Archana Singh: Nizamuddin Basti Renewal project has created a blueprint on how organisations can use conservation for people’s social and economic upliftment.
Named after the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Nizamuddin Basti is one of the oldest inhabited areas of Delhi. It gained spiritual significance in the 13th century when it became the final resting place of the famous saint and his spiritual disciple, poet Amir Khusrau. While Basti has been forever popular among saints and spirituality seekers, its appeal increased when Imtiaz Ali shot the famous ‘Kun Faya Kun’ song from Superhit Bollywood movie ‘Rockstar’ at Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya dargah. Besides the dargah, the area is home to Delhi’s two top heritage attractions – Humayun’s tomb and Sunder Nursery.
Unfortunately, three decades ago, Nizamuddin Basti’s image took a downward plunge – from a thriving cultural hub to a crime-ridden ghetto, discouraging visitors and encouraging criminals. But then something remarkable happened, and to everyone’s surprise, Nizamuddin Basti got a mammoth makeover that stunned everyone. History was revived, and lives were rebuilt through a Nizamuddin Basti Renewal project that achieved 15 out of 17 sustainable development goals. Besides restoring over 20 historical monuments, the basti was sustainably developed, providing a better life to the local communities. A crumbling society grappling with social issues such as unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, gender discrimination and inadequate healthcare facilities got a new lease of life.
So, how did this transformation happen?
In 2008, through an innovative People-Public-Private Partnership model, the Nizamuddin Basti Renewal project achieved the unthinkable – placing heritage at the heart of sustainable development. The project overcame significant socioeconomic challenges by working on three core areas: health, education, and environmental sanitation. The initiative included the conservation of several important monuments, cultural programming, training of guides, creating a public school and toilet facilities and skills training, particularly of youth and women. The project has become a successful template for others to follow and won hearts globally. In 2021, Delhi’s Nizamuddin Basti won two UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation – Award of Excellence and Special Recognition for Sustainable Development Award.
To understand how this miraculous transformation happened, Travel See Write reached out to Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and the locals of the Basti. Ratish Nanda, the CEO of AKTC, shared the underlying emotion behind the project:
“All of us at Aga [Khan] Trust for culture are working towards improving the quality of life of communities through culture. Take, for example, Nizamuddin Basti. One of the biggest assets of the Basti is their culture – both the built heritage and living heritage like music, food, traditions, beliefs etc. Yet these are poor communities.”
In 2008, AKTC formed a women’s self-help group named ‘Insha-e-Noor’ to train and create employment opportunities for the women of the Basti. To date, over six hundred women have attained economic and social independence by choosing to be part of this initiative.
Besides lack of livelihood opportunities, another big issue that the basti faced was the absence of safe and hygienic toilets. Over 25% of households in the Basti didn’t have toilets and were dependent on the two public toilets, which were terrible to use, especially for the women.
AKTC revamped the school using the building as a learning aid (BALA) to make learning fun for children….New teachers were hired, and other infrastructural issues were taken care of by AKTC.
Before the project took off, the healthcare conditions in the Basti were abysmal. Unsurprisingly, pregnant women and children were found to be the most vulnerable. A path lab was set up, and fifty local women were trained as health workers…
Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti is a custodian of 700 years of living cultural heritage. And one of the main objectives of the Nizamuddin Basti Renewal project was to generate awareness about the tangible and intangible heritage of the Humayun’s Tomb – Nizamuddin Basti area amongst people especially the school children.
Full article at Travelseewrite