The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in India was the 2020 recipient of a World Responsible Tourism Award in the “Neighbours and Employees - Highly Commended” category for its work in Nizamuddin, Delhi. AKTC was commended for action on multiple fronts, including mobilising health workers to visit every home to create awareness, assisting in WHO house-to-house surveys, establishing a WhatsApp radio network, supplying emergency relief to 700 vulnerable families week after week, distributing masks made locally by women previously making tourist souvenirs, and other measures.
When the Indian press linked COVID deaths in April 2020 to a congregation of Islamic preachers from the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Nizamuddin, Delhi, AKTC swung into action: an AKTC awareness programme coupled with mask distribution even preceded government recognition of the area as a “Covid hotspot”. A group of 50 women trained extensively over five years as health workers visited every home to make residents aware of Covid-19. They also distributed masks made locally by yet another women’s self-help group that was usually occupied in making tourist souvenirs.
The AKTC team and the health workers carried out the house-to-house WHO Covid-19 survey (for the Delhi Government) in 1862 households. Continuous messaging and monitoring continued daily thereafter. There was also repeated distribution of rations and female hygiene kits to 700 vulnerable households.
Three months after the outbreak, not a single Covid-19 case was reported in Nizamuddin Basti.
AKTC has since raised almost US$ 100,000 for Covid-19 relief activities in the community, including training of youth towards alternate opportunities, continued relief to vulnerable families, creation of digital heritage and environmental awareness, conservation of community assets, online learning support, subsidy for community toilets and waste collection, amongst other shared facilities.
The pandemic response is part of AKTC’s ongoing Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Initiative, which, over the last ten years, has led to the conservation of 60 monuments, the landscaping of 200 acres of green space and a socio-economic development programme benefiting a community of 20,000.
It all started in 1997, when His Highness the Aga Khan gifted the garden restoration of the Humayun’s Tomb World Heritage Site. Following the garden restoration, visitor numbers rose ten-fold. In 2007, AKTC returned to the Humayun’s Tomb – Sunder Nursery – Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti area of Delhi to implement an Urban Conservation project spread across 300 acres in the heart of New Delhi, with a needy resident population of over 20,000.
AKTC brought a “craft based” approach to conservation. Over the past decade, almost one million man-days of work by master craftsmen has been undertaken on over 60 monuments in the area, including at Humayun’s Tomb itself. Stone-carvers, masons, glazed tile makers from the local community, carpenters, ironsmiths have used tools, materials, and revived building craft techniques to match the work of the original builders of these monuments. With the grandeur of the Tomb restored, AKTC moved on to help create a sustainable tourism destination that will continue to attract visitors for decades.
Sunder Nursery, Delhi’s new 90 acre Heritage Park, was created by AKTC abutting Humayun’s Tomb- Nizamuddin. The nursery includes over 250 native tree species, creating Delhi’s first arboretum. Over 300,000 visitors visited the new destination, mostly Delhi’s citizens attracted by restored monuments, unique flora, a bird haven with 80 resident species, a created wilderness, a bio-diversity zone and a major new venue for cultural events.
For more information, please see: https://www.akdn.org/where-we-work/south-asia/india/cultural-development/india-cultural-development-overview