Category Archives: Culture

The murder of history: How India and Pakistan are erasing their shared past

By Ayushi Malik, Fateh Guram, Filza Rizwan, Shaily Agrawal and Shoaib Ali

It is around 12 noon, and the sun is beating down furiously on the golden sandstone walls of the Jaisalmer Fort. You make your way through the Ashrey Prol, the main gate of the Fort, and find yourself in a vast courtyard, with the gigantic walls of the Fort towering above you. Shopkeepers greet you with cries of discounted clothes, footwear, leather products, jewellery, fake Raybans, and even airline tickets. You walk up the stone pathway, and approach the Amar Sagar Prol, where you witness numerous men immersed in animated discussion, in the shade of the gate, protected from the sun. Once inside the main area of the fort, you stop and stare in wonder at the fortified city of Jaisalmer, where nearly 5,000 people reside. You walk in the narrow, cobbled streets of the Fort, and the residents of the fort greet you and invite you inside their homes, which look not a day younger than 8 centuries old. Apart from the heat, noise, and pollution, everything about the Fort seems perfect.

Amar Sagar Prol, Jaisalmer Fort, India. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fort draws hundreds of thousands of tourists annually

Except, it isn’t.

As per the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the walls of the Fort, which was constructed in 1156 AD by Rawal Jaisal Singh, are under immense pressure due to increasing urbanisation and proliferation of hotels within the Fort. “The bastions of the fort are under tremendous pressure right now. This is because people have built their houses and restaurants in and around the bastions. As more and more restaurants come up, the seepage of water increases,” says Mukesh Kumar Meena, who is part of the Multi Task Force at the ASI’s office in Jaisalmer. The seepage is a major concern that threatens to destroy the walls of the only ‘living’ fort in the world. Meena also says that when the ASI tries to repair a particular bastion, the walls around it become weak due to the presence of numerous houses in close vicinity of the walls and the bastions.

Locals reveal that the Government of India laid down an effective pipeline system in the fort which would help arrest the degradation of the walls of the fort due to seepage of water. While this crises seems to have been averted for the time being, the structures inside the Fort are crumbling and nobody is willing to take responsibility for their maintenance

More than 400 kilometres away, Pakistan’s Pucca Qila, situated in Hyderabad, is facing asimilar problem, albeit on a much larger scale. As you enter Pucca Qila, the stench of sewage and garbage greets you. Dilapidated walls loom large over the horizon. The Qila – which literally translates to Fort – is inhabited by refugees who migrated from India during the partition of 1947. While the fort was meant to be a temporary residence for the refugees, state apathy and ignorance towards the plight of the refugees meant that the fort has been rendered into a derelict condition over the last 71 years.

In Pakistan, no construction can take place within a distance of 200 feet from a heritage monument. However, these rules are constantly flouted around the Pucca Qila, and mounds of garbage can be seen lying around the walls of the fort

Today, it is not uncommon to see stitching units, tuition centres, cobblers and people belonging to similar professions within the walls of the Pucca Qila. In areas where parts of the wall have caved in, people have set up small units and practice their profession there. “People have created kitchens and washrooms within the walls of the fort, and the abundant usage of water has weakened them, “says Dr Kaleemullah Lashari, a scholar of Applied Archaeology in Pakistan. “As a result, many portions of the wall collapse frequently, and many people die due to this, too,” he adds.  

The Pucca Qila of Hyderabad, Pakistan is under severe threat due to unchecked sewage water flowing next to its walls, causing them to weaken and collapse

Dr. Lashari, who is the former chief custodian of the Sindh province, also claims he was approached by the provincial government to oversee the construction of apartments for people living in the fort. They would be relocated, and the conservation of the fort would then be taken up effectively. However, Dr Lashari was transferred before it could take off, and the project has now come to a standstill.

Pucca Qila is also the site of an immense standoff between the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – two of the largest political parties in Hyderabad- the second-largest city of the province after Karachi.

Muhammad Rashid Khilji of the MQM-P, who is also the Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) from Hyderabad, accuses the PPP of being indifferent towards the plight of the people living in Pucca Qila. “The PPP government has never been concerned about the interests of people. It’s the duty of the government to provide houses to them but they have never focussed on this issue. The people are not financially well off, so they don’t have the resources to buy or construct a house,” said Khilji.

As the walls of the Pucca Qila suffer from continued degradation, the residents of the fort
rue the lack of alternative accommodation options

People living in the fort are also sceptical of any reforms being undertaken by the provincial government with respect to their proper relocation. A 46-year-old primary school teacher, Amir Hussain Siddiqui, residing in the fort, is critical of the government, and feels that visits by officials have not yielded any concrete results. The weak financial stature of the people living in the Fort has meant that they have had to build walls around their houses in the fort in order to ensure the safety of their children. “Government officials said they would build separate apartments with proper facilities for the residents, but then disappeared and nothing happened,” he says. “The people living here are so underprivileged, they hardly earn enough money to feed their families, how can they buy a house?”

As the walls of the Pucca Qila suffer from continued degradation, the residents of the fort
rue the lack of alternative accommodation options

This, coupled with the residents’ strong ties to the fort has made them reluctant to move out. Muhammad Tahir Khan, a resident of the fort says that they have a deep sense of affiliation with the heritage site. “Our great-grandfathers have lived in this fort, we ourselves grew up here, how can we abandon it?” he questions.

Across the border, in Jaisalmer, people living within the Jaisalmer Fort echo similar concerns. Manish Vyas, a 26-year-old shopkeeper, believes that the people living inside the Fort must not be evicted since the Fort is an integral part of their identity and culture. “My family has been living in this Fort even before India existed as a country. We have been inhabitants of the Fort for the last six centuries now. If the Government feels that the Fort is being harmed in any way, evicting people from their homes is no solution at all,” he says.

The law

In India, the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (AMASRA) of 1958 (amended in 2010) prohibits construction of new buildings within a radius of 100 metres from an ancient, protected monument. This zone is called the Prohibited Area, beyond which lies the Regulated Area, which extends to another 200 metres.

Construction of new buildings in the Regulated Area can take place only after prior permission is taken from the ASI. In fact, even if an existing building requires repairs, prior permission for the activity is required from the ASI.

However, the situation on the ground paints a completely different picture. In Jaisalmer, for instance, scores of houses and shops have been constructed in the Prohibited Area. While the majority of these came up before the ASI came into existence, almost all shopkeepers around the Fort have been served notices by the ASI for not seeking permission before initiating repairs. Devi Kishan Khatri is one such shopkeeper who was served a notice by the ASI. “I began repairing the first floor of my house, and soon, a notice appeared at my doorstep explaining how my repair work was illegal since I had not taken prior permission from the ASI. I have filled the form now, and submitted it to the relevantofficials,” he says. According to Khatri, almost all shopkeepers have been served notices by the ASI. However, most of them don’t comply with the rules and regulations, and carry on with construction activities which are deemed illegal by the government.

The Gopa Chowk Police Station on the left lies at a distance of less than 100 metres from the wall of the Jaisalmer Fort, and thus lies within the Prohibited Area

“Another problem in Jaisalmer is that nearly 75 percent of the city falls within the 300 metre zone. It is not feasible to apply this law here, since it becomes extremely cumbersome for people like us,” explains Khatri. “We have no idea when we will be given permission to carry out construction activities,” he adds.

This much, the ASI’s Meena concedes. He, however, blames the delay on the shortage of personnel available with the ASI. “Due to the shortage of staffers in the department, our work suffers immense delays. Permissions, which are ideally supposed to be granted within 45 working days, sometimes take over 6 months to be processed,” he laments.

The ASI is also keen to ensure that the natural and authentic look of the Fort does not get altered. Consequently, those living inside the Fort, who wish to make repairs in their private property, must get prior permission from the ASI. The use of materials like cement is also forbidden, since it alters the original look of the Fort. However, a closer look at the walls of the houses inside the Fort reveal ample usage of materials like cement and bricks, blemishing the yellow sandstone facade.

While the ASI discourages people from tarnishing the original look of the Jaisalmer Fort by using cement, on the ground, it was found that people continue to use the material for repair and construction

While the rule of law is taken lightly in India’s Jaisalmer, 550 kilometres away, in Karachi, the provincial Government of Sindh dealt with encroachment at the Empress Market with an iron hand.

Empress Market, built between 1884-89, was one of the busiest markets of Karachi, with hundreds ofshops selling a wide variety of products like spices, meat, condiments and even birds and animals. However, in the month of November 2018, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation(KMC), acting on the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, raised nearly 1,100 shops in an anti-encroachment drive.

The drive drew flak from many conservationists, and shopkeepers also alleged that by destroying their shops, the KMC had impacted the heritage value of the place.

Yazdani Sethna has a shop at the Empress Market, which is 75 years old, and is under threat of being razed in the anti-encroachment drive. “We are very disturbed by this drive,” says Sethna. “They are making a garden here but they do not have the money and resources to take care of the garden. This market was our culture. The fish, vegetables, spices, meat and dry-fruits represented our culture which was much better than the garden. It was a source ofemployment for people. All of them are unemployed now,” he laments.


Javed Abbasi, a dry fruit seller at Empress Market rues the fact that he would not be able to pass on the legacy of his business to his kids, which was started by his great-grandfather

People like Sethna have also found support from experts like Kaleemullah Lashari, who are of the firm view that the anti-encroachment drive contributed towards a loss of tradition. “The market had more than 1,000shops and every shop had its own identity. People used to go there and buy stuff from all over the country,” he said.

However, Yasmeen Lari, the first female female architect of Pakistan and CEO of Heritage Foundation of Pakistan, begs to differ. Lari believes that the drive was the need of the hour and since urban spaces are for every citizen, it does not make sense that the Empress Market area had been hijacked by a few shopkeepers. “I am very pleased that the city court has taken action against encroachments at Empress Market. Unauthorised constructions should be removed because these are urban spaces and urban spaces are for citizens, not for the people who use the area due to corruption,” she said.

Empress Market, Karachi, after the anti-encroachment drive

For the last couple of decades, Lari’s foundation has been trying to raise awareness about the need to preserve heritage sites. She has partnered with the provincial government on occasion to organise façade cleaning activities, where she encourages the youth to come forward and share the responsibility of saving the historical sites. “We owe it to our future generations to preserve this heritage for them,” said Lari, at a recent such campaign in Karachi.

Such citizen-led initiatives, notwithstanding, not much is being done at the state level for the conservation of these heritage sites. In Karachi alone, the provincial government has notified 422 buildings as heritage sites. Not much has been done for their conservation beyond this notification. Across the border, the situation is all too similar.

Both countries are signatories to several international conventions as well as local laws in place for the protection and conservation of these heritage sites. Save the last 70-odd years, both countries share a common history, which is at risk of being lost if something is not done soon.

Qawwali continues to connect India and Pakistan

Qawwali

Eisha Hussain and Intifada Bashir

“Chhaap Tilak Sab Cheeni Re…..” is a composition that resonates with Indians as much as it does with Pakistanis. A Qawwali, within the ambit of Sufi devotional music, it epitomes the art works under the syncretic tradition of Sufism. Pioneered by Amir Khusrow about 700 years ago, Qawwali has managed to survive the tests of time.

For Qawwali — that originated in undivided India — 1947 was a landmark year. Although Amir Khusrow’s disciples (Qawwal Bache) kept the tradition alive for centuries, the partition forced qawwals to migrate to cities across India and Pakistan. As a result of this migration, Qawwali diversified and spread further across both countries. Read more

DIVIDED BY BORDERS, UNITED BY MATRIMONY

Ayesha Khan and Tahira Noor

Delhi-Conflicts between India and Pakistan might have been escalating but it has not stopped people from tying knots with each other. Cross border marriages between these countries continue to take place despite the rising tensions.
These marriages are a little difficult to manage because of the diplomatic and legal hurdles that such couples have to face. Visa and citizenship are the major areas of trouble for them. Due to this their mobility gets restricted to a few places, they have a problem going back to their country of origin. This also raises safety concerns and issues for getting new Visa or extending visa duration.
“The government of India provides citizenship to anyone who lives here for five years, but they have declared Pakistan as an enemy nation by law which is why Pakistanis face so many issues. The Pakistani spouses have to stay on long term visas for years and go through strict regular check-ups,” said Imran Ali, a lawyer and professor.

DIVIDED BY BORDERS, UNITED BY MATRIMONY
Naresh Tiwani and Priya Bachini tied the knot on November 7, 2016, when the tension between the two countries was very high. Priya and her family belong to Karachi, Pakistan and were unable to get a visa while the date of marriage was arriving. Naresh tweeted his plight to the then foreign minister Sushma Swaraj who stepped in to help Priya and her family get the visa.
“It was quite tiring for both the families because the wedding date was so near and the Indian embassy was not granting the visa and still, Priya is staying in India on a long term visa (LTV) and has not visited Pakistan after our marriage,” said Naresh.
Naresh and Priya belong to the Sodha community which is known for having cross border marriages as a part of their tradition. “There are certain clans on both sides of the border who culturally don’t have options for marriages and thus they prefer to opt for cross border marriages. The government should ensure friendly visa regime at least for such marriages and the process of giving citizenship to them should be liberal,” said Hindu Singh Sodha, founder of ‘Vishthapit Sangh.’

BACK TO ROOTS
Parveen Irshad who got married to Irshad Mirza in 1981, sitting in their old Delhi house says, “This is my grandfather house. My husband is my cousin.” Parveen came to visit her family in India, with no intentions of getting married. “My marriage was not planned. My parents felt Irshad be a good
partner for me and got us married.” She is staying on a long term visa (LTV) in India since her marriage and cannot move out of Delhi. Parveen has been lucky to visit Pakistan once every two years since her marriage. “When I go to Pakistan, I visit places. Here in India, I cannot due to visa restrictions.” Parveen’s elder daughter is also married to a Pakistani. “I had no intentions of getting my daughter married there but we couldn’t find a good prospective husband for her here in India. My daughter is a proud Indian and still holds her Indian passport.” Laughing, she tells, ‘When there is a match between India and I support Pakistan.”

LOVE KNOWS NO BOUNDS
Prtiam and Fiza(name changed), have a different story to tell. They met each other while studying law at Oxford University in 2005 and married in 2012. Even though in the eyes of society it an inter-religious and cross-culture marriage as Pritam is an Assamese and Fiza a Punjabi Muslim, they do not consider such social constructs as barriers.
“We saw each other as individuals rather than an Indian or a Pakistani,” says Pritam who strongly believes that one shouldn’t be discriminated on the basis of their place of birth. “I feel that it is similar to discriminating someone on the basis of their caste, creed and race, something that is not in their hand at all,” he added.
Fiza who comes from a conservative family said, “I informed my parents about Pritam after getting married. At that time we were in London and invited them to meet us. They stayed with us for three weeks and grew fond of Pritam, but never disclosed our marriage to our extended family because of the social pressure.”

“It’s so funny that my friends who married a German or an Australian can get a PIO (Person of Indian) card very easily for their spouses when Fiza cannot when Pakistan is historically, culturally, socially and geographically more connected to us,” says Pritam. Pritam and Fiza are concerned more for their one-year-old daughter who is too young to understand these social complexities. They fear that they might have to move to a neutral country despite their wishes to stay back and serve the place where they truly belong.
Regardless of the countless difficulties, these couples wish for peace, prosperity and friendship between both countries and believe that such marriages should continue taking place to fight the politics of hate.

CROSS BORDER COUPLES OF INDIA AND PAKISTAN

MARIUM AHMED AND SANA BATOOL

India and Pakistan have been in a troubled relationship for decades. The two countries have minimal diplomatic contact and tensions have reached the boiling point over a territorial dispute more than once. However, despite embittered ties, Indians and Pakistanis continue to defy all odds to unite in matrimony.

“Despite marked borders people often fail to regard the divide as territorial peripheries blur for them and relationships take preference,” said Shagufta Burney, an advocate and human rights activist at Pakistan-based Ansar Burney Trust.

“These are two countries, with intact borders…. [people have] relatives, friends and families living on both sides of the border,” she said. “It often happens that people don’t realize the [existence of] boundaries, come to Pakistan and then land in trouble. In such situations we approach the foreign ministries of both the countries to resolve the issue.”

The partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 divided millions of families and the shadows of historic bifurcation still haunts the two countries. Since then, the relationship between them has been complicated.

According to experts, visa and citizenship are the major areas of trouble for crossborder couples. Due to these hurdles their mobility is restricted to a few places.

“The government of India provides citizenship to anyone who lives here for five years, but they have declared Pakistan as an enemy nation by law which is why Pakistanis face so many issues. The Pakistani spouses have to stay on long term visas for years and go through strict regular check ups,” said Imran Ali, a lawyer and professor.         

Here are the stories of some cross border couples:

Naresh Tiwani and Priya Bachini tied the knot in 2016 when fragile relationship between the nuclear-armed rivals was under severe strain. Priya and her family hail from Karachi, Pakistan and were unable to get a visa while the big day for the future couple was inching closer. Naresh Tweeted his plight to the then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who stepped in to help Priya and her family with the visa.

“It was quite tiring for both the families because the wedding date was so near and the Indian embassy was not granting visa,” said Naresh.

Naresh and Priya belong to the Sodha community which is known for having cross border marriages as a part of their tradition. “There are certain clans on both sides of border who culturally don’t have options for marriages and thus they prefer to opt for cross border marriages. Government should ensure a friendly visa regime at least for such marriages and the process of granting citizenship to them should be liberal,” said Hindu Singh Sodha, founder of ‘Vishthapit Sangh’, ‘Seemant Lok Sanghatan’ and ‘Universal Just Action Society’ NGOs which assist members of Sodha Community with the marriage process.”

Back to roots

Parveen Irshad who got married to Irshad Mirza in 1981, sitting in their old Delhi house says, “This is my Dada’s (grandfather) house. My husband is my cousin.” Parveen came to visit her family in India, with no intentions of getting married.  “My marriage was not planned. My parents felt Irshad would be a good partner for me and got us married.” She is staying on a long term visa (LTV) in India since her marriage and cannot move out of Delhi. Parveen has been lucky to visit Pakistan every two year since her marriage. “When I visit Pakistan, I visit places. Here in India I cannot due to the visa restrictions.” Parveen’s elder daughter is also married to a Pakistani. “I had no intentions of getting my daughter married there but we couldn’t find a good prospective husband for her here in India. My daughter is a proud Indian and still holds her Indian passport.”

Love knows no bounds

Pritam and Fiza (name changed), have a different story to tell. They met each other while studying law at Oxford University in 2005 and tied a knot in 2012. While Pritam is an Assamese, Fiza is a Punjabi Muslim.  

“We saw each other as individuals not as Indian or a Pakistani,” says Pritam who strongly believes that one shouldn’t be discriminated on the basis of their nationality. “I feel that it is similar to discriminating someone on the basis of their caste, creed and race, something that is not in their hand at all,” he added.

Fiza who comes from a conservative family said, “I informed my parents about Pritam after we got married. At that time we were in London and invited them to meet us. My parents stayed with us for three weeks and grew fond of Pritam, but never disclosed our marriage to our extended family because of the social pressure.”

“It’s so funny that my friends who married a German or an Australian can get a PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card very easily for their spouses but Fiza cannot — even while  Pakistan is historically, culturally, socially and geographically more connected to us,” says Pritam.

Pritam and Fiza are concerned for their one-year-old daughter’s future who is too young to understand the social complexities. They fear that they might have to move to a neutral country despite their wishes to stay back and serve the place they truly belong.

Reunion

“They cannot understand how [our] hearts aches. I have left behind my loved ones and you have parted with yours. [Only you and] I understand this misery.”

Nishat Naqvi, a 74-year-old widow and now a Pakistani, recalls these words by the Sikh officer who came to her help when she faced difficulties on her first visit back to India from Pakistan after her marriage. Her voice quivered as she recalls memories of the visit.

Having married Mukhtar Naqvi in 1970, she first came to Pakistan in 1971, along with her parents, to visit her relatives. Back then She had no idea that her short visit would turn out to be a permanent one.

It took her 7 years, after her marriage, to be able to meet her family in India again.   

“By the time I went back to India, I had two kids aged 5 and 2,” she said.

When finally she did get a chance to visit her former hometown, Allahabad, she had
to go through a lot of trouble and inconvenience during the course of her
journey. Due to a mistake from the Pakistan office, her children’s names were not
endorsed on her passport and the officers refused to let them accompany her to
India.

Naqvi was neither prepared to leave her children behind, nor was she ready to go back and restart the lengthy process of applying for a permit for India. “So I sat
in the office and said I won’t go back,” she said.    

After hours of waiting, a Sikh officer came to her help. He sympathized with her situation, having parted with his own family. Teary-eyed herself Naqvi recalls that he was in tears as he related his heart-wrenching experience.

Arif Hasan, an acclaimed social researcher and architect from Pakistan resonates Naqvi’s sentiments. According to him the impact of the partition was a long-lasting one and many still identify with their roots across the border.

“If you ask anyone of my generation what is your one wish, they will say want to go back to Hindustan and see their house just one more time,” he said.  “People go there and cry over the misery of separation due to partition.”

It is hard for Naqvi to let go of the memories of the past. They remain as deeply etched in her mind as that of the sardar jee who came to her rescue.

Naqvi chuckled as she recalled the hearty reception she got when she finally met her family in India.

“I felt as if I found some missing piece of my life’s puzzle … when I reached Allahabad, members of my family were so excited, they were all overwhelmed,” she said. “The whole neighborhood gathered to greet me.”

However, these pleasant memories are not enough to dispel Naqvi’s grief. “I don’t want to remember all that. Such a good time I spent with all of them, I can never forget it.”   

Relations across the border

Married in 1950, Rajabali has always yearned for easy access to members of her family including her daughter, who is now married to her nephew in India.

Hailing from Bombay — now known as Mumbai, she was separated from her family by a border spanning many miles when she settled in Karachi after her marriage. However, the border was of little consequence in impeding her travel to India. In fact, now as she reminisces the early years of her marriage with a smile, she opines that travel and communication was actually much easier in the past with no visa restrictions.

“There was a permit system and they [authorities] used to give permits [to travel across the border easily], you see. Since there were divided families, people used to travel often; the airfare was 110 rupees.”

Back in those days, the technology wasn’t advanced but distances weren’t as wide either. Travelling between the two countries was quite common and gifts were often sent through a third person across the border.

Remembering those days she said, “My mother used to send various things whenever someone was visiting Karachi. I too would send gifts to India… I used to send French Chiffon to India and often received Indian saris from there.”

Taimur Ahmed Suri, a Pakistani educationist, is of the opinion that the divide between the people across the border actually widened after the 1965 war. “Prior to that… people from Meerut used to send Qorma to refugee migrants via trains, every week”, he recalls, citing it as an example of frequent unbridled interaction between the residents of India and Pakistan post partition.

Rajabali, a nonagenarian has seen the relationship between the two countries plunge to unexpected lows since she migrated to Pakistan after her marriage. She especially feels the widening distances between both the countries due to travelling difficulties, including visa restrictions and increased cost, having one of her daughters married India.

“Now since PIA has limited its flight operations, you have to either go via Dubai or via Colombo and the cost has doubled”, she claimed.  “Is it fair? My daughter cannot afford to visit every year now.”

The last time Rajabali went to India was for her granddaughter’s wedding and nothing has changed. Old relations and friendships have persisted for Rajabali despite the territorial divide. “I wish, I wish that these borders were open,” she said, in a voice half choked with grief.

Regardless of the countless difficulties these couples wish for peace, prosperity and friendship between both countries and believe that such marriages should continue taking place to fight the politics of hate.