MUZAFFARABAD: The heritage sites in Azad Kashmir are crumbling because of the concerned department’s negligence. The cultural sites, including Hindu and Sikh temples and gurdwaras, were damaged by the October 8, 2005 devastating earthquake. Since than these buildings have not been repaired.
The quake claimed over 75,000 lives and destroyed 300,000 buildings, including scores of temples across the state.
“We do not have funds to repair and preserve these historical sites which have been declared archaeological assets,” said Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Archaeological and Tourism Department Deputy Director Pirzada Arshad Hussain. Thousands of houses were rebuilt while schools and hospitals are still being repaired with foreign funding.
Most of the mosques destroyed in the quake have also been rebuilt by the local communities but temples and gurdwaras are yet to be repaired even after the lapse of five years. Apparently, the government has no plans for their restoration.
Deserted in 1947 after Sikh and Hindus migrated to Indian-held Kashmir, these temples tell a tale of their own.
One such historic gurdwara in Gujarbandi, near the Line of Control in Jhelum Valley, about 55 kilometres from Muzaffarabad, collapsed in the earthquake. Its rubble has been scattered on the ground since then and the locals have been guarding its debris out of sheer respect for their grandparents’ neighbours.
“It was built in 1935 by the Sikh community and remained an important religious centre for them till they left the area in 1947. Ever since it collapsed in the earthquake, we have been guarding it and have not allowed anyone to take away even a single stone,” said Abdul Ahad, an 80-year-old man who resides nearby.
Before the quake and start of Intra-Kashmir bus service, Sikhs and Hindus occasionally came to visit the temples.
“Recently, a group of Sikhs from Jammu took up the matter of rehabilitation of these temples with the state government,” said Sheikh Manzoor, whose Sikh relatives visited Gujarbandi two months ago. Manzoor’s grandparents chose to convert rather than migrate to Jammu with other relatives in 1947.
“They want to rebuild this site and their Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (gurdwara protection committee) visited it before raising the issue with the Muzaffarabad administration,” he said, adding that the lack of a Sikh presence in the area has hindered the group’s efforts.
There are three temples and two gurdwaras in Muzaffarabad which are also damaged and await rehabilitation.
In 2008, the AJK government declared all the temples and gurdwaras as ‘archaeological assets’ to protect them but conveniently forgot to allocate funds for their rehabilitation and preservation.
Deputy Director Hussain promised to take measures for their rebuilding and preservation on the availability of funds, saying, “We have taken up the case with the government and Kashmir Council,” but was sceptical, “There is little chance of any quick release of funds given the prevailing financial crunch.”
Given the multitude of cash flow problems between Islamabad and Muzaffarabad, it seems the aging Abdul Ahad of the region will have to guard the temples for a while longer.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2011.
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