Sheikh Abdullah’s old home is being torn down brick-by-brick

Cries to preserve it as heritage house grow louder

MUKEET AKMALI
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jul 13 2018 12:16AM | Updated Date: Jul 13 2018 12:16AM
Sheikh Abdullah’s old home is being torn down brick-by-brickGK Photo

Away from the dust and traffic of the Soura market, an old house, half-burnt, broken down, stands in a narrow lane. It used to be the centre of political activity once as it belonged to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Today it is being brought down by its new owners who bought it from his family.

“There are legends about this house. Who’s who of India and Pakistan from top politicians to businessmen would visit this place. But unfortunately this house has now being demolished ironically both Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah who could have saved this legacy acted as mute spectator,” said Ali Muhammad Najar, a Soura resident.

Another resident, a National Conference supporter, Ghulam Rasool Baba said that National Conference a party founded by Sheikh Sahab only pay tributes to him on his death and birth anniversaries. But real tribute would have been to preserve this house as a mark of respect for him.

Built in 1925, according to elders in the area, the abandoned two-storey house till last month was surrounded by a huge brick wall topped with barbed wire, and guarded by a contingent of the Jammu and Kashmir Police. 

The half-burnt edifice may seem ordinary at first glance, but hides within its confines the story of a state as it evolved over periods of struggle, discontent and violence. 

The roofless house, which once served as the home of the Sheikhs, including former chief minister Farooq Abdullah and Mustafa Kamal, has been vacant since 1969, when the Sheikhs moved to their present residence at M.A. Road. It was in that year that Sheikh launched the plebiscite movement, and so he was often in jail. 

Between then and 1984, when the family began to repair the house, some members of the family would occasionally visit the bungalow. After 1989, after the outbreak of the pro-freedom movement, it was abandoned. 

In February 1990, at the height of insurgency in the state, some miscreants set the house ablaze, damaging it severely. Since then, there's been no attempt to repair the damage.

With the image of the house being demolished circulating on social networking sites, the cries for conserving this house as a heritage place has grown louder. 

A senior official said there was a proposal to preserve the structure as “ Sheikh Abdullah studies centre” as it has been a centre of political struggle of Kashmir. “However due to official apathy and lack of political interest it was dumped.”

State Convener of the Indian Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) Saleem Beg said this structure should be preserved as it has a historical importance. “Like Pakistan has preserved Jinnah House, there should be efforts to preserve this old structure.”

On Facebook, one Sami Qazi wrote: “The house which should’ve been a museum is now sold and demolished. It was this house where big Congress and Muslim League stalwarts visited, it was here Mahatma Gandhi paid visit on 2nd August 1947 where he tasted Kashmiri kulcha and goat’s milk (hosted by Begum Akbar Jehan). Or whether it was Mian Iftikharuddin’s emergency travel to this house from Lahore by car on 3rd Oct 1947 to pick up Sheikh Abdullah to Lahore (after he was released by Maharaja on 29 Sept 1947), unfortunately, his visit failed.”

Qazi wrote that Sheikh lived in this house till 1969 with many historical memories before moving to M A Road. “Despite whatever the politics is, the heritage house should have been preserved for historical reasons. However, majority of Kashmiris don’t have such desire to protect such sites. I’m afraid Mujahid Manzil, Srinagar might have same fate,” he concluded.

Qazi wrote later: “Since Sheikh Nazir passed away, they were hell-bent to sell this house.”

Qazi’s post attracted comments from a diverse section of society. Some supported the idea and some opposed it. “They sold Kashmir not to talk of their ancestral property,” Sarwar Naqash wrote. “How very sad to lose such a historic building,” former BBC journalist Andrew Whitehead commented. Maqsood Shahdad had written: “The deal has reportedly been for around 8 crores. It was having about 4.5 kanals of land.”

 

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