The recent revelation of the destruction of monuments at the World Heritage site of Hampi has laid bare the general neglect that is prevalent among us Indians with respect to honouring and venerating our heritage structures and relics of the past.
Citizens of Hampi Protest at Kamalapura
The video which has gone viral showed a couple of young men vandalising the heritage site by forcefully pulling down few pillars and enjoying while doing so. The initial reactions from the local ASI officials and government authorities sent confusing signals. Some of them said that it was an old video and that the pillars were erected by the ASI itself recently and were not exactly heritage monuments. However, as the issue gained prominence, the ASI officials have backtracked the statements and have promised a full inquiry into the incident. However, the entire episode reflects poorly on the efforts of the ASI and government officials at Hampi in upkeep and safeguarding our heritage monuments.
Derailing the Investigation
On February 1, an FIR was lodged against five unknown persons at the Hampi Police station by the ASI. This came days after the video surfaced online. The premises where the vandalism happened was identified as part of the Vishnu Temple which is near the Parshvanata Temple in Hampi. Following the public outcry both online and offline, protests by the citizens of Hampi, the police took the case seriously, and three teams were formed which went in search of the culprits.
On February 6th it was reported that four men had been arrested, who confessed to their acts of vandalism while they were interrogated in custody. When the video that was uploaded and their Facebook accounts were compared, it tallied with those who had been arrested. However, owing to political pressure the police are not making the names public. The locals opine that given the political pressure, the youth may belong to a particular community and hence the politicians for the sake of votes can even derail the investigations.
Pillars being vandalised at Hampi
Sources in Bellary told Organiser that the youth belong to Madhya Pradesh and there was considerable political pressure on the police to not reveal their names. “This is not the first time that the monuments at Hampi have been vandalised. The ASI, the Hampi Heritage Administration Authority, Dept. Of Conservation of Archeology and Museums of Govt of Karnataka and the police too, have all repeatedly failed in safeguarding our heritage structures”, said the source.
Ill-equipped ASI or Internal squabbles?
As expected, in a knee jerk reaction, the ASI has promised to install close circuit cameras and infra-red sensors near the monuments to safeguard them from further vandalism. This begs the question why didn’t the ASI take these very steps earlier if it was serious about safeguarding our world heritage sites?
This case of vandalism has resulted in a blame game between the various government departments. The police say that the incident is at least a year old and the ASI failed to notice it. The ASI says that some of the officials who failed to notice the vandalism will be punished and blame the police for not providing adequate security to the monuments at Hampi. The ASI has also complained that it is under-staffed and ill-equipped to maintain the monuments at all time. The police too say that it is difficult to keep a vigil at all times at all monuments.
As an immediate measure, the ASI has petitioned the government to install CCTV cameras at all monuments in Hampi and monitor the same. The police department too has been told to provide a constable or guards at each of the monuments at Hampi to provide 24/7 security to them. The government has directed the police to increase vigilance at all monuments in Hampi during lean hours and at night times.
The ASI at the centre has taken the case seriously and has been following the case on a daily basis. It had tweeted, “Archaeological Sites are temples of human history and we all have to protect it. @ASIGoIstands with all citizens in doing so.”
Lessons Never Learned
While this recent case of vandalism at Hampi has reopened the debate of safeguarding our heritage monuments, this is one of the numerous cases of wanton destruction reported regularly. Other historical monuments are not safe too. A few years earlier, defacement of figurines in Pattadakal, Halebidu had been reported. Several intricate carvings inside the famous caves at Badami too had been disfigured. Monuments at Ajanta and Ellora too were deformed a few years ago with names carved on the rocks. This calls for a larger question as to what entails such irresponsible behaviour of common Indians towards their own heritage monuments? Is it lack of pride or lack of education or lack of security?
Noted historian and well-known chronicler of heritage monuments Suresh Moona, tells Organiser that defacing our monuments, graffiti on sculptures are an indication of the general apathy prevalent among common Indians toward our monuments. “There are several factors that have resulted in this situation. We had a sense of belonging towards our heritage before Independence. Post-Independence, either due to our education system or due to lack of awareness in general, we lost the sense of belongingness. This has resulted in our general apathy towards our heritage. Defacing our heritage structures is prevalent across India.”Bengaluru itself is home to many heritage monuments and most are victims of neglect and defacement which Suresh Moona is trying to reverse.
“Educating our next generation, students and common people from the grassroots is the only way forward to ensure that such attitude does not persist”, says Suresh Moona. He and the organization AARAMBH (An Association for Reviving Awareness About Monuments of Bengaluru Heritage), have been doing just that to educate, encourage and involve people in exploring, appreciating and making them aware of our heritage monuments and structures. Unless people from the grassroots develop a sense of attachment towards our heritage, we cannot stop such defacement of our structures, he says.
He is right. As the famous adage goes, ‘people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots’, unless we put concrete efforts to educate, create a sense of belonging in our people, along with monitoring and punitive action, such wanton destruction of our heritage monuments will continue. Let us hope that this incident from Hampi wakes us and our authorities from the deep slumber and take necessary steps and ensure that this is the last case of disrespecting our own heritage.