Speakers urge citizens to save Shikarpur’s heritage

Published: November 5, 2016

KARACHI: The rich heritage of Shikarpur must be protected and preserved for our future generations, urged speakers at a session, titled ‘Shikarpur’s Heritage: Not For Sale’, at The Second Floor (T2F) on Thursday evening.

They said the practice of selling off antiques in Shikarpur and other cities must come to an end. Author and historian Mehdi Shah criticised the provincial culture department, saying its officials are busy doing alterations in the guise of preservation of various heritage sites. He remarked that the covered bazaar and municipal building of Shikarpur are a few examples of heritage sites, which have been recently altered.

Prof Monis Ayaz Shaikh urged that it is unfortunate that the heritage buildings of Shikarpur have been put up for sale for quite some time. He remarked that the only possible way to save the heritage sites is by buying and then preserving them.

A notable literary figure, Shahab Osto, said, “The reason for the downfall of Shikarpur is because the educated people of the city have left, including me.” He added that there is a sense of loss whenever these people visit Shikarpur.

The architecture and aesthetics of the buildings in Shikarpur were the most pristine in the entire Subcontinent and even in Asia, he claimed. “The remnants of Shikarpur can only be found in a city like Venice,” said Osto.

Even though Shikarpur was never bombarded, sheer greed has lowered the city to this level, according to him. Osto added that the city’s heritage has been faced with debauchery, annihilation, and vandalism.

Professor Anwar Figar Hakro said that the history of Shikarpur is very peculiar and unique, as the city is divided into two parts – the area encapsulated within the circular road and the area outside it.

He said the city inside the circular road is very beautiful and was walled with 10 gates as entry points, contrary to the eight gates mentioned in the history books.

The project director of the Endowment Fund Trust, Mohan Lal, said that Shikarpur’s stock of splendid residential and commercial buildings, which at the time of partition formed over 80% of its built environment, is now shrinking day by day and the beautiful carved teakwood facades, balconies, doors, windows, fanlights and wall cupboards of demolished buildings are being reused in ‘elite’ sponsored residential and commercial buildings in Karachi and other big cities and are also smuggled away.

He warned that if no serious effort is made to stop the demolition of the surviving architectural heritage of Shikarpur, soon there will be no historic Shikarpur to speak of.

To stop the destruction of Shikarpur’s architectural heritage, the city was included in the 2008, 2010 and 2014 World Monuments Watch List of ‘100 Most Endangered Sites’ published by the World Monuments Fund but to no avail, Lal maintained.

He informed the participants that the department of culture, through a notification in September, 1998, declared Shikarpur a ‘historic town’ and a protected site under the Sindh Cultural Heritage Preservation Act, 1994. Around 1,203 properties in Shikarpur were listed as protected heritage sites in March, 2012, but these mere notifications have not proved sufficient to curb the pace of destruction, he lamented.

Professor and co-chair of the department of architecture and planning at NED University, Dr Anila Naeem, gave a presentation on ‘Shikarpur: A fading Chapter of Sindh’s Urban City’ and said that during the 18th and 19th centuries, Shikarpur served as a hub for extensive transit and local caravan trade routes linking Central Asia, Khorasan, Afghanistan and India.

However, the Indo-Pakistan divide and resulting mass exodus of Hindus led to the demographic and social-cultural transformation of Shikarpur, which adversely impacted its historic buildings, she explained.

Private residential mansions suffered, particularly due to the change of ownership from rich merchants into the hands of economically impoverished inhabitants, said Dr Naeem.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 5th, 2016.

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