When part of an age-old heritage site is wrecked, for whatsoever reason, you expect individuals and groups to be up in arms, protesting against the destruction of a symbol that was supposed to have been left untouched by modern trappings and trimmings. The archaeological body would probably top this list; after all, archaeologists are responsible for the “study of the ancient and recent human past”. They are the ones who literally dig up the past, and thus, are held responsible for the preservation of monuments that remind humans of the history of their culture.
You'd, therefore, relate to our shock when we learnt that the government's Archaeological Department has ordered the demolition of a massive ancient wall surrounding Lalbagh Fort – a structure built 400 years ago, and is as old as our capital city itself. The reason? The department thought that a car park that will cost Tk 30 lakhs to construct, was more important than preserving part of a building that is priceless in terms of its historical value. What's the significance of this structure, anyway? Why should we be bothered if a heritage site is damaged when it's being done to meet the whims of some people? A car parking space HAS TO BE of more value than a four century old monument, because a parking space is what people will remember Bangladesh for, that's going to be our legacy, an indispensable part of our culture.
We should now be used to insensitive, illogical comments from authoritative bodies. I mean, if the environment minister can say that it's not possible to protect four hundred tigers as it's difficult to even ensure the protection of human beings, why should we be surprised when the Director General of the Archaeological Department says that this 'amendment' will not “adversely affect the main design of the fort?”
Anyone with an iota of an idea about historic sites will be able to tell you that destroying any part of a centuries-old structure will definitely “adversely affect” its design. The construction of the fort is being compromised; how in the world will that not affect the fort's main design?
The government has often pleaded inadequate funds when restoration work is requested on historic sites. We wonder how it's possible for them to fund the Tk 30 lakh parking space (let's not even ponder over the necessity of such a space) when it's so difficult to sponsor preservation work of heritage sites. Well, what do you expect in a country where cabbage patches are cultivated in an ancient archaeological site like Mahasthanghar (TDS, February 16, 2011)?
Thankfully, the High Court has issued a stay order on the construction of the parking space in Lalbagh Fort. While we can rejoice the fact that there's at least one concerned, far-thinking, sensible authoritative body in our country, the fact still remains that such blatant disregard for history and heritage seems to have become an integral part of our national psyche. Unless we, as a nation, change our attitude toward our history, our heritage, we cannot expect any better from anyone else. We need to determine whether cabbage patches, car spaces or power plants are what we'll leave behind for the future of our country. It's up to us to decide what we want the world to remember us by.
The writer is a journalist at The Daily Star.