Abandoned museums

June 7, 2020

Most of the country’s museums have closed their doors on account of financial constraints

According to a news report, museums across the country are not functioning as they ought to be. Out of a total of 46 museums, 37 have been closed due to a shortage of funds. Only eight have been facilitating public viewing.

It is a fact of history that museums, as understood in the contemporary sense, were set up here in the colonial period.They were open to the public for a very nominal entry fee. This has not changed since we became an independent country. However, the importance and value of museums has slid downwards and many see them as a financial burden that ought to be shifted elsewhere, particularly in the context of the alleviation of poverty in a country that labels itself as destitute.

There was no concept of public galleries and museums in our part of the world as it is a consequence of a welfare state that evolved in the West where people have a stake in the socio-cultural existence.

Previously, all over the world, as here, the treasures and the artifacts were in possession of private individuals, wealthy ones of course. Out of sheer love or the desire to be known as civilized, they hoarded them. These were only accessible to the near and dear ones as the pubic had nothing to do with it nor were they seen as important enough to be exposed to these treasures of history.

Our museums are well known all over the world as they possess treasures that add to knowledge of history of the Indus Valley Civilization, the Gandhara Civilization and the Mughal and Sikh periods. These are unique treasures that no one else possesses. We ought to be very proud of them.

But are we?

There has been a debate since the creation of the country about our identity and roots. As it is, the identity has to be defined or determined by the land that a community lives in or has lived in. It is not supposed to be driven by ideology as many in the country have increasingly started to assert.

Over the last four decades or so the debate has become more intensely partisan. Sources of our culture are being drawn from other areas. So, these local collections and the quest of the men and women in the region have suddenly fall in estimation.

An artifact is no more a relic from the past. It is a piece that may have monetary equivalent or is a desire of merely reflecting the passion of a collector.

There have been attempts to recast the past in the image of the present, rather than seeing it as a process of evolution that expresses the sensibility of the people who have lived here over the centuries.

It is to be seen as a process that will go on as long as this earth survives, and is inhabited by humans and is not supposed to culminate at a certain time in history. Some of us think that we have arrived at the finality of something, our political destiny, our religious flowering, and our ambitions.

However, to view this debate in such a context is a denial of the historical process itself. It is much bigger than the frameworks that have been imposed on it from time to time. It may seem very unhistorical and boorish to be calling this land as Ancient Pakistan when it was not even there in political terms.

It was British colonial India. Before that it was divided between the Sikh Empire and the rulers of Sindh, such as Kalhoras and Talpurs. Before that, there were the Marathas and before that Mughal India and before that the Lodhi India and so on. The political identity, if any, was through a dynasty and one has seen so many come and go.

That is also one major reason why the people here are told that they do not have roots or that the roots lie elsewhere. And that is the reason why we are so fascinated by the foreigners or something that is foreign. It could be anything from the more advanced West to the more conservative Arabia or even Turkey.

The land and the people who inhabit it are important. These museums give us a solid three dimensional view of our past in terms of what was created and produced here. It binds us to the local identity that is so very crucial.

If we look at the world as the only place that we have, all this becomes critically significant. This constant flux is what life is all about and maintaining the balance without denying is the tricky tip-toe that determines us. A desire for surer solid foothold could be either imaginary or regressive in nature. The love of the land and its people can lead to a broader understanding of others without a bias or sense of superiority. Being judgmental is antithetical to an evolving historical consciousness.

Coronavirus: Museums in Pakistan stop functioning due to financial constraints