Heritage sites across the world are preserved to showcase the rich ancient culture of a country. In forms of buildings, forts or even ruins, these sites educate and inform about the historical significance they hold and add value to the tourism industry of the country. But not in Sindh. In a bizarre move, the top court of the province has ruled that Qasr-e-Fatima, popularly known as the Mohatta Palace, would be converted into a girls’ medical college.
Built in 1927 pre-partition India, the palace was home to Shivratan Mohatta, a Hindu Marwari businessman. After partition, it was first acquired to house the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but later in 1964, Fatima Jinnah had moved into it. After her death, the house was home to her sister Shireen Jinnah and 15-years after her demise the palace was purchased by the Sindh government, who had then converted it into a museum to highlight the art and culture of Karachi. But owing to a long-standing dispute over the property, the Sindh High Court on Wednesday ruled that the heritage museum would now be converted to an academic institution. While the court ruling follows the apparent wish of Miss Jinnah who had desired to use the premises as a modern college exclusively for girls, it is unsure why a petition in 1971 seeking its possession was even allowed to be moved when the provincial government had legally purchased the property in 1964.
Today, the Mohatta Palace adds to the many cultural heritage sites of the province, along with, Moenjodaro and Makli Necropolis. Conversion of the palace to a medical college would not only be an erasure of the city’s history but also set a wrong precedent of commercializing cultural spaces. It must be remembered that it was the SHC’s decision few years ago that had led to encroachments at the Empress Market being cleared up, leading to loss of livelihoods of many in order to preserve the historical significance of the 19th century market place. It is then a wonder why would the same court order a different policy for another significant historical site.
The court must revisit its order and come up with another solution to end the dispute on the palace without having to compromise on the heritage site. The government must intervene in this matter as it is important to preserve one’s culture and its heritage as they shape values, and define a nation’s identity.