Axing THE HERITAGE

  • AUQIB SALAM
  • Publish Date: Feb 3 2019 11:04AM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 3 2019 11:04AM
Axing THE HERITAGEPhoto: Kashmir Ink

Zaagichuikustaamshehjaarasnaeitaapaslagakh

Paghikistatchrasyiyemaaqabripethwugraaibooen

(Someone wants to rob you of the coolness and expose you to the sun. If you don’t understand it here, you may have to face the Chinar in the grave hereafter)

 

The couplet by Kashmiri poet and historian Zareef Ahmad Zareef perfectly depicts the current state of the Chinar in Kashmir.  Chinar, which enjoyed complete and relentless attention and support of the Mughal rulers, is witnessing its decline for last many decades.

It is said that when a fire incident at Jamia Masjid Srinagar was reported to Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, he first enquired about the safety of Chinars in the Jamia Masjid compound and not about the Masjid.

“Firstly, tell me whether the Chinars are safe there. We can rebuilt the mosque but hundreds of years old Chinars can't be brought back," he had reportedly said.

It is the way the Mughals patronised the Chinars in the valley forming part and parcel of the Kashmir’s cultural ethos.  Hundreds of years later, despite the ceremonial ban on the cutting of these majestic trees, the current administration is watching the slaughter of these trees.

Last year in the heart of Srinagar, LalChowk, an old Chinar was damaged when a excavator (JCB) was put into action by the R&B department for clearing the pavement. 

The incident evoked lot of public resentment on both the online and the offline platforms forcing the authorities to stop their action. Later that year, in another such event at Super Specialty Hospital, ShireenBagh, at Srinagar, three Chinars were cut down “with government permission”. 

Scores of Chinars have fallen to the construction of big projects with authorities assuring that new Chinars will be planted. Curiously, it takes nearly 150 years for a Chinar to reach its full size.

The administration over the years has failed to preserve Chinars, let alone plant and grow new ones. As per the officials of floriculture department, there is no proper mechanism for conducting the census for Chinars. However, they claim to have been carrying out couple of censuses over past few decades.

Zareef Ahmed Zareef, poet, historian and a Chinar protection activist says that time and again he has requested the authorities to carry census in order to check if “we are moving forward or backward in Chinar protection”.

“In 1985 I went on a hunger strike against cutting of two majestic Chinars in the city centre which gave rise to ‘BooenBachao committee’ (Chinar Protection Committee). 

“That year, a census was carried out in Srinagar which revealed that there were 5000 Chinars only in the city falling under SMC jurisdiction. Since then we have been pushing authorities to carry a census but to no avail,” Zareef says.

The poet says the movement in 1985 pushed authorities to make a separate Chinar Development Office which developed Chinar nurseries in Baramulla, Anantnag and Srinagar.

“Chinar saplings are distributed by this department free of cost every year in March, but there is no record maintained to know whether the saplings are grown properly,” he said. As people and governments around the world are getting environment conscious, “in Kashmir the trend is going in opposite direction.”

Many believe the “non-serious” approach of authorities concerned will lead to the depletion of Chinar cover in the valley. 

As per the academicians and historians of Kashmir, during Dogra rule it was necessary for every village chowkidar to grow at least one Chinar at the village roadways.

“The chowkidar would look after the Chinar that he had planted and report to the Girdawar and the Tehsildar. All the record was then preserved in the revenue department. Today, many officials have made cutting of Chinars a money minting business, though the non-serious approach of civilian population is equally responsible," Zareef says.

Officials of floriculture department admit that after Dogra rule, very little was done by the administration and by the people about the preservation of Chinars.  However Nazir Ahmed Reshi, deputy director of the department says that he is very optimistic about some positive indications that he noticed vis-à-vis development of Chinar in Kashmir. “Moreover, 1980s have proved to be a turning point for Chinar development as the then government started Chinar development scheme assigned to floriculture department.”

“A positive thing is that the number of young Chinars (20-50 year old) is growing with our efforts,” Reshi said.

History and origin

On the origins of ChinarDrSajjad Ahmed Darzi, historian, of department of History and Heritage, Kashmir University says that there are well documented records which suggest that Chinars were here way before the Mughals invaded Kashmir. “Although, there are no historical references about when the Chinars came here in Kashmir but presence of these trees during Sultanate period is written and well established,” he says.

“When Akbar invaded Kashmir around 1586 AD, it is written that a contingent of Mughal troops took refuge in a hollow Chinar which indicates that it was not brought by Mughals but it was here hundreds of years before that," Dr. Sajad says. 

The regimes that followed Mughals continued to plant Chinars up till Dogras. “Apart from the regimes, the historians say that people of Kashmir used to plant Chinars as an act of charity,” he says.

“Chinars at Malkha (downtown) were planted by people who used to travel on foot from old city to Hazratbal shrine. Since people used to make stops at many places under the shade of Chinars, it gave rise to the word “Thakboein” (Chinar where people take rest)," he said. Zareef shares the same belief about the origin of this historic heritage tree. In his various research literature articles, Zareef argues that the Chinar was here way before the Mughals era. 

“Sheilk-ul-Alam in his poetry has mentioned the Chinars 300 years before Mughals came to Kashmir. We also find the evidence of the Chinars in 500 AD in GilgitMaswadaat, which is the oldest written history on Kashmir. Interestingly, the book was handed over to Nehru by Sheikh Abdullah during tribal invasion of Kashmir," he said. 

Although officials are mum on the Chinar census, the surveys carried by many activists suggest that the population of Chinars has at present gone down by more than half to below 20,000 from 42,000 in 1970s.

M S Wadoo, former chief conservator of forest who has also worked on the decline of Chinars has put the total number of Chinars in Kashmir around 17,000 in his book 'The trees of our heritage'.  It is high time that both the administration and the local citizens wake up to the decline of Chinars and save them before it is too late, experts say.

However, a significant question that the experts raise is that if the administration is failing to protect the heritage Chinars in the first place, will planting new Chinars make the deficiency good?