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Whose heritage is it, anyway?

Last week, on April 18, World Heritage Day was observed across the globe. In Mumbai, barring mid-day and one of the city’s broadsheets, the date went largely unnoticed.

Compare this with tributes in some sections of the international press: one of the US’s top publications showcased 100 stunning images of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, while tiny Scotland propelled their handful historic sites with some amazing initiatives.

Closer home, in Pakistan, a leading national daily reported how Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, patron-in-chief of the Pakistan People’s Party urged UNESCO to declare 18 places as World Heritage Sites.

Interesting, and encouraging too, especially when it’s coming from a political leader. What about India, and naturally, Mumbai? Silence seems to be the essence where elections are clearly the flavour of the season.

In Mumbai, even as we wait to hear the verdict on whether the Victorian and Art Deco ensemble will get the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site tag, it is disconcerting to note that not a single political party or candidate standing from the city raised, even in passing, issues and concerns related to the condition and necessary action plans for some of the invaluable structures that have shaped the city’s identity. Many of these are in dire need for more than a cosmetic facelift.

While development has been mentioned in manifestos and received quite a lot of airtime, we haven’t heard of any buzz about preservation and conservation of our heritage — natural, manmade or cultural.

Then again, if one were to play devil’s advocate, the question thrown back would be — how does heritage conservation benefit the common man, who is the vote bank in such a scenario? Truth is, it doesn’t.

It’s a no-brainer to figure then, why our city’s treasured sites, its art and cultural fabric and literary heritage, each an important element of Mumbai’s history and identity, don’t surface on any political party or leader’s radar.

It’s a sad predicament that the city’s heritage lovers and foot soldiers must contend with, as they brace themselves for a new government.

One hopes that just as our sturdy centuries-old structures withstood all kinds of stormy weather that is common to Mumbai, it will continue to stand tall (and hope for tougher protection laws) amid the political storm.

The writer is Features Editor of mid-day

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