At Haryana’s Harappan site of Rakhigarhi, anxiety trumps history

Villagers fear loss of land, as Centre moves to turn Harappan site into tourist hub.

February 27, 2020 12:53 am | Updated 12:53 am IST - Rakhigarhi

A look into the past:   Local residents near a mound at the Harappan site of Rakhigarhi in Haryana.

A look into the past: Local residents near a mound at the Harappan site of Rakhigarhi in Haryana.

Looking at the mounds at the Harappan site of Rakhigarhi , where locals dry cow dung cakes and dump garbage, there is little to show the thousands of years of history beneath. But the Centre is moving ahead with its plan to develop the site as a tourist hub and set up a museum , and this has got residents in two villages in Haryana’s Hisar district — Rakhi Khas and Rakhi Shahpur — known as Rakhigarhi worried.

After Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the government’s plan to fund five on-site museums , including the under-construction museum initiated by the Haryana government at Rakhigarhi, in her Budget speech on February 1, there is excitement and concern here. The Archaeological Survey of India has started planning the project. Union Tourism and Culture Minister Prahlad Singh Patel visited the site on Sunday and spoke to villagers about their concerns.

“If Dholavira changed history, Rakhigarhi is changing history for the second time. People in Delhi will have to visit Rakhigarhi,” Mr. Patel said, adding that the government would work with the villagers to address their concerns as the tourist hub is formed.

A former sarpanch, or local head, Dinesh, told the Minister, “We are happy that there will be work in our villages, but we are scared about what will happen to us. Already, people are anxious about the rehabilitation of homes around mound number four and five.”

Also read | New reports clearly confirm ‘Arya’ migration into India | ‘Indus Valley settlers had a distinct genetic lineage’ | Soon, you can see how the Harappans looked

The ASI has been able to get under its control just 83.5 acres of the 350-hectare site that spans 11 mounds, after first taking over the site in 1996, due to encroachments and pending court cases, said ASI Chandigarh Circle Superintending Archaeologist Zulfeqar Ali. The site is under ASI protection.

“If encroachments are removed, the cow dung on the mounds will also shift,” he said, adding that about 5% of the site had been excavated so far by the ASI and Deccan College, Pune. Among the findings, which indicate both early and mature Harappan phases, were a 4,600-year-old female skeleton, fortification and bricks.

As part of encroachment removal, 152 households are being shifted to flats, Hisar Deputy Commissioner Priyanka Soni told The Hindu .

Tensions may rise

But, many villagers say that is not enough and if the rehabilitation scheme is a sign of things to come, there may be more tension over future projects.

“They aren’t giving us adequate space. If they are taking away a 500 square-yard house, they are giving us a 100-square yard flat in return. And what about the space to dry cow dung cakes? There is no talk of alternative land for that,” said Sewa Singh, a farmer and resident.

Mr. Patel ended his meeting with the villagers with the assurance that the government would not make public its “action plan” for the site without telling the panchayat. He said that all five archaeological sites mentioned in the Budget – Rakhigarhi, Hastinapur in Uttar Pradesh, Shivsagar in Assam, Dholavira in Gujarat and Adichanallur in Tamil Nadu – would be developed into “iconic sites” simultaneously.

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