Revisiting Delhi in the aftermath of Partition
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Revisiting Delhi in the aftermath of Partition

Sohail Hashmi has seen everything related to it, from conflicts to the rise and fall of businesses

Revisiting Delhi in the aftermath of Partition

The present-day Delhi in its fast-moving modern landscape offers little room for deep thought. Yet, the capital city has seen many historical events and has been shaped by them. As we celebrate 75 years of India’s independence, it is important to remember another imminent event from August 1947, the Partition of India. This event not only changed the face of the subcontinent but affected communities, languages, culture, and memories for a lifetime.

On this, INTACH's Delhi chapter, a trust working towards heritage conservation and awareness in India, organised a baithak on Delhi and Partition. The talk was conducted by a well-known writer, filmmaker and heritage expert from Delhi Sohail Hashmi on a relatively less hot and humid Sunday evening at Lodhi gardens. We indulged in his personal research, anecdotes and observation of what happened in Delhi during the Partition of 1947 and how has it impacted our present.

Sohail Hashmi who surveyed Delhi post partition has seen everything related to it, from conflicts to the rise and fall of businesses such as the OCM showroom in Connaught Place, forming of Lajpat Nagar, Malviya Nagar, Rajendra Nagar, and Patel Nagar to the gradual disappearance of rich cultural heritages.

Credits: INTACH Delhi Chapter

As it appears the Khidki masjid, and the Kashmiri gate played an important part after the partition of 1947. Moreover, several colonies such as the Regar Pura in Karol Bagh, BK Dutta colony and the CR Park were formed because of the Partition.

Sohail Hashmi says that most of the stories that we hear of the partition are of the people who when they entered Delhi as refugees from Western Punjab, possessed substantial financial means, who preempted the Partition and could prepare for it. The real sufferers were those who did not have the means or property or papers.

According to him, before the partition, most of the population lived within the wall boundary of Shahjahanabad. The population of Delhi in 1947 was 9 lakh including the suburbs and scattered villages. Here, 33 percent were Muslims. When the rioting began, many of them ran away or were killed. Humayun’s tomb and Purana Qila were a few designated sites where the Muslim community took shelter.

When the movement of people stopped, the population of Muslims in Delhi dropped to 4 percent. The population shrunk to 6 lakh but later increased to 14 lakh when people came from West Punjab. By the end of 1948, Delhi had become a Punjabi majority city.

The people who did not have means or papers became the inhabitants of Shahjahanabad turning it into an endless settlement. Sohail recounts that OP Jain, the founding convenor of INTACH Delhi, had told him that the grounds of Red Forts that are now fenced used to be open. It was here that a settlement came up of houses made of cardboard, paper and other waste material. The people started calling the area as ‘Gatte ka Seher’ or ‘the city of cardboard’.

Credits: INTACH Delhi Chapter

Next, there was a wall at the main road that connects ISBT to Kashmiri Gate which was the entrance to the city. Sohail Hashmi recalls that the walls had arches nearly 2.5 feet deep. Each arch became a home for a refugee family. This is where the women and children slept, cooked and bathed. The grown-up men and boys slept on top of the wall, which was wide enough for horses to run.

The government, in an UN-funded project, decided to create homes for these colonies which came up on BK Dutta and Karbala roads. Sohail who has been to these houses says that they were one-room apartments with a verandah and a little kitchen behind them. There was one toilet for 8 houses. These were known as double-story houses.

Caste remained a deciding factor in deciding who lived where, and later money and class. Sohail says that in the entire discourse around Partition, there are a few stories about Multanis, Sindhis and especially the Dalits. The Dalits who remained were settled in Regarpura in Karol Bagh which is one of the reasons it is reserved as a Scheduled Caste constituency. The Regars were the leather workers when New Delhi was being built.

He also mentions Tilak Nagar, Malviya Nagar, and Ramesh Nagar were among the first areas where the refugees settled. These areas in the late 1960s and early 70s were not well-lit or well-connected as we see today.

Immediately, after the independence, it so happened that the entire communities and clans moved together for safety and founded settlements in Delhi such as the Gujranwala town, New Multan Nagar, and Miyawali Nagar. Moreover, the Bengalis were the first people to be allotted land in Delhi at CR Park after 22 years of independence. It was then called East Pakistan Displaced Person Colony.

Credits: CitySpidey

Sohail Hashmi also mentioned the conflicts that emerged after the influx of refugees in the capital. A large number of refugees were asked to live in the Khidki mosque. The local men including a school teacher who told him this story went to Gandhiji with the complaint that people cannot be settled in a mosque. Maulana Azad thus came to survey the mosque and later houses were built for refugees around it. Slowly, peace prevailed and the killings came to an end in Delhi. However, violence in parts of Western UP went on, which brought people from there to the capital.

In an interesting detail, he mentioned during his MA, he had done a paper with his friends where he realized the only areas where that Delhi had expanded post-partition were the areas where it should not have expanded. He says that except for Shahajnahanbad and Mehrauli, this results in drainage issues to date in various parts of the city.

Sohail says that the trauma of the partition is not over. It is a festering sore that continues to affect us and whose impact plays in different ways still. Another section of people that we don't talk about is Muslims who chose to stay in India. He recounts an observation of his friend Madan Gopal Singh, an Indian composer and film theorist, "There is no single film where a Hindu soldier dies saving the life of a Muslim. This is the piece that Muslims had to pay to prove their loyalty."