Why demolition of 15th-century building in Delhi should perturb us?

Story by  Saquib Salim | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 28-04-2023
The bungalow at allegedly usurped land
The bungalow at allegedly usurped land


Saquib Salim

“History is a necessity. Individuals, communities, and societies could scarcely exist if all knowledge of the past was wiped out. As memory is to the individual, so history is to the community or society. Without memory, individuals find great difficulty in relating to others, finding their bearings, in taking intelligent decisions - they have lost their sense of identity. A society without history would be in a similar condition.” Arthur Marwick wrote these words in his celebrated 1970 book, The Nature of History.

Several media outlets reported on April 27 that an IAS officer was served notice by the Vigilance Department for allegedly razing a 15th-century Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protected monument. The fact that the monument existed a couple of years ago near Lajpat Nagar in South Delhi and that it has been replaced by a palatial bungalow for his family to live in sent shockwaves.

A few months ago, another piece of news made it to the headlines when the government informed Lok Sabha that at least 24 ASI-protected monuments were found to be untraceable. Out of these, the disappearance of the famous Barakhamba cemetery in New Delhi is the most shocking. Records from 1920 show its existence and now ASI couldn’t ascertain its exact location. 

Md Umar Ashraf, Founder of the Heritage Times portal said, “As a society, we should understand that history defines our present. Can you think of people who can define themselves without history? Muslims define themselves through Quranic stories of the past while Hindus through the past narratives of Ramayana and Mahabharata and other scriptures. Similarly, every society has a history through which they identify themselves. Here we are erasing our identity.”

Pathan Mahal, the original momument at the site where a bungalow stands today

Historians have written the same over the centuries. In the words of Marwick, “It is only through a sense of history that communities establish their identity, orientate themselves, understand their relationship to the past and other communities and societies. Without a knowledge of history we, and our communities, would be utterly adrift on an endless and featureless sea of time.”

It is a matter of fact that “as societies have developed in stability and organization so they have made greater efforts to preserve and perpetuate some account of their past”. It is no coincidence that every advanced nation has taken care of maintaining museums, archives, and monuments.

Europe and the USA at present can be seen as cases in point. Earlier at the peak of their advancements Indian, Arabs, Mesopotamians, Chinese, etc. had state-sponsored chroniclers, archivists, and historians.

It is alarming that in India people in power are destroying our history. More concerning is the fact that this is happening in the national capital. This destruction will slowly rob us of our sense of national identity.

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Can you imagine a person who wakes up one morning and has no idea of his past? He is unaware of his family, ancestors, or even what he did the day before. A nation without its history will be in a similar position. It’s our national duty to save our heritage.