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Heritage and its Significance for Urban Development

Marginalised ‘small town’ heritage: its significance with relation to urban development

 

Marginalisation is a subconscious process of eliminating that which does not seem important enough to one’s interests. This article dwells on the issues surrounding the marginalisation of heritage and the manifestation of the process in the context of Sidhpur. It then goes on to analyse how a more conscious process of development can help eliminate this danger.

 

Sidhpur is a quaint little town, with many glories of the past known and unknown. The heritage of the town has been kept alive by different social groups in their own ways—through festival celebrations, daily rituals, unique practical skills, legends and myths, religious destinations and the physical remains of bygone spiritual endeavours. Such is the extent of  the town’s cultural heritage, that it can be gradually felt as one’s experiences percolate through the various strata of the population.

 

What is unique and enchanting about Sidhpur and is very similar to what is found in Chettinad, a merchant town in TamilNadu, are the mohallas (neighbourhoods) of heritage homes belonging to a class of merchants, the Dawoodi Bohras. The latter do not inhabit their homes any more but are scattered across the country and the world owing to their businesses. They still come back to the town on important occasions, especially marriages (Kadi 2010). Much is owed to the building efforts of this community of Dawoodi Bohras and their delicately carved wooden havelis(palaces) are now of national importance.

 

The story of Bindoo Sarovar or Matrugaya, however, is very different. Its inherent national importance is on account of its religious and spiritual significance. This town has a very long history and has been mentioned in the scriptures. It has a deep-rooted connection with the Hindu religion—a sacred place since the times of the Rig Veda and the Skanda Puranas in which Sidhpur is referred to as Dashu (place of worship) and Sree Sthal (sacred place) respectively (Hattangadi 2008).

 

Quite tangentially, the Rudramahalaya, a temple complex built by Siddharaja Solanki in the 11th century, and later converted into a congregational mosque, the Jami Masjid, are among the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) recognised sites of heritage in Sidhpur (ASI List). What is officially recognised often has no relevance to the lives of the people of the place that these monuments belong to.

 

The survival and continuation of cultural heritage that is associated with the various communities of Sidhpur are based on personal choice, community involvement, support of non-governmental organisations and attitudes. It is an unfortunate fact that attitudes and aspirations are influenced by what development should mean for Indian cities or towns. And what it means, is increasingly veering towards planning physical and social infrastructure such as roads, transit services, lights, housing, water supply, sewerage, drainage, slum rehabilitation, cable TV and internet connectivity and so on, through both Central and State Government funded schemes (Aloria et al 2013). As Anjali K.Mohan, an urban and regional planner based in Bangalore says in the context of a conference held in favour of ‘Heritage-based Sustainable urban development’, ‘… the planning for development which results in creating enclaves and the protection and conservation of heritage … leaves gaps in the development fabric’ (Mohan 2010:8). This puts into perspective the issue of urban development working in quite the opposite direction set by heritage conservation; an undesirable separation in a place with a rich reserve of heritage.

 

The most common method that has been adopted to conserve cultural heritage, in the context of the growing concern for building identity and improving economy, is cultural tourism (Jha 2010). Sidhpur is set to be promoted as a cultural hub of Gujarat through tourism and allied services. The government has set up an institution for Skill Development and Hospitality training at Sidhpur in order to address this growing sector (Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd. 2017).

 

This sets the stage for heritage to be consumed and conversely puts into place yet another mechanism of marginalising heritage; those that get appreciated by tourists drive policy priorities. The problem here is twofold. One is that the danger lies in the fact that tourism is connected to economy, especially so to ‘creative economy’ which currently takes into its ambit, heritage and the associated cultural offerings of a place. While the local people are promised an additional source of livelihood and pride for their culture, it jeopardises the authenticity and the dignity of heritage by putting the people and the place at the mercy of a volatile consumer industry. The second is that, there is a visible imbalance between the investments made towards the overall development of the place and the preservation of its heritage.

 

There is still hope, as heritage professionals continue to redefine heritage so that it can be protected, preserved or conserved in the most equitable and sustainable manner, rather than it be museum-ised for the pleasures of consumption alone. Presently, it has been established that it is important to consider a dissolution of artificial dichotomies between intangible and tangible heritage as well as those between natural and cultural heritage. This breaking away from the division between natural and cultural heritage opens up a larger and more holistic field for heritage work as well as for a sustainable development of any place or community. It also begins to blur boundaries between those working for heritage conservation and those for economic, social or environmental development. The past, present and future begin to come together instead of disparate entities moving from one to the other. Heritage begins to take on a new all-pervasive definition. It is neither ‘fixed’ nor ‘inherent’, but emerges in dialogue amongst individuals, communities, practices, places, and things. According to Rodney Harrison (2015), this happens by invoking the ‘new heritage’ paradigm. Heritage practices can, therefore, not be separated from the processes of building the future in the ways of planning and design. This new way of thinking can also largely help leave out the tedious and innately biased process of choosing what is more important to conserve. A new ideal would have to set in process a re-structuring of heritage laws and bylaws. This would expand the scope of preservation and work with heritage in a way that it contributes to the growth of a place.

 

In a place like Sidhpur, an ideal such as this can go a long way in documenting it and building it up for many future generations to continue to have memories of its roots and indigenous knowledge practices. It would open up discoveries of meaningful potentials of different cultural-natural (tangible-intangible) heritage. For instance, a frequently overlooked pride of the town is its prominence in the agriculture of isabgol (psyllium husk) and jeera (cumin). Agriculture is not merely an occupation but a way of life; it is a heritage not only of the past but belongs to a space-time continuum. Consequently, it must be valued and venerated as much as the ‘unique’ models of heritage which are currently more remembered due to the fear of their loss. As heritage or urban development authorities, it becomes imperative to take pre-emptive measures and not choose areas of intervention, only based on how close they are to extinction. Agriculture, here, could become an important starting point for many micro enterprises, improving the local as well as the state economy, and also the lives and pride of the people who get involved. Cultural heritage conservation and urban development thus get implemented as a single concept.

 

It would be important to note here as an example of development, a boarding school for girls belonging to the Dawoodi Bohra community. It is also a regular school for all children, built and managed through the Aga Khan foundation as early as in 1993, in Sidhpur (Aga Khan Schools 2017). It gives care and imparts education—both regular as well as that related to heritage. There would be nothing better than an institution, pledged to educate, to take upon itself the responsibility of sensitising the future generation to the values of heritage, to its origin and culture. Why couldn’t more such efforts be taken up by the government as part of heritage conservation? The government should seek to educate and sensitise the people who belong to Sidhpur; it should encourage them to know it, to take pride in it and to develop it in a way they deem fit. A model of this nature is another way in which urban development goes hand in hand with heritage conservation.

 

If not a shift in the understanding of what heritage should mean, the role of the government can be to at least formulate a framework for cultural heritage protection and community participation, and to consistently implement and evaluate it. It could do so by facilitating a synergistic link between heritage authorities, NGOs, research scholars, urban and heritage professionals and civil societies through regular workshops and by creating a space dedicated for this convergence of diverse stakeholders. The component of participation could be as valuable to heritage conservation as it is to urban development. A well-implemented participatory project ultimately negotiates a development of what is considered most significant to the lives of the concerned people/stakeholders. Additionally, it becomes imperative to add value with the help of experts to what might get ignored by the participatory process. The material heritage of a place such as the riverbed of the Sarasvati, the remains of the Rudramahal temple, the Bohri Havelis are valuable resources or assets that can be invested into for a more efficient and sensitive planning and development of urban commons for the future. The heritage tag need not, or rather should not, freeze material heritage in time and keep it hollowed out only for visual consumption by people who do not belong to its past. Incorporating different facets of the culture of a place, which includes natural and material heritage, into the resource palette for development is more sensible, sustainable and inclusive in nature. An approach of this nature would seem to be an example of the values set out by what is today piloted as the Smart City Mission. Being smart lies in very small but conscious efforts of development; and Sidhpur has all the ingredients, when used carefully, to become a competitive, creative and smart town.

 

By making heritage conservation an important agenda of urban development, one can, to a large extent, avoid marginalisation which occurs when heritage conservation is looked at in isolation. Through urban development in a globalised framework, one looks at creating jobs, shelter and visibility. Therefore, for urban development, all heritage—material, natural and cultural—is of importance; every material heritage is a valuable resource and all natural and cultural heritage contribute to the biodiversity and identity of the place, respectively. To develop on one’s own unique strengths is precisely what the global discourse of ‘creative cities’ is bringing to urban and urbanising centres across the world and it cannot be ignored.

 

 

 

References

 

Aga    Khan    Schools. 2017. ‘The    Aga    Khan    Schools.’    [online]    Online at http://www.agakhanschools.org/India/AKSS/Index (viewed (viewed on December 1, 2017).

 

 

Aloria, G.R., Guruprasad Mohapatra, Mona Khandhar and Ashwini Kumar. 2013. ‘Gujarat: Unveiling Urban Development's Emerging Trends’. Gandhinagar: Urban Development  and Urban Housing Department, Government of Gujarat, 1-36.Online at  http://www.udd.gujarat.gov.in/pdf/ctb.pdf (viewed on November 28, 2017).

 

 

 

Archaeological Survey of India. ‘List of Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains of Gujarat:  Archaeological Survey of India.’ Online at http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_alphalist_gujarat.asp (viewed on November 28, 2017).

 

 

 

Jha, P. 2010. ‘Siddhpur to Develop as Culture Kaleidoscope for Gujarat soon. DNA.’ Online at http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-siddhpur-to-develop-as-culture-kaleidoscope-for-gujarat-soon-1466024(viewed on December 5, 2017).

 

 

Hattangadi, Vivek 2008. ‘River Saraswati and Sidhpur (ShreeSthal).’ [Blog] River Saraswati and Gujarat. Online at http://riversaraswati.blogspot.in/2008/06/river-saraswati-and-sidhpur-shreesthal.html (viewed on November 29, 2017).

 

 

Kadi, Zoyab Z. 2010. The November 28, 2017ohrawaads of Sidhpur. 1st ed. Pune: Heritage India Communications Pvt. Ltd.

 

 

Mohan, A. 2010. Heritage as a Resource for Development: the Need for Integrated Planning. Heritage-based Sustainable Development. [online] New Delhi: UNESCO-IHCN and the Embassy of Switzerland in India,  8. Online at http://www.ihcn.in/uploads/2/6/3/7/26375101/heritage_based_sustainable_development.pdf (viewed on November 29, 2017). 

 

 

Rodney, H. 2015. ‘Beyond “Natural” and “Cultural” Heritage: Toward an Ontological Politics of Heritage  in    the       Age    of    Anthropocene.’  (Online ) Taylor    & Francis. Online at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1179/2159032X15Z.00000000036?src=... (viewed on November 14, 2017).

 

 

Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd. 2017. ‘Setting up a Skill Development and Hospitality Training Centre at Siddhpur’, Vibrant Gujarat: Connecting India to the world, 8th Global Summit. Online at http://vibrantgujarat.com/writereaddata/images/pdf/project-profiles/Skill-Development-and-Hospitality-Training.pdf(viewed on December 5, 2017).