WMF is the foremost private and non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of endangered architectural and cultural sites around the World. That a foreign organization showed interest in preserving Srinagar’s cultural heritage obviously should have come as a clarion call for all the people of the state that owing to their lack of concern about their heritage, someone from outside had to step in to wake us up from slumber.

The heritage in Jammu and Kashmir and particularly in Kashmir Valley has all along got very little or no attention by any quarter. The indifference towards this sector is not confined to the governments, that be, but to the general public too. While government’s lack of interest saw wanton loot and destruction of heritage sites, people too are no less ruthless and in certain cases have been instrumental in destroying these glories of the past.

While WMF showed its concern about the preservation of heritage here saying traditional structures built to survive earthquakes were suffering as a result of ongoing instability and conflict, local populace, more or less, has always remained indifferent towards this aspect. While all over world people feel proud of their cultural heritage and get inspirations for coming ages, in Kashmir these sites have always been treated as alien – as if the people have no emotional or cultural connection. Peoples’ indifference and sort of disrespect towards their heritage and culture is one of the main reasons of the trouble and turmoil that the region is face to face with today. People who don’t respect their history, their culture and their heritage are bound to lose connection with the roots and once this connection is broken, peoples’ identity is lost and crises are born. That is what has happened here.

With a foreign organization having shown interest in preservation of our heritage, it was hoped that this would somehow also enthuse the local authorities to wake up and do something for preserving the Kashmir’s heritage for posterity. However, as history bears witness that in this part of the world much is said than done and every issue is spoken about and kept relevant just for a brief time, the WMF’s announcement was also celebrated for some time and later everything was just as ‘usual’. Nothing of the sort happened which could give people hope that preserving Kashmir’s distinct historical and cultural past is anywhere in the authorities’ priority list.

For some time the Tourism department claimed it was going for the cultural mapping of Srinagar city and so as to use the WMF initiative in preserving the cultural ethos of this old city, history of which dates back to 2000 years. But then as happens with so many initiatives here, people have not heard much about the initiative since. Some old buildings were no doubt given a facelift and declared as heritage sites which small signboards clamped on them publicly announcing such status, but that is all that has been done. The unfortunate reality is that in truck with a few NGOs and some individuals, massive loot is on in the name of preserving the city’s heritage. Indeed it won’t be an exaggeration to say that despite heritage tourism having been made into a buzzword in the Valley’s tourism lexicon, nothing worthwhile has been done to put Kashmir’s heritage on the tourism map. By the way, will anyone in the Ministry of Tourism and Culture mind giving us cost-benefit details of the amounts that have been spent during past few years in the name of preserving the heritage of this place vis-a-vis the returns that have been yielded!


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