Introduction to KashmirForum.org Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.
www.kashmirforum.org

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Most Endangered Heritage of Kashmir

Saleem laments how Kashmir's glorious colonial architecture is fast disappearing

(Mr. Mohammad Saleem Beg, 58, was born and raised in Srinagar. He was educated at the S.P. College and the Gandhi Memorial College, receiving his Bachelor's degree from the latter. He was awarded a EEC fellowship in 1998 which allowed him to attend study courses at Universities of Luven, Belgium, and Trinity College, Dublin. Mr. Beg entered the State government service in 1975 and retired in 2006 as the Director General of Tourism. In the 31 years of public service (which included two deputation assignments in New Delhi), Mr. Beg promoted local arts and crafts, and raised public awareness of Kashmir's rich heritage and architecture. He was a leading figure in getting Srinagar listed as one of the 100 most threatened heritage cities by the World Monument Fund in 2008. Mr. Beg has traveled extensively and has attended numerous conferences, including the 1997 UN Special Session on Environment in New York, and the 1997 Kyoto Convention on Climate Change in Japan. His articles and essays have been published in various publications. Since retirement, he has remained active as the Convener of the J&K Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage - INTACH.)

COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE

Kashmir is the cradle of Asiatic civilization’. This observation was made by Kapila Vatsayen, the doyen of Indian art and culture on 28th February 2009 at a seminar in Delhi.

It is the vibrancy and inherent strength of Kashmir society that it was able to absorb cross cultural influences in art, language and architecture. This gave birth to some unique inclusive streams of culture and heritage. Architecture is one such form where these influences are layered and can be identified with such external influences.

During the more secure and settled phase of British rule in 19th century, a distinct stream of architecture known as colonial architecture dominated the sky line of various regions in India. This stream owed its origin to the Indo-Saracenic architecture which had combined the features of Hindu, Islamic and western elements.

This architectural style assumed and imbibed local traditions expressed through building crafts and other construction practices. During this period Kashmir was under Dogra rule. Dogra rulers also adopted this architectural form, with generous use of Kashmir crafts and building practices. The craft traditions of Kashmir traveled to Jammu as well and were used in almost all buildings of that period. The papier mache and painted walls and ceiling at Mubarak Mandi is a testimony to use of these craft forms. A large number of public buildings like offices, palaces, educational institutions and other secular buildings were built based on this architecture. Many private residences also dotted the built landscape of city and major towns.. Till very recent past Srinagar boasted of many such buildings.

Unfortunately we are fast losing this architectural distinctiveness to insensitivity of the public and private owners. This write up can not fully accommodate the vandalism inflicted on this architecture. However the story has to be told and let us take demolition of one such excellent building as a case in point. This demolition speaks of the callousness, corruption and misuse of authority by some state Government officers at the behest of a broker who wants to construct a shopping complex at the sight.

This building was till recently housing a school by the name of Lal Ded Memorial School, located on right bank of river Jehlum at Badyar Bala, Gaw Kadal, opposite the magnificent old Secretariat building complex. This complex is itself in the danger of falling prey to the official apathy but that we will deal with separately. The Lal Ded school building was built in the colonial form with extensive use of local techniques especially Kashmir wooden crafts.

The architectural features of this colonial structure included its intricate wood work, papier mache ceiling, ornate doors and windows. The main entry of the building was from the side of river ideal for a river side museum. On the basis of its architectural and historical significance this 120 years old building has been registered as a Grade I, historical property and has been described in INTACH’s National Register as;

“…The main building fa├žade is dominated by an impressive arcade of window openings surrounded by triangular and circular pediments and pilasters, reminiscent of the prevailing colonial influences of the 19th century. The overall building appearance shows deep traces of classical Western European architecture. A portion of the building still retains its original earth and birch roofing.”

After the old secretariat building it was the second largest colonial structure built during Dogra period on the Jehlum river front. This river front is one of the last surviving heritage river fronts of sub continent and gives a distinct cultural identity to Srinagar. INTACH has in its cultural resource mapping identified this river front as a separate heritage zone.

The history of this school building is by itself unique. It was built by a Jammu Rajput in1880s whose sons, Rattan Singh, Narinder Singh and others reside at Panjtirthi Jammu. The building was in the process of being converted in heritage museum by the Tourism Department on the persuasion of some concerned citizens. INTACH prepared a project out line for restoration of this building and its subsequent conversion into a museum of vernacular arts.

However this was not to happen thanks to the officials of Srinagar Municipal Corporation who, in collusion with senior officers of Revenue, public works and even Archives Department became actors in the conspiracy to facilitate demolition of this heritage property.

The story goes like this. A broker of Tankipora approached the Divisional Commissioned that he plans to purchase this property, naming it a migrant property comprising three story house spread over 1 kanal 11marlas of land at Badyar Bala. Div Com issued sanction for alienation of this property in 2006 using the powers vested in him under “preservation, protection and restraint on distress sale Act 1997” Once this order was obtained from the Divisional Commissioner, suddenly additional district Magistrate Srinagar found that this building is a grave danger to the life and property of the public in general and inhabitants of the locality in particular. This Revenue officer also sent an advice to Director School Education to get the school vacated as the building is unsafe.

Another interesting dimension to the whole conspiracy was given by the Department of archives. They issued a certificate that this building does not fall in the monumental category. So much about a Department charged with the solemn duty to protect the built heritage of Kashmir.

Armed with such advice and information, the joint Commissioner works, Srinagar Municipal Corporation issued demolition orders for the building in January 2008. When in INTACH, we got to know of this sordid drama being enacted by a group of officers certainly on extraneously considerations, we wrote to Divisional Commissioner Kashmir on 26th April 2008 that this building has been classified as Grade one heritage building on the National Register for heritage protection Program. It was brought to the notice of Div Com that this building is one of the last few structures built on classical European style. As the case for demolition was built on the false premise of the building being unsafe, it was certified by INTACH that this building is safe and should not be demolished. We also knew that many officials bave been motivated to declare the building unsafe. We therefore approached National Centre for Disaster Preparedness, Ahmedabad for examining the structure. Accordingly Mr. Rajen Desai, MS Structures-USA, the Jt director of the Ahmedabad centre examined the structure and opined that the building is safe and should not be demolished.

While this was happening, The Tourism department wrote to Deputy Commissioner Srinagar that this building be acquired for public purposes for housing the heritage museum. We were very hopeful that we have done all that is needed to be done to secure this magnificent representation of our architectural glory. Alas during the run up to assembly elections when Srinagar remained in turmoil, the building was demolished with active connivance of the Srinagar Municipal corporation officers in Nov 2008. While all this requires a formal investigation how long shall we wait to enact a legislation to give protection to our built heritage. This legislation has been adopted by many heritage cities in the country. The city of Srinagar, Jammu and Leh eminently deserve this protection.

1 comment:

sajad said...

I can't believe that the official apathy is costing us so much. For somebody who was educated at Nadim Sahib's Lal-Ded High school, the building was a shrine to the carefree days of our adolescence. Even in its dilapidated form, its majesty was not lost. Running across its corridors, or simply gazing at the marvels of its high ceilings was simple and pure joy.I know that i speak for hundreds of students and generations of Kashmiris for that matter, who had ever set foot in the building or had the fortune of being educated there.The fond memories of this institution will always have a place in the heart of our hearts.