Raouf Rasool (Kashmir Images)
In the year 2008 Srinagar and Leh (old) towns were included on the New York-based World Monuments Fund (WMF) watch-list of the 100 most endangered sites across the globe. WMF is a private and non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of endangered architectural and cultural sites around the World. That a foreign organization showed interest in preserving Srinagar’s cultural heritage should have come as a clarion call for all the people of the state that owing to their lack of concern about their heritage, someone from outside had to step in to wake us up from slumber. But alas, it has not been so. Instead the local population as well as the local government continues to be carelessly negligent about the local cultural ethos, not only of Srinagar or Leh towns but about the entire state.
The heritage in Jammu and Kashmir and particularly in Kashmir Valley has all along got very little or no attention by any quarter. The indifference towards this sector is not confined to the governments only, but the general public too is equally culpable of vandalizing everything. While government’s lack of interest has resulted in wanton loot and destruction of heritage sites, people too are no less ruthless and in certain cases have been instrumental in destroying these glories of the past. While WMF showed its concern about the preservation of heritage here saying traditional structures built to survive earthquakes were suffering as a result of ongoing instability and conflict, local populace, more or less, has always remained indifferent towards this aspect. While all over world people feel proud of their cultural heritage and get inspirations for coming ages, in Kashmir these sites have always been treated as alien – as if the people have no emotional or cultural connection. Peoples’ indifference and sort of disrespect towards their heritage and culture is one of the main reasons of the trouble and turmoil that the region is face to face with today. People who don’t respect their history, their culture and their heritage are bound to lose connection with the roots and once this connection is broken, peoples’ identity is lost and crises are born. That is what has happened here.
Now that a foreign organization has shown interest in preservation of our heritage, let it be hoped that the interest that is being shown towards it doesn’t die after some time. History bears witness that in this part of the world much is said than done and every issue is spoken about and kept relevant just for a brief time. Hoping against hope, one would pray that history doesn’t repeat itself this time and all the concerned authorities and the people in general gear up to save and preserve the heritage that gives Kashmir a distinct historical and cultural place in the community of other societies. The Tourism Department claims to have completed the cultural mapping of Srinagar city and in this backdrop, WMF initiative could go a long way in preserving the cultural ethos of this old city history of which dates back to 2000 years. Besides international attention, that definitely would help a great deal, need is to concentrate and focus on the issue domestically. Neither government nor a few non-governmental organizations can do the needful alone as, sadly, in both these cases it is actually money that plays the game (Dal Lake conservation being an eye-opener). Therefore, need is to involve general public by launching an awareness campaign. Of late the heritage tourism has become a buzz word in Kashmir. Talk of heritage tourism needs to be translated into action and that can happen once the concerned authorities launch a full-fledged campaign for the preservation of heritage.