From rocks & ridge rose a New Delhi
British India’s new capital was carved out of scattered villages, a rocky, dusty ridge populated by jackals, leopards. Avishek G Dastidar, Nivedita Khandekar report.Delhi, then and nowBarren Wildernessdelhi Updated: Aug 29, 2011 12:47 IST
Scattered villages in and around a rocky, dusty ridge populated by jackals, leopards and peacocks— outside the Walled City, this was the Delhi where the British planned to build their new capital from scratch 100 years ago. The heart of the city then was in the North, within the lanes of Civil Lines, Chandni Chowk, Alipur and Kashmere Gate areas where trade and commerce flourished like it did in provincial towns.
The motley villages—some no more than hamlets—Malcha, Raisina, Todapur, Aliganj, Pillanji, Jaisinghpura, Kushak and others in the present New Delhi areas, had a mix of communities like Jats, Gujjars, Muslims Brahmins and even Christians, who either engaged in agriculture, rearing of animals, or sourced livelihood in Shahjahanabad, almost a half-day journey away. The Ancient Hanuman temple, a few Jain temples and Gurudwara Bangla Sahib drew crowds from the Walled City.
“The hills needed to be cut, the dense jungles had to be cleared and almost all the village land had to be acquired either by force or by compensation,” says historian RV Smith.
In the end, these villages gave way to tree-lined avenues, symmetrical neighbourhoods and architectural marvels like the Viceroy’s House, the Secretariat and the Council House (Parliament), which made New Delhi famous.
Old-timers say the name “New Delhi” was merely incidental. “Someone suggested the name ‘Georgeabad’ after the King Emperor on the lines of Shahjahanabad. The new city was never named. It was only by popular usage that the area beyond the Ajmeri Gate became known as ‘New Delhi’,” says jeweler-cum-art seller Sultan Singh Backliwal, 84, who was among the first lot of traders to move into Connaught Place soon after New Delhi’s inauguration.
Today’s burgeoning suburbs, South and East Delhi were “mango groves and graveyards” writes author Ranjana Sengupta in her book Delhi Metropolitan: The Making of an Unlikely City.
“Across the river in East Delhi, Shahadara was a small settlement in the middle of fields and scattered villages. New Delhi… had great swathes of empty spaces…,” she writes. In the middle of this setting, the imperial town planners firmed up a grand design.
Maps drawn up for the consideration of Secretary of State Lord Robert Crewe suggested curving out vast lakes from the “glacier fed waters of the Jumna” in North Delhi. They wanted government quarters, on the lines of Sarojini Nagar in trans-Yamuna areas. The new township was supposed to be buffered by gardens and green spaces to, as per the map’s index, keep the “very questionable air of native Delhi” away from the new town. But as fate would have it, the British eventually could get only around a decade and a half to rule from this modern seat of power after taking 20 long years to make it.
New Malcha’s 100-yr-old loss
Around 50 kilometers from the Capital, in a small village in Haryana, a different lore of the making of New Delhi has been handed down from generation to generation for 100 years. People in Harsana Malcha, a hamlet of around 300 Jat families, have all along believed they were wronged when the new Capital was built at Raisina Hill.
The family elders have always told the younger lot that they once lived in a village called Malcha which stood on prime lands in New Delhi, where now stands Chanakyapuri and parts of Rashtrapati Bhawan; that the British drove the Jats away from there by force in 1911 and that they never got a dime for the land they left behind for the British to build their precious Capital.
“The British killed families and friends of our forefathers to acquire our land and build New Delhi,” says Ajit Singh, 67, the quintessential Jat patriarch of a farmer family.
Legend has it that most Jat families refused to budge from the area around Malcha Mahal, Feroze Shah Tughluk’s Hunting Lodge in Central Ridge and parts of Raisina Hill, even as other communities like Brahmins, Muslims and others left after getting their compensation amounts.
“Our grandparents told us that one morning the British started bombing the Village with cannon balls. Several were killed,” said Satish Kumar, former of village head of Harsana Malcha. The village may have vanished from New Delhi but its name has remained in Malcha Marg, Malcha Mandir, Malcha Mahal in the Central Ridge and now in Harsana Malcha in Haryana.
Perched on a charpoy and puffing a hukka, Ajit Singh and others spread out sheaves of documents which they believe to be official records dug out by paying bribes before the age of Right to Information Act. “The British paid R85 for each acre of cultivable land and R15 for non-cultivable land as compensation. We want either a compensation based on those rates after adjusting inflation or the land’s current market rate,” he says.
A couple of years ago, after a failed attempt, a few families got together and managed to file a petition in the court seeking compensation for their lost village in 1911. “At a conservative estimate of R1 lakh per square yard, we are entitled to get R50 crore per acre. Families here owned 1,792 acres in Malcha village,” he says as villagers gather around him and listen with marked intentness although they have heard it all before.
“We have no reason to celebrate 100 years of New Delhi,” he says.
Land taken away, yet not uprooted
Till about eight decades ago, this was a quaint little village with people staying in no-frills houses made of stones with thatched roofs in the middle of their farmland.
On the southeastern side of Todapur was the ridge and about 3 km to the northeast was the Walled City. Today, it stands between Inderpuri and New Rajender Nagar, facing Indian Agricultural Research Institute. While Todapur was a Yadav village, the neighbouring Dasghara was a Jat bastion. The villages had very cordial relation but there was no roti-beti ka rishta (loosely translated, neither marriages nor trade was allowed between the two).
“Todapur and Dasghara were among the villages from where the British acquired land after Delhi was declared as the new imperial capital in 1911,” remembers Raghuvir Singh Yadav, 76, a resident whose family has been living here for almost 400 years.
The land was acquired on paper but the villagers were not asked to leave. “After Todapur was merged in the ridge (then called southern ridge), each house that counted as ‘one chulha per family’ was put on a list. All such people had to pay tax — the chulha (traditional Indian stove) tax,” Yadav recalls.
This tax was imposed despite the fact that before acquisition, the land belonged to the Yadavs. Changes started soon after construction began for the new capital. “Earlier, ours was a farming community. Slowly, children began going to schools,” says Yadav, who went to Naraina village and then to Karol Bagh and later became an SDM for the Delhi government.
This quaint urbanised village continues to pays a very nominal amount for the chulha tax. Today, Todapur is nobody’s baby as it falls neither under the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) nor the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC). “I have been fighting to get permanent lease papers in my name. My name is in the list of chulha tax payers and still the authorities don’t recognise me as a legal descendent,” Yadav says.