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Posted On 25 July 2020

Indian History

Dividing the Past: A brief overview of divided India's heritage

A recent news report on the threat of demolition being faced by an almost a century old Kapoor Haveli at Peshawar, of the famous Kapoor family of Bollywood, triggers ones curiosity about the built heritage of the divided India. It irks ones imagination towards the scenario which must have prevailed at the time of partition and its effects on the physical built heritage which couldn't be moved or divided.

The science and art of history writing rests in the sources that one dives in to reconstruct the past.

The partition is a living fact of Indian reality and the process of partition was a layered and messy one. We study history in relation to the fateful year of 1947 but an intriguing revelation would be to look at what happened in 1947 to history and its resources.

The science and art of history writing rests in the sources that one dives in to reconstruct the past. Most important of these sources are the literary sources which include the written material, records and chronicles. Over time, certain other sources which fuel history writing have also been included in this domain. Amongst them the built physical architectural heritage is an important source along with the historical analysis of the paintings and oral traditions. The division of these resources at the time of partition was a tricky thing. The built structures were the worst hit by partition; the two nations which were to be created shared a composite past which was enclosed in these structures and spaces.

Apart from the built structures, the repository of historical sources at the time of partition was majorly in collections of the Indian Museum, the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Imperial Library. There was the problem of dividing these extensive resources, there was also the major issue of the division of the archaeological sites of Harappa and Mohenjo daro which represented the epitome of Indian antiquity and its excellence in that past. After much dispute between the two sides the collections and resources of the Royal Asiatic Society, Indian Museum and Imperial Library remained in India and the two archaeologically relevant Indus Valley sites remained in Pakistan by virtue of their location. However not all the artefacts recovered from Indus Valley sites remained in Pakistan, there was a quest of equal division of the objects and archaeological artefacts and it is informed that certain intact objects were broken into pieces in order to divide them equally between the two nations. These objects included gold necklaces from Taxila, carnelian and copper girdle from Mohenjo-Daro and necklace made up of jade beads, gold discs and semi-precious stones from Mohenjo-Daro.

This was the scenario at the time of partition when unprecedented events and emotions guided the future of the two nations with a shared past. In those times there were many migrations and movements and many people abandoned their ancestral homes and lands due to fear or faith. This evacuation created the issue of the properties which were left behind, these properties on paper and in theory meant a built structure on a piece of land but in reality had layers of memories, pains and histories which died with their dilapidation over time, sometimes due to neglect and at others due to modernization.

Some of these properties and structures have survived till present and have garnered the focus of media. One such structure is the Kapoor Haveli in Peshawar, Pakistan which belonged to Lala Basehwarnath, the father of Prithviraj Kapoor. It was here that the eldest son of Prithviraj and Kamsarni Kapoor and the 'Great Indian Showman' Raj Kapoor was born on December 14, 1924. The house is in Dhakki Munawwar Shah near the Qissa Khwani bazaar in Peshawar city. It seems to have six storeys and several rooms. The facade of the structure is embellished with arches and jharokhas (oriel windows) which hint of a later Mughal aesthetic. The government in Pakistan has been trying to purchase the heritage structure from its present owner Haji Muhammad Israr, who wishes to demolish the structure.

The incident brings ones focus on issues which aren't considered of much relevance, like the tussle between the government and the private ownership of structures which hold historical and heritage value. The issue of the Kapoor Haveli is a token example of many such havelis and structures which are lying in conditions of utter despair and destruction due to disputed ownership and utter negligence of the concerned authorities. To take examples the city of Peshawar alone holds the ancestral homes of not only the Kapoor family but also of Dilip Kumar whose father Sarwar Khan was a close friend of Lala Basehwarnath. Closer home in independent India as well many structures of significant historical value have been left to the ravages of time. The ancestral home of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (the founder of Aligarh Muslim University) at Delhi is one example of many heritage sites and structures which have decayed due to neglect.

A more concentrated effort at not only saving the heritage structures but also its lived history should be made, not only at the administrative level but at individual level as well where awareness and value of these structures and spaces needs to be understood and shared.

Further Reading:

- Anwesha Sengupta, 'Breaking up: Dividing assets between India and Pakistan in times of Partition', Indian Economic Social History Review, 51: 529, 2014.

- Ahmad Hasan Dani, Peshawar Historic City Of The Frontier, Khyber Mail Press, Peshawar, 1969.

- Samina Saleem, 'Significant Dilapidated Havelies (Residential Places) In Peshawar, Pakistan' , Sci.Int.(Lahore),29(4),851-859, 2017.

- Richi Verma, 'Sir Syed's haveli turns pigeon-hole nightmare', 2005:

- Raj Kapoor's ancestral home 'Kapoor Haveli' in Pakistan's Peshawar faces demolition threat:

- Rana Safvi, Sir Syed's Haveli in Shahjahanabad [Old Delhi]:

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Hello, my name is

Lubna Irfan

Hsitory Professor

Womens's College, AMU Aligarh