By — Shyamal Sinha
India on Wednesday expressed grave concern over reports of vandalism of ancient Buddhist rock carvings in Pakistan-occupied Gilgit Baltistan region, saying the ‘egregious activity which displays contempt for the ancient civilisational and cultural heritage’ is highly condemnable.
Reacting to destruction of these rocks, a prominent historian of Gilgit Baltistan, Araib Ali Baig, tweeted; “Have such slogans and paintings been made on the Gandhara civilization which is located in the Punjab province of Pakistan from the last three thousand years before Christ or is it just to militarize the civilizations of the disputed region of Gilgit-Baltistan ???” Another tweet criticising damage to the ancient art read; “This grotesque vandalism is intended to engender feelings of faux patriotism in Gilgitis and to remind them who’s the boss (Paki Estab)…..”.
The local media has also criticised Pakistani rulers for “awful display of barbarism on an ancient rock-art site”.
Hurt by the attempt to destroy the heritage, Hurmat Ali Shah tweeted; “The horror of this vandalism is that of erasing history. They all are barbarians who deform/destroy our cultural heritage and hence our conduit to knowing our historical ways of being”.
Such carvings are also present in areas along the Indus River in Ladakh union territory but Gilgit Baltistan is rich in petroglyphs (rock carvings) in hundreds of thousands and from ancient times. It is estimated that there are 50,000 pieces of petroglyphs in Gilgit Baltistan, especially along Karakoram Highway, Baig added.
In a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) called upon Pakistan to immediately vacate all illegally occupied territories and end the gross violation of the political, economic, and cultural rights of people living there.
“It is a matter of grave concern that Buddhist symbols are being destroyed and the religious and cultural rights and freedoms are being trampled with impunity in the Indian territories under illegal occupation of Pakistan,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
Buddhist rock carvings in the Chilas area of Gilgit-Baltistan were found to be vandalised. According to the photos circulating online, slogans and the Pakistani flag were painted over the carvings.
Srivastava said that New Delhi seeks immediate access for its experts to the area in order to restore and preserve the invaluable archaeological heritage.
“Egregious activities of this nature which display contempt for the ancient civilisational and cultural heritage are highly condemnable. We have sought immediate access for its experts to the area in order to restore and preserve this invaluable archaeological heritage; Srivastava said.
“We have once again called upon Pakistan to immediately vacate all illegally occupied territories and end the gross violation of political, economic and cultural rights of people living there,”
The statement has brought focus on the priceless Buddhist heritage of Gilgit-Baltistan found in the rock carvings and engravings especially in areas like Hunza which were part of the Buddhist circle covering Ladakh and Tibet. The engravings have been in news recently also because of the Diamar-Bhasha hydro power project that the Chinese and the Pakistani companies will construct nearby.
Locals have been carrying on an online campaign protesting against the hydro power project as it may endanger the Buddhist heritage.