Making heritage relevant?

Updated January 31, 2014

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Whether a stage was built or a scaffolding was put up, was the due process of law followed? —Photo by APP
Whether a stage was built or a scaffolding was put up, was the due process of law followed? —Photo by APP

The upcoming Sindh Festival aka the ‘Cultural Coup’ of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on February 1, 2014 has been under severe criticism over the construction of a stage that could put the ruins of one of the world's ancient civilisations at risk.

While The Honourable High Court of Sindh has urged that the provincial authorities take utmost care to ensure that no damage is caused to the heritage site of Moenjodaro. We have, on the other end, sources claiming that the construction seen in the pictures is not a stage but a scaffolding put in place to protect the ruins.

Whether a stage or scaffolding, any construction within 200 feet of an immovable antiquity is prohibited by under Section 22 of the Antiquities Act 1975, unless permitted by the Director General Archaeology. The Head of the Archaeology Department for Sindh, Qasim Ali Qasim has claimed that no damage is being caused to the heritage site. However, regardless of whether permission has been granted or not, Section 18 of the Act puts another restriction:

"A protected immovable antiquity shall not be used for any purpose inconsistent with its character or for a purpose other than that directly related to its administration and preservation."

Now the Sindh Festival claims to be organised for the promotion and preservation of Sindh's culture and by that extension one may include heritage sites. CM Sindh, Qaim Ali Shah, had also expressed concern over the preservation of Moenjodaro when he took notice of the same in a press conference back in September 2013.

It remains to be proved in Court now whether a stage was being built or whether a scaffolding was put in place and in any event whether the due process of law was followed. What one is already seeing is that people of Pakistan, including myself have suddenly started taking notice of heritage sites.

For example, we didn't commend the government in equal measure when it sanctioned 54 crore rupees for Moenjodaro back in February 2012. We also didn't bother much when Archaeologist, Dr. Asma Ibrahim warned us that if Moenjodaro does not get the attention and protection it deserves then the ancient city will completely vanish in 20 years due to decay. So, if left to us, 20 years from now the Moenjodaro site could well be hosting a celebrity cricket match.

The point is simple that we as people do not have much concern for our culture. If we did, we would take the initiative and interest on a mass scale and would have been up in arms when Dr. Asma gave out that warning which was much before anyone had even heard about the Sindh Festival.

What Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has managed to do, not through design but by default, is make cultural heritage sites relevant. Perhaps he should consider building another stage near the Taxila ruins, another one of our archaeological sites lying in total decay due to the negligence of the government and a lack of awareness among the people.

Truth be told, this ongoing outrage is not an absolute concern for our culture, instead it’s serving as another excuse for us to express our political views; and I see nothing wrong in that. After all, with such a serious a lack of sensitivity on our part, how can we expect any better from the Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party.