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The Financial Express

OPINION

Grabbers eye archaeological sites

Shihab Sarkar | Published: March 21, 2020 21:06:50


Grabbers eye archaeological sites

Despite the presence of hundreds of archaeological ruins in the country, the relics have been surviving undisturbed for ages. No unscrupulous quarters have ever felt inclined to cause harm to the time-tested structures. Many have, however, disappeared on being unable to withstand the assault of time. This was interpreted as part of the natural process.

A handful of other sites drew attention of the authorities, and were later renovated and given the status of nationally recognised historical spots. Two of them were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1985 -- the Bagerhat Shaat Gombuj Mosque and the Paharpur Somapura Buddhist Monastery.

The general people's admiration and respect for historical spots is proverbial in this country. Or else, leaving dozens of spectacularly beautiful and appealing tourist attractions, why should they embark on arduous travels to the not-so-well-known sites? With this popular trait in view, signs of a few troubling developments have lately started baffling archaeology fans. It emerges in the form of encroachment. Grabbing rivers, river banks, forests, government lands etc has for ages been common occurrence in the country. Thanks to the unremitting practices of encroachment, sections of people have eventually become inured to this unlawful act. The situation has come to such a pass that people take it for granted that where there is a river still flowing without obstruction, grabbers must have to be on the prowl. They just bide time. Whenever the opportune moment comes, they do not dither before making a swoop on the river. The same pattern applies to all other cases of encroachment.

Unfortunately, this is what is happening to a lot of historical sites in the country. They include both obscure and internationally known ruins.

Among these places, the name of Mahasthangarh attains the foremost position in terms of the repeated bids of encroaching on its land. The site is a state property covering a vast land in the Shibganj upazila in the northern Bogura district. The site comprises the remnants of the ancient Bengal city of Pundranagar in the kingdom of Pundravardhana. As has been deciphered from a Brahmi script in 1931, Mahasthangarh dates back to 3rd century BC making it one of the oldest cities in the eastern India. Since its discovery and, later, the clear understanding of its archaeological significance, people from home and abroad have continued visiting the city. A fortified territory which was in use until 8th century AD, Mahasthangarh is slated to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A large part of Mahasthangarh's historical importance stems from the fact that it was part of the Gupta and Pala Kingdoms. It also belonged to the Sultanate.

Mahasthangarh remained a kind of free-for-all for centuries. Vast tracts of its land have been grabbed to construct private structures. People behind this grabbing spree have allegedly been so powerful that they would care little if the newspapers published reports on their defiant and unlawful acts. Finally, the High Court has come up to rein in the unscrupulous locals engaged in detracting from the site's archaeological importance.

The HC has directed the police administration to immediately deploy law enforcers to stop digging and construction works within the archaeological site. This court directive couldn't have been timelier. In saving the valuable archaeological sites, the nation can ill afford to waste time. The country is blessed with scores of historical sites. These sites, given their special historical importance, should be provided extra care rather than opening them to the public for all times.

shihabskr@ymail.com

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