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May 17, 2015

‘Disconnect with history hinders heritage preservation’


May 17, 2015

There’s a disconnect between us and our past. History is concealed from our society and that is why we do not value our immense cultural and historical heritage. History is the soul of a nation, the soul of a society, but we have been concealed from each other.
These views were expressed by noted journalist and columnist Ghazi Salahuddin while speaking at a panel discussion at a seminar titled, ‘Preserving our heritage: re-imagining Karachi’, held under the joint
auspices of ‘I Am Karachi and SEEDS’ (Social Entrepreneurship and Equity Development).
He was speaking at the panel discussion titled, “Initiatives that can make heritage useful for society”.
“The real heritage that is crumbling today is our collective psyche,” he said.
He was sceptical about the place accorded history in our scheme of educational things. He condemned the step-motherly treatment meted out to the teaching of history.
Salahuddin cited the case of Mohenjodaro and said it was an archeological treasure. People and students of history and archeology flocked to it from the world over but here the authorities were totally detached and people hardly knew anything about it.
He said the treasures were gradually disappearing with the ravages of time, but there was absolutely no
attempt to save them. “There’s a disconnect between us and our past,” he lamented.
“People are interested in public spaces when they reflect our heritage,” said Saima Zaidi, while stressing the indispensable need for heritage preservation.
The director-curator of the State Bank of Pakistan’s museum, Dr Asma Ibrahim, said: “You cannot blame people for being ignorant for their oozing
heritage. There is no department of archeology at Karachi University. There are no other avenues for interested people to study archeology for them to get acquainted with their pre-historic past.”
She said Karachi was a city with a history dating back two million

years, to the stone age, and around its periphery were many sites dating back to that area which nobody knew. It must be mentioned here that Dr Ibrahim is credited with the discovery of an underwater city dating back thousands of years.
In the earlier panel discussion titled, “The crumbling heritage”, Kamil Khan Mumtaz from Lahore laid the blame for the vanishing heritage squarely on the shoulders of unbridled capitalism which needed crime to support it.
He accused traders and “developers” of spending astronomical amounts to change the face of the walled city and mint tens of millions. He cited the case of the walled city of Lahore and said the area which was inhabited by the disempowered, low- income groups was the direct target of builders and developers’ mafias.
He said centuries-old dwellings which had a history to narrate and were reflective of our past were being pulled down by the builders’ syndicates to make way for six-storeyed plazas and apartments which were beyond the reach of the poor. If the residents objected, he said, the builders capitalised on their poverty with exorbitant sums or threatened them with dire consequence, including murder.
The government, when approached, expressed total inability to check these capitalists, and so many low- income families had been displaced from the area with nowhere to go.
Salman Rashid, also from Lahore, said that we had lost our historical heritage on account of our total disregard for it. He cited the case of a bridge midway between Lahore and Gujranwala, which had been built by Emperor Shah Jahan and had been there for 360 years despite all the seasonal floods. It had seen 360 floods but had not capitulated.
He said some developers were having it demolished but he reached there in the nick of time and had the demolition halted.
Kaleemullah Lashari, director of antiquities and former deputy secretary, Department of Culture, Sindh, enumerated sites in the city which had been rescued through his efforts from elimination but that progress on them had been stalled. In this context, he cited the case of the old freemasons building which was turned into the offices of the Sindh Wildlife Board but now, owing to manoeuvreings by interested commercial circles, no wildlife conservation work was going on at the office right now.
US Consul-General Brian Heath recounted the number of heritage preservation projects where the US was collaborating with Pakistan through the Ambassadors’ Fund for Preservation, and cited six cites where the US was active in preservation work, the latest being Makli.
He said that to date the US had given Pakistan $250, 000 for the purpose since 2001. Pakistan, he said, had a very rich historical and cultural heritage
and the country’s identity was worth protecting.
This heritage must be protected and handed over to posterity and acquaint future generations with the hopes and aspirations of an era gone by.
Salman Beg of the Aga Khan Cultural Services-Pakistan said that the inclusion of civil society was imperative to the preservation of our cultural and historical heritage.
With the help of slides, he explained the preservation of various sites in the walled city of Lahore and Lahore’s famed Shahi Hammam.
Sadaf Mehmood, Enterprise Development Strategist and co-founder, Re-imagining Karachi, said heritage preservation was hampered by lack of expertise and lack of funds.
“We mustn’t forget that sustainability of heritage preservation generates jobs,” she said.
Wajiha Naqvi of I AM Karachi, said: “We are here to imagine a more tolerant, more beautiful Karachi, a socially harmonious Karachi.”
Expressing shock over the murder of social activist Sabeen Mehmud on April 24 and the massacre of Ismaili community members on May 13, she said that the divide was becoming more and more yawning with the passage of each day.
The vision of I Am Karachi, she said, was to inculcate pride, hope and ownership of the city of Karachi.

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