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Kashmir's ‘Ghanta Ghar’ Gets Another Makeover Amidst Criticism

Anees Zargar |
The clock tower, first built by Bajaj Electricals in 1980 for its brand campaign, is being rebuilt as part of the ongoing Smart City project
Kashmir's ‘Ghanta Ghar’ Gets Another Makeover Amidst Criticism

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir administration is reconstructing the landmark clock tower or Ghanta Ghar in Srinagar city’s Lal Chowk area. This historic neighbourhood gained significance through various political movements in the region. 

Athar Amin Khan, the Srinagar municipality commissioner, said the renovation is being done to make this Ghanta Ghar “beautiful”. 

The clock tower, first built by Bajaj Electricals in 1980 for its brand campaign, is being rebuilt as part of the ongoing Smart City project under which parts of urban Srinagar city, including the commercial hub of Lal Chowk, are being redesigned and remodelled. Even as the authorities are working swiftly to rebuild the area around the clock tower, some have questioned the efforts for being in vain

The owners of shops and business establishments in the city’s central market have said that their businesses have suffered greatly due to the ongoing construction work, but what is concerning is that they do not have many expectations even after the project is completed. 

“I have been here for more than 20 years and have seen work being carried on the clock tower year after year, but it never works for them (administration). I don’t know if it is that important that hundreds of shopkeepers face so much loss,” Zahid, a shopkeeper, said. 

The Rs 980-crore project has been much hyped, with the administration planning to complete its first facelift ahead of the working group meetings of delegates from the G20 nations expected around May end. 

The Smart City project also includes the creation of new parking slots, organised wiring, new cycling tracks, widening of walkways, separation of stormwater from drains and a dozen other plans to increase the overall health of the city.   

Almost the entire Lal Chowk or Red Square – named after one of the oldest squares in Moscow, Russia – is under construction. In some places, traditional Devri stones are being replaced by cement and concrete and in some spaces like the clock tower- traditional architecture is being superimposed on modern structures. 

Architect and author of two books on Kashmir- Hakim Sameer Hamdani, said that the clock tower had been an essential part of the cityscape. Still, how Ghanta Ghar is being renovated goes against heritage and conservation. 

Hamdani, whilst cautioning against the influence of what he termed as the “prevailing popular idiom” to change the whole architectural style, added that each architectural strand needs to be respected for what it is. 

“This is a cliched way of carrying out beautification. It was an example of modern architecture and resonated with a specific architecture of a particular period,” he said. 

The author of the book Shi’ism in Kashmir also said that the plan to use Brangh or Spire on the top of the tower does not make sense. 

“The Kashmir Brangh is a very sacred form in Kashmiri architecture, especially when it comes to Islamic architecture. Using a symbol from religious architecture, which people avoid using for homes and imposing it on a secular structure or civic edifice does not seem right,” Hamdani said.

In the last three decades that were marred by violence, Ghanta Ghar, however, emerged as one of the critical spots where people from different shades of political opinion symbolised their upper hand.  Until 2019, several flags have been hoisted on the tower, including the Indian tricolour, a flag for independent Kashmir, the erstwhile State flag of J&K and the Pakistani flag.  

In the 1990s, the tower's base was turned into a Border Security Force (BSF) bunker. They were later replaced by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), and every year security forces carried out a flag hoisting ceremony on India’s Independence Day until 2009. 

This is the second time since the last decade that the clock tower is being given a complete makeover, which many say is akin to the socio-political makeover the region is undergoing under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule. 

“The tower has received more footfall after the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A as tourists, video bloggers, and politicians from across the country make it a point to visit the spot and pose for a social media post,” a shopkeeper from the vicinity said.  

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