Friends of ASI

A platform for positive and constructive discussion on ways of looking at history, architecture, archaeology, and conservation

Minutes of the Site Meeting at Begumpur on 21 May 2012

Minutes of the Site Meeting at Begumpur on 21 May 2012

A  dozen members of FASI braved the heat and reached Begumpur Mosque on 21 May. Apologies to those who came for not treating this as a formal meeting, and asking people to sign. In the event, it was a remarkably productive afternoon (we went to Vijay Mandal as well), and hopefully will lead to rewarding follow-up activities.

The ASI had deputed its staff, Mr Ajay Singh and Mr A.K. Pande, to interact with us. It was also extremely useful that we were joined by Dr Meera Dass and Dr Sanghamitra Basu of the National Monuments Authority, which is working on bylaws for Begumpur.
The case of Begumpur is typical of many other sites in Delhi, where a monument is hemmed in by the settlement of people who had been living in the monument, and were evicted when the ASI began to ‘protect’ it. The Regulations of 1992, which state that there should be no buildings within 100 metres of a monument, cannot be realistically implemented here. If it is, the spirit of Begumpur would be lost forever – the organic link between the monument and the villagers, for whom it is more of a piazza (and the adjacent Vijay Mandal is more of a village green/common land than a monument complex).
The one element of change that HAS to be introduced is to provide sanitary facilities for the villagers. To go into the history of why this has not been done in this half-century would take too long. Suffice it to say that this has to be a priority item on the agenda.
The weary war of nerves with the villagers treating the mosque as their secular space, and the ASI trying to protect it by means of a lone chowkidar has to end. FASI members have made many practical suggestions as to how both Begumpur and Vijay Mandal can become beautiful public areas, with the participation of the villagers, the children of Mother’s International School, and FASI members. Exhibitions, activites for children, imparting skills to women, compiling an oral history, studying architecture and hydrology, lively signage at some distance, so as to catch the attention of passers-by, were suggested. It is quite clear that creating spaces for involving the village population in the conservation effort, without the involvement of the locals, even enhanced security will not provide any great protection to the structures.
Within a month attention has to be given to the interventions needed to lay out green spaces and trees. Over the next 6 months, it is agreed that the ASI and FASI make a detailed proposal for funds for 3 years to work on Begumpur-Vijay Mandal-Khirki(?) to the National Culture Fund (the head, Dr Shobita Punja, has been very helpful in this regard).
Narayani Gupta
Anisha Shekhar Mukherji
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