PRESERVING THE HERITAGE

Editorial GREATER JAMMU

As the World Heritage Day is being observed globally today, it is time for the people of Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory as well as those governing this newly formed UT to take proactive steps to preserve the rich cultural heritage spread across Kashmir and Jammu in consonance with this year’s theme, ‘Heritage and Climate’. It needs to be realized that the rich cultural heritage from different regions has multiple simple solutions to the issue of ‘Climate Change’ that confronts the whole humanity today. It is a fact that despite being one of the best heritage regions of the nation the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir now divided into two Union Territories failed to tap this potential for various purposes, courtesy the successive representative governments preferring to remain more involved in the political endeavours of the worst sorts leaving less scope for the welfare and development in the state, the impact of which the people continue to bear even today. According to recorded history Jammu and Kashmir has nurtured more than four civilizations during the past more than five thousand years and it is really an irony that the state has lost substantial heritage sites and structures due to government’s apathy in this regard. As such it is high time to realize the value of heritage in the society and to review the approach adopted by the successive governments that failed to deliver any commendable results on this front. The significance of heritage in the society can be well gauged from a report titled ‘Saving Our Vanishing Heritage: Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage Sites in the Developing World’ that was released by Global Heritage Fund about a decade back. It illuminated five accelerating man-made threats facing global heritage sites in developing countries: development pressures, unsustainable tourism, insufficient management, looting, and war and conflict. Based on these threats, the report surveyed 500 major archaeological and heritage sites in developing countries to evaluate current loss and destruction, conservation and development. It identified nearly 200 of these sites as “At Risk” or “Under Threat,” and 12 sites were declared as “On the Verge” of irreparable loss and destruction. Although the government of erstwhile J&K State had identified 27 new heritage sites of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions for preservation and listing under J&K Heritage Conservation and Preservation Act 2010 but mere declaration and announcements cannot serve any purpose unless followed with full technological expertise. It is an open secret that the Mubarak Mandi Heritage Complex in Jammu continues to be the much talked about heritage site among the people during the past few years but the results on ground continue to be confined to occasionally holding a few programmes besides a cosmetic face lift of few elevations on the compound side with substantial portions on the internal and rare side of the complex craving attention. Some of the portions of the complex continue to crumble down amidst weather vagaries especially during the rainy season. Despite huge funds sanctioned for this ambitious project the development on ground is much wanting? The Mubarak Mandi Heritage site is just one example while there are multiple heritage sites in the Valley region that stand either vanished today or else stand converted into concrete complexes in the name of renovation least bothering about the aesthetic sense of a heritage sites and structures. In this regard the state needs to emulate the policies and approach of the western nations be it England or other European nations where local authorities have set building codes that are commensurate with the cultural and civilization flavour as a result of which the people from across the world long to visit these nations to have a glimpse of the heritage sites. It is not only the sites that are important part of heritage but the treasure-trove of rare manuscripts and valuable artifacts form much more significant component of the rich cultural heritage. Moreover it needs to be realized that heritage, born of the convergence of multiple faiths, is in the form of tangible as well as intangible cultural heritage. Both these forms of heritage have suffered substantially due to overarching focus on fighting terrorism in this region for over three decades. While it is possible to restore the tangible heritage taking the help of latest technological innovations, it is almost impossible to make good the loss of intangible heritage which is dying a slow but sure death. It is hoped that massive awareness will be raised about the rich cultural heritage in this UT not only on World Heritage Day but throughout the year. It needs to be realized that heritage is a shared wealth of J&K UT which is a unique confluence of many distinct cultures and traditions. So keeping up with this year’s theme ‘Heritage and Climate’ let’s all encourage and promote the activities that highlight how heritage can be a source of knowledge to fight climate change. Simultaneously it is expected that the government led by Lt Governor Manoj Sinha while working out development plans for cities and towns will accord due consideration to the socio-cultural dimension of heritage sites and only after thorough deliberations and discussions formulate an effective heritage plan in order to preserve the existing heritage for future generations.