Tarique A Bhat
We may not belong to our own tremendous past, but certainly that belongs to us. We take our enviable heritage wherever we go as memories, pride, remorse, joy, sorrow and inspirations. Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Culture is everyone’s heritage.
Reviewing the development of Srinagar city, Chief Minister Omer Abdullah has called for developing Shehri-Khas as heritage city and laid stress on construction of a modern satellite town and renovation of Shehri-Khas. This approach seems double pronged in terms of conservation of heritage sites and sustainable development.
“Modernization” of Kashmir in whatever little form has often been done in the name of tourism, not keeping in view the heritage, culture and environment of this place. Kashmir’s Heritage sites offer the greatest wealth of heritage that one could wish for in a trip to Kashmir.
Yet, in the process of modernizing our city, the very qualities that attracted tourists in the first place were inadvertently sacrificed. Development of Boulevard road and a concrete jungle of hotels, shutting down of Nallah Mar which was giving city a look and feel of “Venice of East”, un-planned development of city suburbs by destroying the rice bowl, making historic river Jehlum the main drain of city and neglect of heritage buildings are but some of the instances of how Governments are responsible for vandalizing the Heritage of Srinagar. Despite being included in the 100 most endangered heritage sites by the World Monuments Fund (WMF), defacing of the heritage buildings in the heart of the city just mocks at the government’s resolve to build the heritage city.
Successive Governments have failed to take a dispassionate view on such issues. These regimes had no insight and understanding of Kashmir in evolution, mirroring the changes of an ancient culture metamorphosing into a modern Kashmir. That is why we could not produce everyday forms of socio-cultural and historical understanding.
This neglect, greed and imbalance have damaged us on human, social and environmental frontage. Proper policies should be framed to get the city its worthy status.
Srinagar should be a heritage city and deserves to be on the list of UNESCO’s heritage cities of the world. We the people of Kashmir support anything creative that promotes sustainable development of heritage and tourism of Kashmir. I propose and plan to set up audio-visual interpretation centre at the archaeological sites to “enhance the visitors’ knowledge of the monuments” and chronicle the oral history of Kashmir Valley based on the memories of the old residents as part of the Heritage Conservation.
Instead of developing a new satellite town, planners can create a blueprint of how to re-orient and modernize the un-planned and ill-planned urban localities around Srinagar. The city is not over crowded yet, it could be denser but developing the underdeveloped areas is an art, which should be done in a proper way. In contrast our approach stems from the view point and experience of adhoc management. That is why Government claims and announcements are taken here, as irrelevant distraction.