Mohammadpur village in Delhi debates its name and past
These days the chaupal in south Delhi’s Mohammadpur village is a place of heated discussion about the origin of the village -- and how it got its name. The debate was triggered after Bhagat Singh Tokas , the local councillor, submitted in July a proposal to rename the urban village in a zonal committee meeting of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC).
“During the Mughal era, names of all villages were forcibly changed. The villagers’ demand to change the name of Mohammadpur has been pending for a long time. In view of people’s demand and sentiments, I propose to change the name of the village from Mohammadpur to Madhavpuram,” the proposal by Tokas said.
The proposal, which came months before the civic body polls, where BJP faces a 15-year anti-incumbency, has since got anticipatory approval from SDMC Mayor Mukesh Suryan. “This a valid demand. The proposal has been passed by the corporation’s naming committee and will soon go to the house. By the end of this month, we will send it to the state government for necessary changes in the revenue records,” said Suryan.
For the uninitiated, Mohammadpur is a Jat-dominated village near Bhikaji Cama Place, home to about 7,000 people. The village boasts a Teen Burj ,a domed Lodhi era- monument, protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
In the 1960s and 70s, the land of the village was acquired to develop RK Puram, Sarojini Nagar and parts of Safdarjung Enclave. Today, a rental economy flourishes in the village, which is a maze of narrow lanes with multi-storey buildings housing tenants—many of them government servants, including CRPF, ITBP and CRPF personnel. The village is also home to many people working in AIIMS, Bhikaji Cama Place and hotels such as Hyatt. The village also has several leather shops.
“Our elders believe that the name of the village was changed during the Mughal period, and the current name only symbolises our subjugation by foreign invaders,” says Bhagat Singh Tokas, the local councillor, who lives in the village.
According to Census 2011, of the 600,000 cities, towns, and villages in the country, 704 carry the name of the first six Mughal emperors, viz., Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb, but there is no historical evidence that the name of Mohammadpur was changed during the Mughal period.
“This is historically a Jat village and no Muslim has ever owned land in our village. So, we assume that either the Mughals rulers gave us this name or changed the original name” says Rajesh Tomar , a villager who works as a swimming coach. In fact, unlike many Delhi villages where wrestling, kabaddi and Kho-Kho are popular, Mohammadpur and nearby Munirka is home to many swimming champions who played at national level, including Arjuna Award winner Khajan Singh Tokas.
Talking about the origin of their village, some old-timers say that Jat farmers in the nearby Munirka village came to live near their farmland around the Teen Burji monument around 250 years back. “That is how this village came into being. But these Jat farmers who settled here centuries back had no reason to name it Mohammadpur,” says Kulvir Singh , a village resident, sitting at the chapual, which is the hub of community activities.
Some villagers claim that the demand for the name change was first raised in the 1960s when they had approached then Chief Commissioner, Bhagwan Sahay. Till 1966, Delhi was governed by a chief commissioner. In 1966, a Metropolitan Council was set up with the lieutenant governor as its head. “We proposed to him that our village can be named after him as Bhagwan Nagar, but the demand was not accepted,” says Sukhbir Singh a villager.
“The problem is whenever we go outside Delhi and tell people that we are from Mohammadpur, they ask us if that is the Muslim-majority village . We have nothing against any religion or community, it is just that the current name of the village goes against our identity and history,” adds Singh.
But there are those who are opposed to the idea of the name change.
Jasbir Singh, 71, calls it a futile attempt to reject history. “ What are we going to get out of this name change. This is nothing but politics,” he says.
Interestingly, elaborating on the history of the village, he says that Tula Ram was the first farmer to come from the nearby Munirka village and settled in Mohammadpur in 1765. “I am his descendant. But the village is named after Mohammad Khan, a local landlord during the Lodi period. The Mughals have nothing to do with its name,” he says.
Singh’s account was supported by Rana Safvi, city chronicler and the author of The Forgotten Cities of Delhi, who mentions Teen Burji and Mohhamadpur in her book. “ The Mughals did not change names of cities, towns or villages. They built new cities and gave them new names,” says Safvi.
“In the past, most villages were named after local landlords or nobles. Mohammad Khan, I believe was a noble during the Lodi period,” says Safvi, citing the examples of Munirka, and Wazirpur that were named after Lodi-era nobles Munir Khan and Wazir Khan, respectively.
Curiously, while councillor Tokas and Mayor Suryan will have one believe that the name of the village was Madhavpuram before it was changed by the Mughals to Mohammadpur, Brahm Prakash, president of the local residents welfare association, has a different take.
“I think Mohammdpur was a name given to us by the Muslim rulers. Locals here came up with an alternative name, Madhavpuram after much discussion. Madhav is the name of Lord Krishna. I hope we get the new name soon”.
Mohammadpur may or may not become Madhavpuram, but BJP councillor from Safdarjung Enclave Radhika Abrol has moved a proposal to rename Humayunpur village to Hanumanpur. “We are also receiving similar a proposal from a few other villages including Saidulajab. We are favourably inclined to all these demands and proposals,” said Suryan.