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Disdain for history

January 28, 2013

WERE it not for state intervention, public access to the Dharmarajika stupa in Taxila may have been blocked off, as a private landowner had built a wall cutting off the footpath connecting the monument to the access road. Fortunately, the assistant commissioner of Taxila ruled that the construction was illegal and built on state land; the individual in question had earlier claimed the property next to the stupa was his. Though the intervention is welcome, it is strange that no action was taken when the controversial construction was taking place close to the ancient site in the first place, that too on encroached government land.

As per the Antiquities Act, 1975, it is unlawful to block public access to heritage sites.

As it is the situation in Taxila — a treasure trove containing architectural gems from the region’s Buddhist past — is not good. Reliable reports indicate that a number of stupas in the Unesco-designated world heritage site have been razed, while industries have sprung up in the ancient town’s vicinity. What is more, land around the site is being snapped up at low rates by well-connected individuals, to be used for commercial purposes. Yet neglect is not limited to Taxila; for example politically powerful individuals have tried to occupy parts of the Makli necropolis in Sindh, while flood victims had been housed on the site, causing considerable damage to the exquisite tombs. Perhaps the root of the problem is a disdain for and ignorance of history in this country, both in the state and society. We do not learn history, hence we do not learn from it. The state is least concerned about the upkeep of heritage sites, while most people consider ancient monuments to be mere piles of brick and stone. If such attitudes prevail, Pakistan’s rich historical heritage will very soon be lost forever.