Haryana’s Rakhigarhi is much like any other Indian village. Except that it was once a Harappan city

... for residents, it is no longer a surprise to have scholars find history in their fields

 One of the mounds under which remains of a settlement of the Harappan Civilisation was found.
One of the mounds under which remains of a settlement of the Harappan Civilisation was found. © Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO - The ASI has declared four mounds in the village as protected areas, but cemeteries and other remains of the ancient civilisation which flourished here, such as broken pottery and seals, have also been found on private land.

The locals are oddly at home with the history in their midst. “The fact that this was the site of one of the India’s oldest cities is a matter of pride for us. Excavations have been carried out in private lands and owners have been happy to give their lands for free for the work. Others are happy to host the visiting scholars in their homes,” says Dinesh Sheoran, a former sarpanch of Rakhi Shahpur, who takes a deep interest in the work and is somewhat of a go-to person for most visiting scholars.

But the acceptance of heritage, doesn’t bring with it a sense of awe, and often not even an awareness of the need for its protection. The ASI has put up metal fences around the four ‘protected’ mounds. Once the excavations were completed, the soil cover was replaced, to protect the antiquities below. But two wheelers zip through gaps in the fences using the path through the mounds as a thoroughfare. People come and go as they please, using it as a vacant plot to dry dung cakes. Animals roam freely. Today, much of the site of one of India’s oldest cities looks like a garbage dump. 

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The littering may not damage the historical data buried beneath, but the mess is definitely a put-off for visitors. 

Present Predicament

One of the ASI-protected mounds in the village – site five – has been built over. For years the ASI has been trying to get the area vacated. A row of two-room brick structures, funded by the state government, have been built in the village to rehabilitate those shifted away from the site. More are under construction. Some have already made the shift to the government quarters. But many are not in the mood to move. The situation is precarious for those whose houses are built on land that is not registered in their names but is formally owned by the panchayat. They may be the first to face forced eviction.

“Those living in smaller houses have agreed to move, but how can those living in bigger spaces agree to shift to those cramped quarters. Where will be keep our animals?” asks 31-year-old Anil Kumar, a farmer by profession. 

Most of the houses in the village have a big open courtyard –where the animals are kept – surrounded by rooms, a design Shinde says the modern village shares with the Harappan times. The government-built accommodations don’t have that kind of space. 

Fifty-four-year-old Jaivir, a retired army employee, had worked as a labourer when the ASI first started excavation here. He dimly understands the importance of the site, as do most other villagers, but questions, “isn’t it unfair to disrupt the lives of people in the present to know about the past?” 

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