In the heart of Kolkata stands Shahid Minar (the Martyr’s Monument). The vast adjacent ground is known as Brigade Parade Ground, which is traditionally a popular arena for big political rallies, since pre-independence days.
Formerly known as the Ochterlony Monument , it was erected in the year 1828 in the memory of Major General David Ochterlony, the Commander-In-Chief of British East India Company, to commemorate the victory of East India Company’s Army over the Gurkhas in Anglo-Nepalese War (1814–1816).
In August 1969, the United Front Government in Bengal, under Ajay Mukherjee and his deputy Jyoti Basu renamed the Monument as “Shahid Minar,” in the memory of the martyrs of India’s Freedom Movement. No protests or sob reporting in the press ever followed. It was accepted as a part of national assertiveness, in the post independence era.
Though it was mainly a Left supported Government, but it was sometimes assumed that, Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League, which was also a partner in the Government, mooted the idea and it was easily accepted. In Delhi, similarly, there is the Qutub Minar, which has almost became an insignia of Delhi. Inspired by the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan,the ruler from the first Turkish Slave Dynasty in Delhi, Qutb-ud-Din Aibak began construction of the Qutub Minar in the year 1193.
The main reason for building the monument has been variously speculated upon. It could take the usual role of a minaret, a tower of victory, or more convincingly a monument signifying the command of Islam. With Qutub, the Muslim rule had began in Delhi. Though the dynasty lasted for just a few centuries, Muslim rule in India endured up to the British occupation in 1858.
The minaret is made of red sandstone covered with intricate carvings and verses from the Quran. The Qutub Minar was built on the ruins of the Lal-Kot in the city of Dhillika. Dhillika is the capital of the Tomars and the Chauhans, the last Hindu rulers of Delhi. The original complex initially housed 27 ancient Hindu and Jain temples, which were destroyed and their debris was used to build the Qutub Minar and adjacent mosque.
This Minar was predominantly used as a minaret for azans, in the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first ever Mosque in Delhi. Historically, Qutb-ud-Din Aibak was a diehard Muslim. After his army occupied Delhi under the command of Muhammed Ghori in the year 1192, he ordered the destruction of Lal-Kot’s twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples to furnish building materials for constructing Delhi’s first Mosque- Quwwat-ul-Islam, the “Glory of Islam.” The Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque , also known as the Qutab Mosque, is primarily known for its tower of victory, the Qutub Minar, celebrating the Muslim conquest of India!
A large part of Spain was also colonised by the Islamic rulers for several centuries. They had destroyed many Churches, places of learning and erected Mosques and Islamic edifices there. Today Spain has erased the despotic colonial past, after the final conquest of 1492.
While Delhi has virtually erased every road named after the British rulers. Many of these Britishers had created great Institutions of Learning, Medical Colleges, Museums, Courts,Railways, Libraries, brought Scientific development and knowledge, initiated secular educational and legal systems.
They have studied India’s past, ancient Indian Scripts like Brahmi and Kharosthi, delved up the ancient civilisations.
Painstakingly collected Indian Historical relics, manuscripts, inscriptions. Built institutions like Asiatic Society, Archeological Survey, National Museum, National and regional Libraries, Universities, Hospitals and numerous places of Scientific and Medical learning.
Of course, they were colonial rulers. But never passed orders to destroy temples, scriptures and idols. Never erected churches over destroyed temples. Never persecuted or killed people castigated by religion. But what we have done to retain this part of our history? When New Delhi celebrated its century, few years back, we simply forgot to remember those city planners, architects and engineers who built this city anew.
From Warren Hastings to Lord Minto, from Allenby to Lord Irwin, we have renamed every road with alacrity(Irwin Road turned Baba Kharak Singh Marg / Curzon Road became Kasturba Gandhi Marg /Tilak Marg was Hardinge Road and Vivekananda Marg was Minto Road). And to cast away our not so past history, we have just thrown their dimantled statues into filthiest dumping grounds!
Historians of every hue and brand are now shouting from the rooftops, dictating rules, restrictions, laws and norms in recent context of the name changing of a central Delhi Road. It was named after the Mughal ruler Aurangzeb. But where were these historians, all these years!
By Deep Basu
Images by author