Delhi Police plans to conserve what could be the city’s oldest chowki

Updated on Mar 15, 2022 03:14 AM IST

According to Delhi Police: History and Heritage -- a coffee table book on the history of Delhi Police -- the chowki finds a mention in records dating back to the early 19th century.

Since Beg’s work dates to 1827, the book acknowledges that police post predates them all.
Since Beg’s work dates to 1827, the book acknowledges that police post predates them all.
BySadia Akhtar, , New Delhi

Nestled in a sea of welding and repair shops at the congested and busy industrial pocket of Sarai Rohilla is a heritage structure that is possibly the oldest surviving police post (chowki) in the Capital. Hidden by temporary porta-cabins for senior citizens and the juvenile cell of north district police on one side, and flanked by high-rise buildings on the other, locating the crumbling heritage structure on Old Rohtak Road is a challenge even though evidence of the chowki’s existence goes back to the early 19th century.

According to Delhi Police: History and Heritage -- a coffee table book on the history of Delhi Police -- the chowki finds a mention in records dating back to the early 19th century. It says that the structure is mentioned in Mirza Sangin Beg’s book Sair-ul Manazil, which dates back to 1827. Sair-ul Manazil (a journey from one destination to another)was reportedly commissioned by the British East India Company, which asked Beg to write about the 19-century Delhi.

According to the coffee table book, Sadar Bazar in north Delhi is the oldest police station in Delhi built in 1861. Besides Sadar Bazar, Sabzi Mandi, Mehrauli, Kotwali and Mundka are among the oldest police stations in Delhi, the book published by the Delhi Police says.

Since Beg’s work dates to 1827, the book acknowledges that police post predates them all.

Historian Swapna Liddle, who has edited an English translation of Sair-Ul-Manazil, said the book appears to mention the post by the name of “Barki Chowki”.

“Sair-Ul-Manazil mentions the presence of a police chowki known as Barki Chowki in an area where there is a kala pahad (hill) and a temple of Sheetla where Hindus perform puja .Near this chowki, there is a sarai of Rohilla Khan,” Liddle said, citing the book. Though more details about the structure are not known, Liddle said Sair-Ul-Manazil was written in the 1820s, which means that the structure (chowki) could be an early 19th-century British-era building.

Conservation efforts

A senior police officer, who asked not to be named. said that department is now planning to approach heritage experts to conserve the police post.

“It’s a matter of pride for us (Delhi Police) that we are trying to restore and oldest police chowki, and are trying to restore our legacy. After revamping the structure, it will be showcased to the public as the heritage of the Delhi Police. Our aim is to turn the place into a tourist spot as well,” said the officer.

A second officer said that the department has sent a Rs17 lakh proposal to the Union culture ministry for the conservation of the structure. The department also plans to reach out to Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) for the preservation of the structure, he added.

Culture ministry officials could not be reached for a comment.

KT Ravindran, convener INTACH Delhi, said while the Delhi police were yet to approach the body, they would be happy to collaborate on the conservation of the structure. “We’d happily take up the proposal if and whenever approached by the authorities,” said Ravindran.

Derelict, crumbling structure

Today, most people in the neighbourhood are oblivious to the significance, or even the presence, of the historical police post in their vicinity. Queries to passersby draw a blank. With a new police post blocking the view of the original structure, Barki Chowki is often overlooked as people make their way through the locality that has undergone a massive transformation in the past few decades.

The abandoned structure has several arched openings leading to its interior section, which comprises multiple rooms. While the ceiling has collapsed in most parts, the boundary walls that envelopes the structure is intact even though deep cracks run across it. The structure has been weakened by the deeply seated roots of the multiple banyan trees that line the premises.

It also has a well that was covered with concrete sometime in the last decade.

Raman Sharma, 37, whose house is adjacent to the police post, recalls that children of the neighbourhood used to play inside the complex at one point.

“Along with my friends, I used to play inside the police post. It was abandoned even then but we could easily access it. A police merchandise shop used to operate out of here and we would often interact with the police officers who never objected to our presence. We played cricket here and had developed a friendship with the officers here,” said Sharma.

“We also grew up hearing stories that people had jumped into the well and died. Due to such stories, some people feared that the compound was haunted,” he added.

Liddle that efforts aimed at both conservation and adaptive reuse of the structure could be undertaken. “Besides conservation and structural support, the structure could be equipped with facilities for adaptive reuse. If this structure was a police post at some point, it could be used in a similar context,” said Liddle.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Karn Pratap Singh has been writing on crime, policing, and issues of safety in Delhi for almost a decade. He covers high-intensity spot news, including terror strikes, serial blasts and security threats in the national capital.

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