Thursday, 29 December 2011

Sikh Heritage in neglect part 2

Anglo-Sikh War Memorial in a battle for survival

It is not only Guru Teg Bahadur Memorial Museum in the holy city of Sri Anandpur Sahib that is in a state of neglect, the only Anglo-Sikh War Museum at Ferozeshah, 30 km from here, also seems to have been confined to history.

The iron tripod bearing plaques that announce the mute testimony to the Anglo-Sikh wars fought at Ferozeshah, Sabraon, Misriwala and Mudki has rusted beyond recognition. Written in Punjabi, Hindi and English, it is a dedication of the museum to the nation by the late Congress leader Sanjay Gandhi “in the presence of Punjab Chief Minister Giani Zail Singh” on April 11, 1976.

The state of neglect is despite the Rs 85 lakh spent last year by the Punjab Heritage Tourism Promotion Board (PHTPB) on its renovation under a Centrally-funded scheme for “revitalisation” of Anglo-Sikh battle sites in the state. The work was undertaken by Lime Centre, New Delhi.

Both Guru Teg Bahadur Museum and Anglo-Sikh War Museum are under the administrative control of the Department of Cultural Affairs. Inadequacy of maintenance funds, shortage of staff, and lack of basic amenities at the sprawling complex are cited among the reasons for its neglect. This is in contrast to the SAD-BJP government having spent lavishly on raising new memorials to Baba Banda Singh Bahadur, Chhotta Ghallughara and Wada Ghallughara, inviting charges of adopting a “religious agenda” on the eve of Assembly elections.

Broken glass panes have turned the artistically designed double-storey memorial into a convenient nesting site not only for birds but also nasty brown wasps. The foundation stone too tells the tale of official apathy towards the building located on the Ludhiana-Ferozepur highway.

Some rare artefacts, including weapons, were stolen from the museum a few years ago. These have not been recovered thus far, though a police case was registered.

Till last year, the museum bore the look of a haunted place, with thick vegetative growth blocking not only its entrance but nearly the entire building. Fountains on the 4.5-acre complex had become dysfunctional. Cannons on display at the entrance rested on decaying wooden mounts and broken wheels. A visit by the then Deputy Commissioner of Ferozepur had led to the repair of cannon mounts as well as the sanction of a tubewell connection.

A new kitchen and dining hall were constructed on the premises six months ago, but the facility to serve visitors has yet to be put to use. Sources said the department had not been able to decide who would run the canteen. While the new structure has been built at a huge cost, no money has still been spared for the maintenance and upkeep of the main museum.

The rusted pillar at the Anglo-Sikh War Museum at Ferozeshah, 30 km from Ferozepur and  one of the damaged paintings.

Paintings of Maharani Jinda, Sham Singh Attariwala, Faquir Azizudin, Dewan Mool Chand, Lord Hardinge, Lord Gough and Lord Dalhousie — main characters related to the two sides of the war — besides battle scenes, adorn the walls of the museum. However, the display would hardly enthuse a visitor, for the dilapidated or broken pieces of furniture lying in the exhibition hall hit the eye the first. Almost all paintings on display have been done by Kirpal Singh and Devinder Singh. The artefacts on display, including some weapons of historical importance, too are crying for attention.

Director of Cultural Affairs and Tourism Karamjit Singh Sra says there is a need for a “composite plan” for the upkeep of museums and memorials, without which some museums, including one at Sangrur, may be headed for closure.

“But we are working out plans to attract more visitors, by ensuring they get an informative glimpse of the history and rich heritage of the state in general, and Sikhs in particular,” he says. Guided tours and arranging connectivity of the museum with nearby towns is among the proposals.

Confined to history
  • Artefacts stolen years ago not recovered; remaining in neglect
  • Broken furniture, bird nests greet visitors
  • Rs 85 lakh spent last year, place still in a shambles

Prabhjot Singh/TNS, Ferozepur, December 29
(With inputs from Anirudh Gupta, Ferozepur)


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