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Tomb of Sher Shah Suri: a victim of hatred and prejudice

The exploits of Sher Shah Suri, the torch bearer of national solidarity and justice-loving king, are inscribed in letters of gold in the pages of history not only of India but of the whole world. Fully utilizing his administrative capabilities in all departments during the brief period of his five-year rule, he set up a system on the basis of which Akbar the Great ruled the country for 48 years. Thereafter, the British also followed in his foot steps in governance of the country. But it is a pity that instead of taking advantage of the policies and feats of this great king, some elements have started hating his tomb and other buildings constructed by him and are on the lookout of defacing and destroying this rare and priceless asset of history. This tomb of Sher Shah, which is located in Bihar’s city of Sahsaram, is today a victim of hate and bias. This great tomb carved and built with wheat-coloured stones made Sahsaram a city of historical greatness and world fame and today this city has an important place in the tourist map of India without which tour to India is incomplete. Tourists from within and outside the country make it a point to visit Sahsaram to see the historical tomb of this great king.

This city, situated in the lower part of Kaimoor valley, reminds one of the Kashmir valley in rainy season. This tomb, built of wheatish stones dug out from these hills, is the only one of its kind which has been described by a historian as even more beautiful than the Taj Mahal. But it is a pity that even the piece of land where Sher Shah is buried has not been spared by the illegal occupants, specially when the entire area of land is the property of Archaeological Survey of India and where any alteration or construction is a legal offence. From 1977 onwards several major and minor structures have been built and weak politics and foolish laws have even given it the hallowed and legal position of religious place of worship.

It must be borne in mind that this tomb came under the custody of Archaeological Survey of India in 1938 and has been declared a national monument. So far 17 complaints concerning illegal constructions have been registered with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) but no positive steps have been taken so far in this direction. Some fresh constructions were also made in October 2001 when one more structure came up in the name of ‘Vivah Mandap’ or marriage hall. 

According to the archeological superintendent of Patna circle, some fundamentalist organizations and their leaders of this area who were appointed for supervision of this national monument started this mischief. They have occupied the tomb land under a well-planned conspiracy. The interesting thing is that even the local police also does not interfere in their illegal business. Whenever efforts were made to illegally occupy and build structures on the land adjacent to the tomb, the district authorities were immediately informed but they were silent till 13 October. No action was taken against those who were involved in this illegal act. In this connection the archaeological superintendent of Patna circle talked to Bihar’s chief secretary and governor of Bihar. Local newspapers also strongly condemned these attempts as a result of which stay orders were issued. Accusing the local administration of complicity with the criminals, the superintendent of ASI said that after the start of construction of ‘Vivah Mandap’, the administration had got the work stopped but after a few months, work was resumed. 

About a year ago some mischievous elements had laid a foundation stone of a temple in the north of the ‘Id-gah’ on the western side of the tomb. In this way a new problem was being created. However, responsible officers of ASI intervened in the nick of time and the mischief was curbed. The proposed temple could not be constructed. However, it appears that the so-called religious leaders have become habituated to cheating the people in the name of religious beliefs. When they did not succeed in building the temple, they started indulging in some other mischief. The pity is that the Indian government to is behaving like a silent spectator by closing down its eyes.

If the central government really considers historical buildings as a part of country’s art, culture and civilization and rare assets of the country, it should have all these things inquired by CBI. If the central government can have the courage to put behind bars people involved in fodder scandal, hawala affairs, Tehelka, Bofors, Coffin scandals etc, why does it feel hesitant in ordering an inquiry against those who are involved in looting and destroying the great legacies of composite culture of Ganga-Yamuna and the invaluable properties of ASI and putting them also behind bars if found guilty? The central and state governments must give answer to these problems if they are really sincere and honest.

The case regarding the construction of temple in the compound of the tomb is pending in Patna High Court. The High Court has asked for a report from the district authorities. It is now the responsibility of the district administrative authorities to submit a detailed report based on impartiality and honesty.

The water of the lake within the compound of the tomb was at one time so clear and transparent that it glittered like silver. The inhabitants of the city used the water of this lake for drinking and cooking food. Old people say that washing of dirty linen here was strictly forbidden but if one goes to the tomb today, he will find clothes of all sorts spread on the grass around the lake for drying. One can also see people taking bath in this lake or tank. Not only this, idols are also immersed, or ‘Moorti Visarjan’ is performed, in this lake on the occasions of Dussehra and ‘Saraswati pooja’ because of which its water has become so dirty and foul smelling that it is difficult to pass from this place. 

A few years ago when Mr Manoj Kumar Srivastav was the District Collector here, he on his own initiative had got iron bars installed all round this tank. He also got vapour lights installed and built a ‘nullah’ so that the dirty water of the city in rainy season, instead of flowing into the lake, should flow out of the city through this ‘nullah’. But once the lighting arrangements were thrown out of gear, these could not be got repaired again. People took advantage of darkness by spreading dirt every morning and evening all around because of which the entire place is always stinking. 

An important point worth noting in this connection is that large and famous broadcasting institutions of the world like BBC, London and Voice of America etc frequently broadcast programmes regarding Sher Shah Suri and his tomb; but broadcasting institutions of our country viz All India Radio and Doordarshan Kendra have neither made any programme nor telecast any serial regarding this monument. If at all any serial pertaining to historical legacies of Muslims is ever broadcast or telecast, it is discontinued mid way because of unknown reasons. What else may call it if not the prejudice against a particular community?

Some experts think that as a result of ‘Moorti Visarjan’, the foundations of the tomb are getting weaker and if it is not banned this tomb can cave in any time. The District Magistrate of Rohtas, Wasimuddin Ahmad Anjum says that whenever a complaint is received about illegal constructions on the neighbouring lands, immediate steps are taken to stop it. On asking as to how the construction of temple was possible in spite of so much precaution and alertness of the administration, he said that a place of worship is associated with faith and unless there are clear instructions from the state government, we cannot do anything in this respect. The former MP, Sayed Shahabuddin has dismissed the clarifications given by Wasimuddin Anjum. He said that he had raised this issue in the Parliament twelve or thirteen years ago.

According to him, it is the responsibility of central government to free this compound from illegal occupations whereas the responsibility of state government is to give necessary administrative cooperation. But those who built the marriage hall or Vivah Mandap’ refuse to listen to any argument. They insist that they are building the ‘Vivah Mandap’ for the convenience of poor people for marriages, which will be built within the compound of the temple. If somebody tries to interfere in this matter or stop the construction, he will have to face serious consequences.

Earlier, the former MLA of this area, together with his supporters had allegedly attacked ASI’s conservation assistant, Sarvan Kumar and his family members because he had issued order for removal of saffron flag from the ‘akhara’ situated in the south of the tomb. For this duty-consciousness, Sarvan Kumar was punished by a FIR being registered against him by the local police wherein he was accused of inciting communal riots in the city.

Meanwhile, it also came to be known that those who wanted to build ‘Vivah Mandap’ had declared that if the administration did not allow them to build the ‘Mandap’, they will do this work through ‘kaar seva’.

Before 1970 there was nothing around the tomb. In 1975, a school was set up in the north of the tomb. Encouraged by this, the land mafia of the city built a temple in 1977. The school was shifted to some other place in 1997 but the ‘Sarveshwar Mahadev Mandir’ still exists there. 

According to the 1958 law pertaining to ASI and ancient monuments, many complaints were registered in connection with the tomb and its surroundings etc. Instead of taking action on these complaints, the District Magistrate passed on all these complaints and matters pertaining to the tomb to ASI to take legal action at its own level.

It should be known in this connection that according to the relevant law, no structure of any kind can be built within a radius of 100 metres of any registered national monument. It is therefore surprising that in spite of strong objections of the Archaeological Survey of India, building activity continued within the compound of Sher Shah Suri’s tomb. In 1982 the compound wall was built for construction of temple. After a year a campaign was launched on a large scale for collection of funds for building a grand, new temple in place of the old temple inside the compound. This led to communal tension. 

Twenty-five years have elapsed ever since and during this period many small temples associated with several gods and godesses have been built within this compound. In addition to the safety and preservation of this historical monument, communal harmony and peace has also to be maintained and for all this, it is necessary to remove illegal occupations and buildings otherwise the day is not far off when this grand national monument of India and a marvel of architecture will be converted into ruins and tears will continue trickling down from the aging stones of the tomb.

¯ Parvez Alam

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