The Sindh Festival: Celebrations amidst Controversy

By Deepshikha Agarwal sindh1 “Hindu- Muslim Bhai Bhai”. We hear this quote whenever any discussion of India-Pakistan relation comes up. Today however, I can think of a totally different and ironic interpretation of this quote. Recently, the Sindh Festival 2014, a 15 day festival, was inaugurated with much euphoria and glamour at the ancient Mohenjo-Daro heritage site in south-east Pakistan, on the 1st of February. This festival is being called the brainchild of the young leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. The festival was held at his home province of Sindh. However, this festival is being criticized by the leading conservationists it they are worried that the construction work needed for the festival’s opening ceremony could irreparably damage the 5,000-year-old site, and have written to the UN’s heritage body, asking it to intervene. Now coming back to why I earlier quoted “hindu muslim bhai bhai”, I would like to remind all my readers of another young politician of India being in news for a similar (not identical though) controversy just few days back. Ring a bell? No? Akhilesh Yadav, my dear friends. He was under the scrutiny of media and other political parties for holding the ‘Safai Festival’ at his parental village in Uttar Pradesh, at a time when the victims from the Muzzafarnagar Riots were still suffering in their temporary camps. He was strongly criticized for spending crores of money in the ‘Mahotsav’ when the people in his own state were suffering from extreme cold and were still in a want of a lot of help from the government. His insensitivity was evident from the lavishly organized Bollywood Night and on being questioned he refused all sorts of criticism and gave justifications like “government provided the riot victims with all possible help in terms of relief and rehabilitation”. sindh 2 Something similar is the situation in Pakistan where the son of former President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was criticized for organizing the high-profile event at Mohenjo-Daro, where one of the largest settlements of the Indus Valley civilization existed almost 5,000 years ago. According to Bilawal Bhutto, the broad aim of the festival is to preserve, promote, and protect our cultural heritage, which is also under threat. The festival is also a process where we hope to help fight for the societal space that has been ceded to the extremists. However, archaeologists are calling it insanity on the grounds that the stage and sound and light show could damage walls. Even hammering a nail in an archaeological site could bring about damages and secondly, the laser and spotlights will cause rapid decay at the site which is already exposed to many negative factors. Bilawal Bhutto has obviously dismissed the criticism saying that “organizers are taking utmost care”. However, is any festival more important than a world heritage site or, in India’s case, people suffering in camps? The festival can be celebrated at a different venue or at a different time but a heritage site or lost lives cannot be bought back. This is a simple fact that even young leaders today fail to understand. They go ahead with anything that serves their purpose of strengthening their local credentials. Gives a ton to think about, right?

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