It’s a blood red chapter in the history of our city, but the places around which the Great Revolt of 1857 pivoted in Delhi are losing their identity to the relentless march of time.
Zeenat Mahal was where Bahadur Shah Zafar was imprisoned when the British recaptured Delhi in 1857. Today, all that remains is a dilapidated gate and the façade in red sandstone.
What was once the heart of a haveli allotted to Bahadur Shah Zafar’s senior wife Zeenat now houses a commercial spice grinder, a metal factory, a milk depot, a few homes and a girls’ school, close to the Metro station in Chawri Bazaar.
Abdul Rauf, who runs an informal play school in his home in a pavilion of the haveli and shifted in as early as 1947, says he loves sitting on the haveli windows looking down on the busy street.
Delhi is full of such slices of heritage, which now bear no resemblance to what they look liked during the First War of Independence. In the year of its 150th anniversary, places are falling off the map everyday. Take, for instance, the Anglo Arabic School in Ajmeri Gate that was once the Delhi College. While trying to recapture Delhi, British forces were stationed in the college garden for the attack on the Red Fort. Delhi College was renamed Zakir Hussain College which was then relocated and the premises are now used for the Anglo Arabic School.
Who doesn’t know the Maulana Azad Medical College? But how many people know that it is was once a jail — opposite the Khooni Darwaza where Bahadur Shah three sons were shot dead — where many 1857 rebels were held.
Even the Bara Hindu Rao Hospital has a slice of Delhi’s heritage. A patient ward and a State Bank of India counter are now the markers for a section called Hindu Rao House where British soldiers were stationed on tower watch.
Kucha Chelan, a locality tucked away inside the bylanes of Daryaganj, is another forgotten address. This is where more than 1,400 people were slaughtered in a mass murder after the mutiny. Residents only know that it was named after 40 rich people who used to live here.
“Originally it was Kucha Chahal Ameeran, which later became Kucha Chelan,” explains Azhar Hussain, who says he is unaware of what happened in the locality in 1857.
The Qudsia Bagh opposite ISBT is a park that witnessed the 1857 war is now known for the Masonic Club it has in its premises. There’s only an apology of a small board with the name of the park.
Other ‘orphaned’ monuments are the barracks in Red fort, the only European-style buildings in Lal Quila built soon after the 1857 mutiny for fortification. The army till very recently used the barracks. Now they are abandoned and given only a cursory security check for Independence Day. The stickers on doors say “Delhi Police North Distt. Checking Independence Day 2007”.
Dr Azizuddin Hussain, professor of history Jamia Millia Islamia, who authored 1857 — Revised believes that by allowing these places to be renamed, the government is obliterating all traces of heritage for future generations.