In Punjab, pinching national treasure from protected monuments is child’s play.
Its monumental apathy to safeguard the national wealth was proven beyond doubt on Wednesday when a Hindustan Times team walked away with two historic documents dating back to 1930 from the protected ancestral home of Shaheed Udham Singh at Sunam in Sangrur district.
The documents that Hindustan Times carted away in a sting operation were a glass-framed copy of the Lahore Conspiracy Case Judgment, dating back to October 9, 1930, and a rare photograph of Udham Singh.
This freedom fighter had waited long for an opportunity and avenged the Jalianwala Bagh massacre by gunning down Sir Michael O’Dwyer at London on March 13 1940. Dwyer was the governor of Punjab when the massacre killing 379 people took place.
Freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai’s ancestral home in Jargaon too presented a similar picture of indifference of the government when it came to protecting articles of historic importance.
With little or no security arrangements, lifting the belongings of the freedom fighter would have been easy here too. Just like at Shaheed Udham Singh’s house. The intention of the sting operation was to jolt the government into action.
Time will tell whether this has stung the government. At least a similar ‘theft’ of some confidential handwritten letters of Udham Singh from the Archeological Survey of India files kept at the museum by his nephew Bachhan Singh failed to improve things much.
“My attempt was to highlight the government apathy. And the story did make front-page news but nothing changed. Today the media is taken more serious, so I would like your newspaper to repeat my act,” said his nephew requesting Hindustan Times to give another shock treatment.
The Sunam House is a declared national monument, protected by the Archaeological Survey of India and the Punjab government. On its walls hang framed but dust-laden rare documents, including the martyr's death certificate, letters written by him, his photographs, and, of course, a copy of the judgment in the Lahore Conspiracy Case that Hindustan Times walked away with. On one table lying in a corner were record files documenting several historical briefs.
The protected moment is left at the mercy of visitor’s decency. A placard requests visitors not to touch, lift or damage any of the displayed articles.
A middle-aged woman sitting on a cot in a neighbouring house told Hindustan Times. “The staff had told us in advance they would not be coming to Sunam on Wednesday. So before leaving on Tuesday, they handed us the keys, telling us to open the house at 9 am and close it by 4 pm.” This, according to village residents, is routine practice during winters.
The museum opens every day, but the staff is missing.
With no one question, taking the framed pieces off the wall and carrying them to a car parked 200 meters away was a piece of cake. And with an air of casualness, chatting with the neighbours as well.
Funds soon: DC
Hindustan Times called up Sangrur Deputy Commissioner Dr Harkesh Singh Sidhu later in the evening to report that two articles had been removed from Shaheed Udham Singh's Sunam house and that these would be duly returned.
He said he had already taken up a new project for “better upkeep” of the martyr's birthplace, and government would sanction funds for this soon.