Jan 10, 2012

Sindh: Protection Of Heritage

Sindh Cultural Department is asking for funds to protect important Sindh heritage as it is encroached upon.

Below is an article published by The Express Tribune

Never ones to be satisfied with land, encroachers have long eyed up Sindh’s archaeological sites. After a recent survey, the Sindh Culture Department has now asked for millions to preserve what remains of sites such as the Styan jo Than shrine, known as the ‘hill of virgins’.

The shrine is one of Rohri’s most important monuments. It was initially the place of Syed Abdul Qasim Namkeen, who was governor of Bakhar, one of the former states in Sindh. It was later converted into his family’s graveyard. As the myth goes, seven sisters of a ruling family took shelter there to save themselves from outsiders, but they later jumped into the River Indus, bequeathing this name upon the shrine.

The fascinating shrine is one of many that are diminishing from Sindh’s map. The survey found that several sites – including the ancient Buddhist sites of Kahu Jo Daro and Dhamrao jo Daro in Mirpurkhas and Larkana districts, where the Buddha’s stupas were found – are fast vanishing. “The Kahu jo Daro was spread over around 50 acres,” says Ali Hyder Gadhi, who works as an archaeological conservator of Moen jo Daro. “But it has been almost entirely encroached. The same situation is at Dhamrao jo Daro.”

General John Jacob, the acting commissioner in Sindh during the British Raj was reportedly attracted to Kahu jo Daro in the 1850s. But over 150 years later, few have followed in Jacob’s steps.

The lack of proper fencing and boundaries has aided encroachers. According to the survey, important monuments such as the Pucca Qila, Hyderabad, which was established by Kalhora chief Mian Ghulam Shah in 1182, Umerkot Fort, Fort at Kot Diji in Khairpur Mirs, Lakhan jo Daro in Sukkur, Mumal-ji-Mari in Ghotki are in deplorable condition.

Scores of other sites are also threatened as encroachers continue to take over them. They are not interested in preserving the sites – some of these ancient monuments are being used as cattle pens.

Culture Minister Sassui Palijo says that the federal government was supposed to look after the archaeological sites. After the passage of the 18th amendment, this is now a provincial responsibility. “We have initially conducted a survey of around 130 sites and prepared a plan for their conservation. Some Rs86.961 million have been initially proposed for the protection and promotion of all the sites and monuments,” she said.

The threat to historical sites isn’t just posed by encroachers. The illegal activities of builders and miners have contributed to the decay of Sindh’s history. This includes the Rohri Hill Monuments, where there are signs of factories dating to the Stone Age that used to make stone tools.

“The measuring tools found in Moen jo Daro, Harappa and other archaeological sites in the region were made at Rohri Hills Monuments,” said Ali Hyder Gadhi.

Gadhi claims that people have obtained permission from the mines and mineral department for stone crushing at the site. “We have lodged many complaints, but all in vain,” he said.

Adviser to CM on Mines and Minerals Imamuddin Shouqeen said that his department normally issues licences for mining in the hilly areas. “We will investigate into the matter and will not allow anyone to destroy our historical places. The protection of the cultural heritage of Sindh is a prime concern of the government and also a part of Sindh Vision 2030,” he added.

Other threats to the sites, the survey found, include the effects of natural disasters, soil erosions, and changes in river courses, growth of vegetation and vandalism.

Palijo believes that after the department gets the required funds, it can start fencing and fixing boundary pillars around the archaeological sites, which will also prevent the growth of encroachments that mar the view.