By Adil Rashid Bhatt
The inheritance that the past has bequeathed to us, that we value in the present , and choose to preserve for generations to come including qualities, traditions of culture, features of life, monuments, objects, language and so on, is called as heritage. The Oxford English dictionary defines heritage as ‘ the property that is or may be inherited; an inheritance’, ‘valued things such as historic buildings that have been passed down from previous generations’, and ‘relating to things of historic or cultural value that are worthy of preservation’. Heritage is tangible (historical sites, monuments, buildings, objects in museums, artifacts, and archives), natural(landscape, waterways, uplands, woodlands, bogs, indigenous wildlife, plants ,trees, animals and insects), intangible (language, customs, sports, skills, crafts, knowledge, and folklore). So, we can conveniently say that any tangible, natural or intangible legacy that we inherit from our predecessors may be called as heritage. It adorns us by putting us on a higher pedestal of humanity, and we are able to identify and communicate with each other at a deeper level, find common ground, and uniquely express ourselves to the outer world.
A unique heritage bestows unique identity to people possessing that heritage. It is a repository of the past and a torchbearer of the future. It elucidates evolution of a society; we examine our past and traditions and try to find out why we are here. The keystone of culture, heritage is imperative to inform and inspire public debates, and helps frame policies pertaining to politics, business or social wellbeing in a given society. In our part of the world, that is, Kashmir, we have inherited a lot from our predecessors, both natives and foreigners, which with the passage of time, is facing imminent decay. The government of Jammu and Kashmir might have taken some steps to preserve the few monuments of heritage to flaunt them to entice tourists but, yet, there are many monuments, although of less visibility, that need dire attention
Consider an example. Recently, a newspaper reported that “Pather Masjid” and the Tomb of “Sultan Zain ul Aabideen” are facing imminent decay, and authorities seem oblivious to their fading away. Although the administration is taking a keen interest to renovate the spellbound Mughal Gardens now and then , to lure tourists from different parts of India and abroad, but this will not extinguish the exigency needed to renovate and preserve other monuments of utmost importance nor will it ward off the imminent threat staring at other monuments or heritage , in general.
The omnipresence of heritage is an explicit reflection of history of a nation, and those who show a lackadaisical approach to preserve heritage are actually complicit in orphaning a nation of its history, (although both the terms are not necessarily synonymous). At village level we have a few oldest graves that might be included in repository of heritage, as we get an inkling about who when and how a particular village had been settled for the first time, and also informs us about the hereditary evolution of that village. The pedagogy of heritage needs to made compulsory, at the least, college level. .Living societies take pride in preserving their heritage, and flaunting the same before outsiders. They don’t discriminate between foreigners’ legacy and natives accomplishments. But, alas, story is not the same in our part of the world. Here, instead of working for preservation of this knowledge rich legacy ,rulers are showing virulent obstinacy and hate in being adamant to make it disappear altogether, and not leave a trace of it.
Sometimes heritage fells prey to politics and, at other times , it becomes victim of bigotry and religious prejudice; induced mutation of Allahabad, Faizabad and Ahmedabad to Pryagraj, Ayodhya,and Karnavati are cases in point. Or, the demolition of the 16th century Mosque, the Babri Masjid, is yet another glaring example of religio-political chauvinism. Rulers with jaundiced vision, who are out with tridents of religious bigotry , to decimate the legacy left behind by Muslim rulers in India have only one goal in mind, and that is to draw as much political leverage from vandalism and erasure, as they ca. These inglorious people take refugee under religion, invoke alleged wrongs meted out to them in the past, and cook their political pot.
This deliberate distortion of heritage is tantamount to denying and debilitating history; it is a well calculated move to orphan Indian Muslims of their share of history. The first step in disowning of a population is to deny that their share of history, or simply history. It reeks of criminal intimidation of a population aimed at letting down Muslims.
The author, from Laram, Islamabad (Anantnag), can be reached at: email@example.com