We must preserve Old Dhaka’s heritage sites
It seems as though we are on a mission to remove all traces of our history in Dhaka as elsewhere in the country. Otherwise, how can we endanger or be so indifferent to the plight of hundreds of heritage sites in Old Dhaka? As per a report by Prothom Alo, parts of the century-old Sankhanidhi House in Wari have been demolished by illegal grabbers despite it being listed as a heritage site by the Department of Archaeology. Similar is the situation of the centuries-old Ruplal House in Farashganj, where 30 families currently live, with a part of it turned into a warehouse for spices. Visiting at least 25 such structures aged over a century, the newspaper found that the designs of most have been changed.
The fact that their status as listed heritage sites made no difference to their plight beggars belief. Also, why is the High Court directive to preserve them being violated so blatantly? Reportedly, in 2009, Rajuk published a gazette declaring four areas including Shakhari Bazar and a total of 93 structures of Old Dhaka as heritage sites/buildings. Any kind of alteration, extension, renovation, removal or destruction of such structures or open spaces, roads or alleys situated in those areas are prohibited. But still, the buildings are being renovated and/or their designs are being changed randomly, which also pose a threat to their inhabitants.
True, there have been some citizen-led initiatives to preserve them, but it could hardly make up for the indifference or inaction of the relevant authorities including the Department of Archaeology, Rajuk, law enforcement agencies, etc. In many cases, we have seen how government institutions themselves have opted to demolish heritage buildings, terming them as risky, rather than conserving them. Neelam Ghar, Jahaj Bari, Boro Katra, or Chhoto Katra are some of the sites that were partly or fully demolished in the recent past.
This is totally unacceptable. If the authorities do not take proper measures to preserve them now, one by one, most of our archaeological sites will be gone. We must not let that happen.