RAWALPINDI: Hopes of restoration and preservation of the iconic Sher Shah Suri Fort in Jhelum have rekindled, bringing joy for the local residents.
Renovation of Sher Shah Suri Fort has been a long-held demand of the people of Jhelum. However, consecutive government overlooked the historical importance of the 14th century relic.
Recently President Arif Alvi approved the protection measures for Sher Shah Suri Fort, also called Railway Fort. He has ordered complete restoration and renovation of the fort in its original shape.
Built in the reign of Sher Shah Suri, the Pashtun king who had sent Mughal Emperor Humayun packing to Iran, the fort covers 1.4 acres of land. Located near Lalazar Colony, it was used as a prison in the realm of Sher Shah Suri. Gakhar rebels, robbers and people considered as opposition to the kingdom were kept here. It is known that an advisor of Sher Shah Suri was imprisoned here after losing favour of the king.
However, today the building has lost its past grandeur. The building has lost its gate and dozens of windows made of iron to the hands of thieves.
Its caretaker, Pakistan Railways, has left it to the mercy of nature. However, it still holds its historical status and grandeur.
Interestingly, the responsible authorities had hired a man as a caretaker of the fort. That man was a milkman by profession and he brought in his family and cousins along with buffaloes to the fort.
The Railways Fort today looks like a colony of milkmen where buffaloes, goats and dogs roam free.
The citizens of Jhelum had filed an application to divisional superintendent Railway in 2017 through famous local lawyer Arif Kareem Advocate to which the department did not lend an ear.
Later, the citizens took this issue to the Federal Ombudsperson Tahir Shehbaz, who approved the petition and ordered to restore in its original condition by recovering all stolen items and restoring it as a tourist attraction.
The Railway, as per law, challenged this decision to the President Alvi who took a complete briefing in this regard. After this, the president heard version of all related officials including railways, directorate of archaeology as well as citizens of Jhelum represented by Arif Kareem Advocate.
Further, Arif Kareem had argued that the fort was built in 1531. He told the meeting that the British officials took shelter in this fort during 1857 War of Independence against rebellious locals. The officials later managed to reach safety on arrival of the troops loyal to the East India Company.
The two-storey Sher Shah Suri Fort was a huge jail with numerous dungeons. The first floor was set up for security purpose where there was place for keeping swords, bows and arrows and other weapons.
He said and added that there were around 100 windows for ventilation but the robbers had stolen wood and steel from it.
He told that it had transformed into a milkman colony and a safe haven for drug addicts and stray animals.
Owing to ill-maintenance, its walls and stairs have dilapidated, he said and added that annual visitor footprint was around 3,000-3,500 a few years back. Besides a tourist attraction, the fort had been used as shooting site for local films, Kareem Advocate had told the meeting.
He had pleaded to the president to restore Sher Shah Suri Fort in its original condition.
However, railway officials resisted on pretext of technical issues and lack of funds but the President Alvi had upheld the decision of ombudsperson.
The president directed to register a case against thieves who had stolen the gate and windows of the fort and recovery of its relics wherever found. He also ordered demolishing all encroachment from the historical site.
President Alvi had stated that civilized nations protect their cultural heritage for future generations. “Our nation is destroying its history and culture.”
The president said that he had worked for preservation of historical sites in Karachi. He added the railway fort was once a tourist attraction in Jhelum ten years ago. He said the railway had rented it to a milkman on Rs.1500/monthly who had wrecked-havoc this historical site.
The president issued a copy of his decision to the Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training as well as National History and Literary Heritage Shafqat Mehmood, and ordered him to present a progress report. The president had also ordered sending a copy to archeology department and directed them to take all measures pertaining to restoration of Sher Shah Suri Fort.
The divisional superintendent Railway was ordered to install a main gate immediately as well as all end of all commercial activities inside its boundaries.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 9th, 2019.