Erasing the past

March 12, 2023

Old buildings have stories to tell. With every building that is bulldozed, we lose a part of our history

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Lyallpur, now called Faisalabad by most people, was planned and established in the last decade of the 18thCentury during British rule on the subcontinent. The eight bazaars surrounding its historic Clock Tower were not only the city’s largest commercial hub but also important cultural sites with architecture that spoke volumes about the city’s colonial past.

Some of Faisalabad’s historic buildings have been obliterated already.Efforts are underway to demolish others and build multi-storied plazas and business centres in their place.

Lyallpur’s first public library in Montgomery Bazaar, adjacent to Clock Tower, is among the historical buildings that survive now only history books. Built in 1904, the Sanatan Dharma Library was established as the main academic and literary centre of the city.

After Partition, the office of the Muslim League National Guards was established here. Later, it was converted into the office ofthe Muslim League and namedthe Muslim League House. In 1958,when Gen Ayub Khan banned political parties, a primary school for girls was established here under the supervision of the municipal corporation.

But even this change of identity failed to secure the historical library.Afew months ago, the building, known for its majestic wooden balconies and high arches, was demolished, and the land cordoned off on all sides with galvanisediron sheeting.

A dispute over the ownership of Lyallpur’s first library building had been in the courts for longer than three decades.In 2022, it was handed over to the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) following a courtorder.

On getting possession of the historical building, the ETPB demolished it and sold the debris for about Rs 0.6 million. A few months ago, the 13 marla land was leased for 30 years at Rs 70,000 per month. The plan is to set up a multi-storied commercial centre in its place.

The first gurdwarain Lyallpurhas met a similar fate. The place of worship was located at the junction of Kachehri Bazaar and Rail Bazaar, on the eastern side of Clock Tower. Many decades ago, it was converted into a government school.

Builtin the 19thCentury, the building sprawled over an area of eight kanals.

The old Gurumukhi inscriptions on its main entrance and walls have been distastefully slathered with layers of whitewashlime. Only the Nishan Sahib plinths in the building and the memorial plaques on the walls above the doors of a few rooms remain. These plaques, affixed to the walls in memory of the sevakars have their names and the details of the amount donated written in Gurumukhi.

History spanning over decades was lost behind the plaque that now reads Government Pakistan Model High School.

The two-storey building has a large hall, 50 rooms and a spacious basement. The basement and most of the rooms are now dilapidated andhave been barred shut. Only a few rooms remain in use.

According to the senior headmaster of the school, Ghulam Mohammad Sabir, the funds they get from the Education Department for the maintenance of this building are inadequate. “These funds are released based on the number of students studying in the school, rather than the area of the building or its historical significance,“ he explains.

Sabirtells TheNews on Sunday that businessmen from the surrounding markets have long wanted the school to shut down so that they can assume charge of this historical building.

“There are encroachments along the walls of the school.This makes it difficult to even walk around here,” complains Sabir. He says that the main problem is not a lack of resources but apathy and a lack of awareness about our cultural heritage.

Considering the historical importance of the building, the then divisional commissioner, Asif Iqbal, had issued a notification in February 2019 to establish a Sikh Heritage Museum in the building.A fund raising committee was formed for the purpose. Four years later the museum is yet to be established.

One of the reasons for this is that Asif Iqbal was transferred from Faisalabad a few months after issuing the notification. Also, the business community was opposed to the idea and went on stage a protest and demanded that the project be halted. Since then, the district administration has maintained silence on the issue.

Sabir says that he had welcomed the plan to establish a Sikh Heritage Museum in the building. “The maintenance and restoration of this historic building would become easier if that happened,” says Sabir. He adds that some members of the Sikh community from India and Canada still visit holy site in Pakistan. Some of them have expressed interest in funding the construction of the Sikh Heritage Museum. “Our problem is that we cannot guarantee that the money they donate or investin the project will be well managed” he says.

In December, last year, a developmentally disabled person broke the grill around the Clock Tower,climbed to the top of the dome and vandalised it. He was later rescued.

More than three months have passed since the incident but the tower has not been repaired. The repair and restoration work requires the expertise of a skilled craftsman occupied elsewhere.

The Municipal Corporation says all development work has been halted since January 2023.

ZohaibMohsin, a sub-engineer responsible for supervising the restoration work of six historical buildings of Faisalabad under the Dilkash Lyallpur project on behalf of Walled City Lahore, says that repair of the Clock Tower is part of an ongoing project. “After the recent damage, the clock can no longer be restored. We will try our best to fix it,” says Mohsin.

He says that the renovation and restoration of the District Council, Allama Iqbal Library, Qaisri Gate, Gumti and Gora Qabristanhas been completed under this project. “But the hard work done on the renovation and restoration of Qaisari Gate and Gumti was all for naught. The sites are once again covered with posters and banners publicising political gatherings and religious events,” says Mohsin.

According to Mohsin, the Walled City Authority is restoring these buildings to preserve the city’s diverse cultural heritage so that citizens visit the monuments and learn about the history of Lyallpur.

“At the local level, we face criticism and obstacles when we try to restore our cultural heritage. This criticism and a lack of cooperation are causing delays in the repair work,” he says.

Mohsin said that most of the historic buildings of Faisalabad were owned by the Municipal Corporation, the Evacuee Trust Property Board and the Education Department. “These departments neither have the capacity to maintain and protect historical buildings nor realise their true value,” he says.

Historical buildings are a reflection of the cultural life of the inhabitants of any city. Lyallpur has many magnificent buildings built by Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and the British before the Partition that express the distinct identity of these communities and various periods of Lyallpur’s history.

The state of affairs raises questions about the government’s commitment to preserving historical landmarks and maintaining their grandeur. Despite the monuments’ significance and cultural value, the delay in repairs demonstrates a lack of proper priorities and attention to preserving our heritage.

The four major communities of the city, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Christians, had participated in the construction of the Clock Tower. This is also indicated in the inscriptions in English, Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi around the tower.

The Clock Tower is noordinary building. It is a symbol of the city’s rich cultural heritage and diversity. Immediate action must be taken to restore this significant historical monument to its former glory.

The writer has been associated with journalism for the past decade. He tweets naeemahmad876

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