Rukhsana Khan is a Pakistan-based scholar at the Faculty of Social Science, University of AJK, Muzaffarabad and currently working as a senior researcher of Asian civilisations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan. She has documented dozens of archaeological sites at Sharda, Neelum-Kishen Ganga valley and Barund Temple complexes, Kotli, under the umbrella of Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations, Quaid–i-Azam University. In an exclusive interview, Rukhsana talks about her life, work and motivations to The Kashmir Scan’s Rameez Makhdoomi.
RM: What motivated you to undertake research on Sharda temples?
RK: Actually, it is not just Sharda temple. It is whole Sharda Civilization. Sharda temple and its associated sites are major segment of that civilization. Initially my research was about the art and architecture of ancient civilizations. I had heard that Sharda Devi was considered Goddess of Fine Art and learning so when I started exploring this aspect, I realised there is lot more than to it than just art. There is a civilization and centuries of evolution behind this. It led me to coordinate first ever archaeological survey and documentation in Pakistani administered Kashmir sponsored by higher education commission of Pakistan under the umbrella of Taxila Institute of Asian civilizations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
RM: How do you view the role of cultural reserves in our part of the world as agents of peace?
RK: Jammu and Kashmir possesses rich natural and cultural resources which need to be harnessed for achieving sustainable socio-economic development. Integration of natural and cultural heritage in the national discourse would also enrich and strengthen counter narrative against extremism, help bring peace and harmony through promotion of heritage tourism.
RM: What is your area of research?
RK: My PhD research involves cultural heritage and its management in the context of socio-economic development through cultural tourism in the conflict zone, i.e., Neelam Kishen Ganga valley. I have done MPhil in Asian Civilizations from Quaid-i-Azam, University on “Discovering traces of cultural heritage”. A case study in Neelum Kishen Ganga valley” and Masters in Fine Arts, am accredited with international painting exhibitions, organised art exhibitions on culture, environment and gender issues.
RM: How far has the research task been accomplished?
RK: A major achievement of this research has been the development of chronology of this part of Kashmir. There is huge work to be done and the survey and documentation of archaeological sites in PaK reveals that there is great cultural heritage and archaeological treasure scattered from Neelam valley to Rawalakot, Poonch to Mirpur down in the south. There are pre-historic caves in Sehnsa Kotli. This all needs to be further studied which means a lot of research work to be done.
An important segment of Sharda research was finding the Saraswati Lake in Surgan valley’s higher altitude mountains. Although there are over dozen lakes on the higher altitude in the surrounding of Neelum valley, but four of these lakes have religious significance. These are Hari Parbat mountain in the Shounter valley while other three are directly associated with Sharda Devi which are Vagdevi, Narda and Sarasvati.
RM: What is the significance and impact of of your research work since 2012?
RK: The documentation and publications of cultural heritage and discoveries have broadened the archaeological map of the region. Some of the prestigious universities of South Asia have recognised the importance of this research and offered collaboration. This initiative by researcher involved capacity building of the government designated staff of tourism and archaeology department, and helped create networking amongst stake holders. The archaeological discoveries were highlighted on print and social media which created awareness and sense of ownership amongst the locals about their heritage. A civil society forum was formed for the protection of the archaeological discoveries and heritage in Sharda Neelum Kishen Ganga valley. Academia and media on both sides of the divide was briefed and updated on archaeological discoveries, its state of preservation and its importance in building peace and harmony across LoC through heritage tourism.
RM: As a scholar, how do you view the overall research infrastructure and aptitude in Pakistan?
RK: Generally, research infrastructure in Pakistan in not very admirable in the contemporary fields of research. Especially in PaK, the research in archaeology and socio-cultural sphere is not up to the mark, but recently need is being felt for an unbiased research to strengthen our counter narrative against extremism.
RM: What is your take on South Asian peace process?
RK: It is more of a political question rather than an academic one, but I think South Asian countries can benefit from each other’s experiences and research in various academic discourses. It could also help bridge trust deficit gaps and achieve peace.
RM: What can be the way ahead to solve the vexed Kashmir problem?
RK: Kashmir is a complex issue and more it lingers on, the more complex it would become. But people’s aspirations are important for the way forward and I believe the present status and environment does not provide enough space and opportunities to Kashmiri youth to fully utilise their talents and energies.
RM: Will the burning Middle East have any impact on our region?
RK: The destruction of ancient archaeological sites in Middle East was meant to disconnect present generations from their historical identity. In South Asia, owning our culture and heritage, and safeguarding icons of our history in shape of archaeological sites and other historical places must be ensured. We all hope and must do individually as well as collectively that happenings in Middle East must not affect our region.
RM: Who is your role model?
RK: I believe that in our society, the women who stand up for their rights in defiance of oppressive environment are the real role models because they create the institutions which influence the new generations to stand up for what is right.
You can contact Rukhsana Khan at email@example.com. Reach her on Twitter @Ruxanakhan
South Asian countries can benefit from each other’s experiences and research in various academic discourses which can also help bridge trust deficit.
There is great cultural heritage and archaeological treasure scattered from Neelam valley to Rawalakot and Poonch to Mirpur which must be studied.