Development goes awry in ‘developed’ Dholavira

Just ten years of ‘development’ and the magic of Dholavira is gone. There’s work for three months during Rann Utsav and during the other nine months, locals have to struggle to survive

Archaeological Survey of India
Archaeological Survey of India
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Abhishek Srivastava

On the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi was emotionally urging his electorate in the run-up to second phase of assembly polls in Gujarat, I was confronted with a Harappan photograph of famous Priest King at the ASI museum, at the Harappan site of Dholavira, around 360 kilometers from Ahmedabad. The photograph had gone viral as a meme on Whatsapp. Memes do have a point amidst a touch of nuisance. The metaphor could not be ignored.

Dholavira, a lesser known late-Harappan archaeological site in Kutch district has a population of about 3500. Until late nineties, it was established that the site contains ruins of an ancient Indus Valley civilisation and was the grandest of the cities of its time. The fossil belt around Dholavira has more than 18,000 crore years old fossils, as told by the ASI guide. There were 13 field excavations till 2005 that challenged the established chronology and theory of Indus Valley civilisation.

One of the most significant discoveries at Dholavira was made in one of the side rooms of the northern gateway of the city, and is generally known as the Dholavira Signboard. The Harappans had arranged and set pieces of the mineral gypsum to form ten large symbols or letters on a big wooden board. At some point, the board fell flat on its face. The wood decayed, but the arrangement of the letters survived. The letters of the signboard are comparable to large bricks that were used in nearby walls.

This Dholavira signboard is still un-deciphered. Filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker has used this signboard in his film Mohanjodaro. The excavation has stopped, fund has stopped flowing in and the principal archaeologist of Dholavira, RS Bisht still survives to see the light at the end of a historic tunnel blocked since last 12 years.

This inscription is one of the longest in the Indus script and its large size and public nature make it a key piece of evidence cited by scholars arguing that the Indus script represents full literacy. Parallels can’t be missed. Kutch literacy rate is far more than the average rate of Gujarat and nearing 100 percent. Many cities have full 100 percent literacy. It has been around a decade when Dholavira was included in the Rann festival as one of the major tourist sites. I first visited this remote place in 2011. There were no vehicles at that time. No connecting services. Adivasi and Ahir grazers then could be seen roaming freely. There was just one accommodation named Toran resort that is closed now. A large tourist resort is being built in its place.

Just ten years of ‘development’ and the magic of Dholavira is gone. The long road constructed in the midst of Rann Of Kutch connecting this island to the mainland witnesses dozens JCB’s and machines roaring day and night. The wildlife that could be seen while travelling has gone into hiding. Manjubhai, the ASI guide, says, “We just work for three months during Rann Utsav when people visit here otherwise we have to struggle for full nine months to survive”. There is no MNREGA here. Nor any livelihood scheme. And the number of voters is awesome: 3,000 in a population of 3,500! And whom they vote for? Our local driver Laljibhai says, “Without doubt Narendra bhai! People are happy that he has connected this arid area with Narmada canals. Now water will reach here and quench thirst of BSF personnel guarding the border outposts in Kutch”.

Dholavira is a special case to be studied while revisiting Gujarat Model. A Harappan archaeological site (excavated just around 30 percent) being transformed in to a three month festive spectacle within a decade of its discovery! Sense of history has gone awry. When people lose sense of history, they start creating memes and metaphors. It is not a coincidence that the face of bearded Harappan Priest King was being compared to Modi in a widely circulated meme in social media.

The place called Dholavira from where I speak, the ruler resembles; the ruled resemble. The civilisation seems lynched and the development seems parched.

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