Landmarks of India’s freedom struggle in Delhi

August 14th, 2008 - 12:36 pm ICT by IANS  

By Firoz Bakht Ahmed
New Delhi, Aug 14 (IANS) The Indian capital is full of landmarks - some quaint, some prominent - associated with the struggle for Indian independence. Here are some: Urdu Park in Urdu Bazaar: Urdu Park, just adjacent to Urdu Bazaar in Old Delhi and under the shadow of the Shahjahani Jama Masjid, was the place where Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had conducted an important public meeting Aug 1, 1942, with a local youth leader, Mir Mushtaq Ahmed, imploring people to side with the “Quit India Movement”. Incidentally, the last abode of Maulana Azad is here. When Azad died Feb 22, 1958, his mazaar was made here at the behest of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister.

The Central Hall of Parliament: When Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw the two bombs in the Central Assembly Hall (known as the Central Hall of Parliament) April 18, 1929, they shouted, “Inquilab zindabad!” No one was hurt as the bombs were thrown deliberately away from the people. They also scattered red-coloured leaflets beginning with the quote, “It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear.” It was the same marvellously domed hall where Nehru made his “tryst with destiny” speech.

Shaheed Bhagat Singh Park: Bhagat Singh has another association with Delhi - his Hindustan Socialist Republican Army that was born at Firoz Shah Kotla. However, there’s also the Shaheed Park memorial of Bhagat Singh just adjacent to the office of the Indian Express.

Sharif Manzil Haveli: Sharif Manzil in Ballimaran has changed since the days of the freedom struggle and is now the capital’s biggest optical accessories market. But it was the place where Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad, Nehru and Hakeem Ajmal Khan conducted many meetings, especially during the Rowlatt Act struggle.

Actually, the haveli belonged to Hakeem Ajmal Khan (1863-1927), president of the Indian National Congress, who was a famed apothecary of the Indian Unani system of medicine besides being a freedom fighter and writer. He was also an exponent of the Khilafat movement. He was given the title of Haziq-ul-Mulk by the people for his philanthropy.

Old Viceregal Lodge: Though the Viceregal Lodge accommodates the offices of Delhi University, during the days of the freedom struggle it served as the court room for the trial of 14 people charged with conspiracy to commit murder and the possession of arms and explosives offences. The case started here April 15, 1931.

Red Fort Barracks: Red Fort, a splendid architectural landmark, saw ugly barracks erected during the 1857 War of Independence. It was here that the English used to imprison the condemned prisoners of freedom struggle and hang them.

It was in 1945 that trials of members of the Indian National Army took place here. Shah Nawaz Khan, Gurbakhsh Singh Dhillon, Prem Kumar Sehgal, all senior officers, were among the many tried there.

Eminent lawyers of the day like Nehru, Bholabhai Desai, Tej Bahadur Sapru and K.N. Katju appeared for the prisoners at barrack number B4 that had been the trial room. While the trial was going on, posters on the walls of the walled City of Delhi threatened the death of “20 English dogs” for each condemned member of the INA! Of the many barracks, two have been turned into memorials as the Archaeological Survey of India took these from the Indian Army in 1993 for preservation as these were in a shambles.

Chandni Chowk: Various places at the vintage selling street of Chandni Chowk were witness to the freedom movement. It was in the 1857 freedom struggle that more than 200 ulema were hanged. There were umpteen public meetings involving Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Azad, Mahadev Desai, C. Rajgopalachari and Hakeem Ajmal Khan besides others.

The biggest of them all was the public meeting at the Bhai Mati Das Chowk (Fountain) when about 30,000 people turned up to protest the Rowlatt Act as it had extended the emergency during World War I on March 30, 1919. Actually the crowd was strong as earlier in the day five people had been killed in police firing. The meeting was called at the behest of Mahatma Gandhi and Hakeem Ajmal Khan under the banner of the Delhi Satyagraha Committee. There was no more firing that day as police thought it better not to go against a mammoth crowd.

In connection with the meetings, there were police atrocities and riots in the Ballimaran, Edward Park (now Subhash Park) and Jama Masjid areas. During one such riot, Swami Shraddhananda, an important leader who was against British rule, even bared his chest before then deputy commissioner H.C. Beadon asking him to shoot at him outside the Town Hall, according to historian and writer Biba Sobti. It’s ironic that even today, a locality in Karol Bagh is named after the British officer - Beadonpura.

Valmiki Sadan: It was at Valmiki Sadan, a Harijan colony in Mandir Marg that Gandhi had resided from the end of March 1946 to June 1947. Data Ram, 85, still remembers the discourses given by Gandhi to people in this colony. Gandhi had even taught some kids here and Data is one of them. The government has been trying to build a memorial at the place where Gandhi had stayed, but the Valmiki Samaj Sanstha members are against such tokenism, saying they are still at the tail end so far as facilities are concerned.

“When Gandhiji was alive, he too declined an offer by Birla to renovate his room,” states Data Ram.

(Firoz Bakht Ahmed is a grandnephew of Maulana Azad and a commentator on social, religious and political issues. He can be contacted at

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