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Heritage vandalism

October 01, 2018


VANDALISING historical or religious monuments not only destroys cultural heritage, but also makes space for some elements to exploit ignorance and hatred. In effect, last week, it was distressing to learn that thieves had vandalised tombstones from the 15th-century mausoleum of Jam Nizamuddin II situated within the Makli necropolis near Thatta; they also stole four gauges for measuring cracks from inside the monument. One of the several architectural splendours dating back to the Samma dynasty, this is a tall, sandstone tomb adorned with floral and geometric medallions with an exterior featuring decorative motifs. Protected since 1981 under Unesco’s world heritage status, Makli is said to be the largest ancient funerary site in the world, and is of outstanding importance for its assemblage of massive structures in varied architectural styles from the 14th to the 18th centuries. Unfortunately, it is under threat from encroachments, vandalism and decay caused by climatic conditions and the shift of the riverbed. In spite of such persistent degradation, the Sindh government, which is responsible for preservation, has not done enough to conserve these magnificent monuments. If the government is short on resources, then private philanthropists and the Sindh Endowment Fund for the Preservation of Heritage should be approached. Furthermore, as damaging or defacing protected heritage is in violation of cultural and antiquity acts, all identified perpetrators should be prosecuted.

The government must recognise that the benefits of cultural endowments, including unique streetscapes and historical sites, extend beyond their historical significance. Conserving and managing heritage increases employment and tourism opportunities. This is evident in the recent rehabilitation of Pakistan Chowk: a landmark heritage space in Karachi that was turned into a sustainable public space for local stakeholders; another is Lahore’s Walled City project, in which private-public partnerships have adapted sites into tourism spots. It is pertinent to end with a reminder that a nation stays alive when its culture is alive.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2018