Thatta Kedona

Culture is a Basic Need

Pakistan Built Heritage

This article has also appeared in Dolls, Toys and More by S A J Shirazi

Situated on the bank of river Ravi on Okara Faisalabad Road, Gogera Sadar was once an important and dignified town in the plans of Central Punjab. The town is reduced to a shabby and sleepy suburb of Okara today. Gogera still boasts its importance when it was British power centre and district headquarters from 1852 to 1865 and the part played by the resilient people of the area during War of Independence in 1857. The stories of the war that was fought around Gogera echo in the pages of history books.

While traveling, off the beaten tracks, not only you travel in soot free and serene environment but you also see what normally remain hidden. I have had a chance to explore Gogera along with Dr. Norbert Pintch - a German architect by profession and a volunteer by choice – who is working on an idea to convert ruins of British Court building into a monument. “Remain of British Court are important signs of built heritage of Pakistan and should be preserved for next generation,” Dr. Norbert says.

British Court reminds of the colonial period. Presently it has been converted into a school. The verandas of the old building with round arches have been clogged to create additional rooms and red thin bricks are covered with coats of whitewash. It will be much better if the building can be brought back to its original shape. And that is possible.

Just in front of the school is dilapidated and crumbling Bakhshi Khana with its round corners towers that were built during Mughal era. The barracks where prisoners used to be kept before and after appearing in the court have vanished. The treasury room inside the huge complex is still intact and being used as a living room these days. The huge bargad tree in the compound is an abode of squirrels and common birds. There is also water well in the courtyard that serves as a source of drinking water for the residents. Sitting in the shade of old tree, the resident of the evacuee property told, “We want to build a new house in place of this khandar but presently the property is under litigation. We will do it after the decision by the court.” Another sign of old time we are poised to lose forever.

Next to the school, in the middle of the lush green fields, one can see the circumferential walls of a Christian colonial cemetery - the last resting-place of Lord Berkley. Neglected ever since! The British Government had allotted agricultural land to the local trustees for upkeep of the cemetery but locals have not been able to preserve this important historic sign. “The parameter has been used to keep the animals in the past,” told my host Farooq Ahmed, member of a local NGO and social activist who accompanied us during exploration of the town. We asked many locals but nobody could indicate the place where used to be Gogera Central Jail.

History not only chronicles the events, it also influences the readers as to how the historians had experienced the events. It often describes just what authors want you to know. Most of the sources for the history of the Subcontinent for the colonial period are gazetteers written by British army and civil bureaucrats. And, sadly, they have written our history from “their” point of view.

British have narrated the history of ‘War of Independence 1857′ as a ‘mutiny’ and the heroes of the war have been portrayed as ‘insurgents’. One of the first real precursors of the storm that was brewing against British occupants in the Subcontinent occurred in Gogera on the night of July 26, 1857 in the shape of an outbreak in central jail. News of British military actions at Mian Mir (Lahore) reached Gogera on May 13, 1857 that triggered the chain of events. Deputy Commissioner Gogera Elphinstone and Extra Assistant Commissioner Berkley fought the people of the area. The villages (including Jhamra — village of Ahmed Khan Kharral) were burnt and innocent people killed in search of Ahmed Khan Kharral and other activists. Troops and artillery guns from Lahore and Multan Garrisons also reinforced the Gogera based British forces. British suffered heavy losses including killing of Extra Assistant Commissioner Berkley. The courageous struggle by the people of Gogera will always be remembered in the annals of history. Though there is nothing much left on ground that could be associated with the War of Independence or bring back the memories of the days gone by.

Gogera Town Committee was established in 1995 but the committee has not been able to make any difference in the condition prevailing in this market town. Only 13 sweepers and two donkey carts are not enough for keeping the town clean and remove exponentially growing municipal waste. “People keep their cows, buffaloes and goats in the streets,” told Farooq Ahmed. It is one of the rich town committees but the only project that has been under taken by the committee is brick lining of the streets in both parts of the town where water keeps standing even in dry seasons. Sewerage system and Degree College have been approved for the town. Residents hope that the work will start soon. The committee seems oblivious of the conditions of what remains of the heritage in the area though.

Many of the old buildings lining Gogera’s sinuous streets have seen no care or maintenance in near past. Population migration from interior has turned it into a sprawling town without civic amenities of the modern time, in a short time. Town is more rural than urban. It is a mixed cluster of houses widely varying in size and quality. Farooq says, “The residents are not familiar with civic amenities that should be available in the modern towns. There is no body to see the growth of the town and co-ordinate the effects of different agencies.”

The journey to Gogera embraces you with lovely colors, atmosphere, people and bits and pieces of history. Gogera has everything nature could bestow; hard working and spirited people, fertile land, water, communication infrastructure and clean healthy environment. This important power base during British period can be converted into an important historic travel attraction. This has not started happening yet.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 8:10 AM,


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