Dating back to 1865, the Frere Hall was constructed to be Karachi’s town hall but now serves as an exhibition space and library. It even houses Sadequain’s mural, a sight that many across Pakistan travel to see. Representing the colonial era in the region, the hall may not be a representation of freedom but it has become a symbol of resistance over the years. Given its importance, it came as no surprise that the public was outraged when administrators decided to turn it into a gated heritage site. Thankfully, the opposition successfully pressurised the Sindh High Court (SHC) to order the complete demolition of any construction on or near the site.
The Frere Hall is the only free green-space in the middle of the highly gentrified city. Many arrive at the destination to marvel at the monument and spend their time relaxing in the gardens that surround it. Visiting a public heritage site is a right that every citizen enjoys and to install a boundary in order to privatise it and restrict access is completely unacceptable.
Protesting members of the public flooded the streets arguing that building a gate is not environmentally friendly and is an unnecessary restriction on public spaces. The call for halting construction and demolishing the half-built pillars was finally responded to by the SHC which stated that the authorities were acting against heritage preservation laws and were violating the visual integrity of the monument. It also highlighted that the authorities responsible for making this structural change did not obtain the mandatory no-objection certificate by the Technical Advisory Committee on Heritage. Thus, they had no right to begin construction in the first place.
It is encouraging to see how public response added pressure and helped secure a swift resolution to this issue. There are already far too many sites that have been cordoned off from the public, and constructing redundant fixtures such as gates retract from the aesthetic value of these historical monuments. As it is, the Frere Hall has undergone considerable changes over the years with several statues being removed. Any further changes will alter the site completely and should be avoided. It is high time that we reconsider how we treat our heritage, and work towards making access to these sites more inclusive instead of adding unnecessary barriers to entry.