As we are celebrating the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Gandhi Ji, this small square has an interesting connection with him.
Story of the neglected Ram Swarup park
Pic & Text |Rehan Asad
Located in the middle of the city, an old park without any plaques has an interesting story of its past. The gateway of a historic Ramswarup park got a recent facelift by a compromised municipal budget in a small city of Western Uttarpradesh (Pilibhit). With few of the old remnants visible on the flank, almost the major portion of it has vanished with time. You will find traditional ear cleaners with red turbans wrapped on their imitating nineteenth-century occupational paintings left by the company painters. A small stall for exchanging torn currency & a man sitting for the repair of bygone days watch. This is the sight one can find in the front of Ram Swarup park located close to the ruined 19th-century colonial gateways build by British magistrate Drummond. Little is known about the exact date when this park was built. However it’s crumbled left kiosk with a cupola, the only left lakhori bricks structure in the historic square seems to be at least more than a century old. One could imagine its beauty when the nineteenth-century commercial enclave was adored by four beautiful gateways, & the square was nicely planned in the proximity of Northern & eastern gateways of Drummondganj.
It seems to be an extension of Drummondsganj. As we are celebrating the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Gandhi Ji, this small square has an interesting connection with him. With a launch of famous non- cooperation movement Gandhi Ji took a tour to the small cities of United Provinces. On 31st December 1921, he visited Pilibhit after completing his tour to Shahjahanpur. He made several meetings with both Hindu & Muslim revolutionaries. The congress committees were formed even in the remotest corners of the district. It was here at this park, the father of the nation gave a speech to the audiences. From here he moved to neighboring district Lakhimpur. According to the district Gazette (1960), the visit made a huge impact & large number of British goods & clothes were boycotted. Along with the town, the village Sardarnagar (Amaria) & village Khamaria (Bisalpur) tahsil also witnessed active participation. Many of the youngsters from the district were arrested & jailed. Among them, my great grandfather, Sheikh Aminuddin & his cousin Sheikh Zakiuddin from village Khamaria were also arrested & put in district jail. Later on, they were shifted to District Jail of Lakhimpur for the next six months. The square of the historic park was surrounded by narrow lanes on its southern & eastern boundaries with old shops. Eighty eight-year-old Urdu writer & social worker Mr. Shams Jilani, a resident of Richmond City, Canada who was born (1931) at Pilibhit recalled that the square was known as Simons park in those days. Most of the shops were owned by the Punjabi Muslaman community. Still, the alley is filled with roadside hand-dyeing outlets, printing press & few old cloth stores running from generations.
Another elderly resident of the city Ali Nazar Khan alias Abba Ji told: “I was seventeen years old when we were blessed with the gift of independence on eve of 15th 1947. I was among one of those who were engaged by municipal board to write on the gateway of the park “Yaume Azadi, with its date & year in Urdu script. The park was renamed after one revolutionary who laid his life in independence struggle as Ram Swarup Park”.
Slowly with the time, the boundary wall & gateway of the park crumbled. The enclosure left strayed for a long time. Till the last year, it was filled by the filthy waste material even though the new boundary walls & gateway has been erected. Fortunately this year some clearing of the waste took place even though the ground appears deserted. All the old plaques, construction dates have been lost in the ruins of the old buildings. Close to it, even the remnants of the Drumondsganj Northern gateway seem to be disappeared with time. The rest vanishes in history except the few heritage lovers & aged chroniclers were aware of the stories of its lost time.
The story of the Colonial Zamindar, and a Philanthropist from early 20th century, Pilibhit, United Provinces
Text by Rehan Asad| family Pics & Portraits by Mr. Mohammad Aslam
On 18th February 1917, a zamindar from a nearby village Daang, Pargana Jahanabad addressed a convocational gathering at Karghaina Building, Pilibhit, United Provinces as President of the Anjuman. I translated excerpts of his speech published in the Rawaid (minutes/proceedings of the convocation) from Bareilly in the same year. It reflected the profound insight of the man towards the role & the importance of modern education. “Modern education is the only tool to remove ignorance among communities. Muslims like other communities in subcontinent don’t have an inclination for modern education and this is the reason of the lagging of Muslims in all walks of life. Especially for our community in Rohilkhand, we are deliberately parting away from modern education. It is the lack of the modern education which is responsible for our heavy losses to the zamindari estates, and it will remain same in future. It would be a sense of grief for all of us that in the time of British governance that blessed us with a lot of favors, facilities, and freedom and still if our community would be isolated from the jewel of modern education. It should be our duty and efforts that we should accept the importance of modern education from our hearts. By the grace of God, you all are quite capable of resources to provide higher education to our young generation and also to those orphans of the community those are in utmost need. Therefore it is necessary to donate hefty amounts related to the scholarships for higher education.”– Speech Sheikh Ahmad Nazeer, 1917AD .
Family Background and Introduction: Sheikh Taj Mohammad was the founder of the household in Rohillkhand region and sixth in the generation of Sheikh Taj Mohammad was born Sheikh Nazeer Ahmad in the family Sheikh Mohammad Buksh . According to Tarrekh Arain his ancestors originally belonged to Salarpur, District Jalandhar, Punjab, who migrated to Mangala, District Sirsa (presently in Haryana) and then moved to Rohilkhand in the late 18th century . Nevill in the District Gazette of Pilibhit (1909) cited the family of Sheikh Nazeer Ahmad as one of the notable and leading zamindars of Pargana Jahanabad, District Pilibhit . His father Haji Sheikh Mohammad Buksh was a pious landlord who donated a considerable property from his zamindari shares in Pargana Richaa, District Bareilly to the waqf of the historic Jama Masjid, Pilibhit. In the late 19th century, a Madarsa was also stared by his father at Village Daang, the headquarter of his zamindari estate. As the trend of the time among prosperous cultured families in those days, he was groomed by his father & private tutors. He had a good understanding of Arabic, Persian, and Urdu.
Description of his estate: The District Gazette of Pilibhit cited the revenue of his estate “Sheikh Nazeer Ahmad son of Sheikh Mohammad Buksh, an Arain hold seven villages and fifteen shares in District Pilibhit and pay revenue of ten thousand four hundred thirty-eight INR (Drake, 1934AD) ”. He also held three whole villages in District Bareilly. Eighteen years later when the assessment report was prepared for the abolition of zamindari system based on the revenue in United Provinces, the total number of the zamindars in the highest strata i.e., ten thousand Indian Rupees were only three hundred ninety . On reviewing District Gazetteer, I found that it was the highest revenue paid to the Government in Pargana Jahanabad and third highest in the District. As a foresighted man, he understood the outcomes of the upcoming reforms of United Provinces. It was during his time, the Daang estate also created a huge agrarian farm under the category of “Sir/Khudkasht” land with newly introduced machines and tractor. All these records showed that he belonged to one of the richest families in the district and among the top strata of United Province’s zamindar aristocracy. In 1952 after the abolition of Zamindari his descendants were able to hold an agrarian farmland spread over an area of more than two hundred acres of the land. He also had an honorary exemption from British Government arm acts .
Services & Charities: Whether it was the organization of feast on special occasions of Muharram, Rabi Ul Awwal or the expense of the “Urs” of the revered saint who was resting in the premises of Jahanabad Police Station, Sheikh Nazeer Ahmad continued the traditional charities of his forefathers. Aged locals still recalled him and his father as “Chote Miyan” and “Bade Miyan” who always treated their ancestors with generosity irrespective of their caste, creed, religion & social status. A trait that was rare to be found among the zamindars in the stratified rural settings of Colonial India. In 1915, he was one from Rohilkhand Arain community along with Shiekh Tajuddin, his brother Shiekh Wisluddin and Sheikh Abdul Haqq who attended the Arain convocation held at Lahore under the leadership of Sir Mian Mohammad Shafi. The main goal was to spread the awareness of the modern education. On 16 March 1916, Anjuman Arain, Rohilkhand & Kumaon was formed with its main goal to push the community towards modern education. Shiekh Nazeer Ahmad was appointed as the President of this society. During the span of a year handsome amount of three thousand three hundred twenty was collected with a donation of more than two hundred Indian Rupees by him. Almost a century before, two hundred Indian Rupees was the monthly salary of Class one officer. Among the many beneficiaries of this Anjuman, the foremost was Dr. Abdul Ghafor who got Indian Rupees Four/Month scholarship for his studies at Agra Medical School. He was also one of the contributors in established of first Islamia School at the district in 1932. The madrasa established by his father at the headquarter of the estate, Village Daang was also upgraded by him. It continued to serve as the junior high school till 1980s long after his death.His hospitality was still recalled by the locals. His ninety-year-old daughter informed that kitchen of his father offered food on daily basis to rich, poor, needy and passing by strangers. The ladies of the family personally supervised the daily preparations on the larger scale with the assistance of maids and trail of helpers.
Legacy: During his life, he was highly influenced by the educational moves and reforms of Sir Mian Mohammad Shafi (a Punjabi leader of Muslim league, educationist, Politician and Vice President of Viceroy Executive council) but maintained his stance to remained away from the political ideology of Muslim league. From his children, no one moved to Pakistan at the time of the partition. Later one daughter and youngest son relocated to Pakistan in last decade of the fifties due to matrimonial ties. He left behind a handwritten diary that he used to document relevant pieces of his life. Few pages had been shared by his grandson, Mr. Mohammad Aslam that showed the date, year, time of the birth of all his children.
Sheikh Nazeer Ahmad took his last breath in 1947 at the age of seventy and buried at family graveyard at Village Daang, the seat of his ancestors. He was survived by three sons, eldest Mr. Mohammad Ahmad, second, Mr. Mohammad Tahir and youngest Mr. Mohammad Athar and six daughters. Mr. Mohammad Athar moved to Italy after completing his Masters in Geology from Aligarh Muslim University in 1958. He got married to Miss. Anjum Ara Naeemi, the daughter of Mr. Abdul Hafeez Naeemi in 1960. Her wife was also 1957 graduate of Aligarh Muslim University. After his return from Italy, he joined as a geologist at ONGC India, Limited at Dehradun. In 1967, the couple relocated to Pakistan where he joined as Assistant Director in Ministry of Petroleum and Natural resources. Working at different positions, he retired as the Additional Secretary of Ministry of Finance, Pakistan in the year 1999. Among the daughters, only Mrs. Hajra Begum moved to Pakistan. She was born on 28th October 1920 and married to the Mr. Abdul Khaliq Jilani, S/O Hafiz Abdul Rasheed of Village Karghaina, Pilibhit. Mr. Abdul Khaliq Jilani relocated to Pakistan and retired as Deputy Controller, Military Accounts.
The eldest son, Mr. Mohammad Ahmad continued maintained his estate for short span before its abolition. Shortly after the death of his father, the zamindari abolition act was passed and villages came under the direct control of the government. The family retained the possession of agrarian lands, haveli, and other assets till the seventies. Seventy years had passed and now all his children also passed away except his one daughter, Mrs. Asiya. Born on 04th April 1926, she is currently residing with his son at Aligarh.
She still recollected her memories of childhood days that witnessed the heydays of Daang estate under his father, Sheikh Nazeer Ahmad.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to Mr. Mohammad Aslam for sharing the rare family portraits and diary pages. He is the grandson of Sheikh Nazeer Ahmad living in the Houston, Texas, United States from last thirty years. A doctorate in organic chemistry, he is an alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University, India & University of West Ontario, Canada. He passed his Masters in Organic Chemistry from Aligarh Muslim University in 1975 and completed his Ph.D. from University of Western Ontario, London, Canada in 1981. Formerly, he had been Vice President, Research, and Development at Lonza Group, a global organization for providing solutions for pharma and healthcare.
Note: In changing 21st-century, the members of small Punjabi Diasporic community (Arain/Rain) having roots from the villages of Rohilkhand & Kumaon (Bareilly, Pilibhit & District Nainital) can be found in Pakistan, Middle Eastern countries, Canda, United States, & other western countries. Its the efforts of their elders who made great efforts more than a century ago to push the community towards modern education.
Glossary of terms:
Anjuman: An Urdu term used for the societies/organizations.
Raees: The literal meaning is “Rich”. It was common practice to be used as an honorary appellation with the landlords of Urdu speaking United Provinces in Colonial India.
Rawaid: The literal meaning of “Rawaid” is to perform or officiate. Here it is used in a context to document or officiate the proceedings of the Anjuman meet.
Sir/Khudkasht: A category of the land that is cultivated by the zamindars by their own efforts. When zamindari reforms were passed, they were allowed to hold “Khudkasht/ self-cultivated” lands.
Zamindar: A medieval Urdu term used for the landlord in Colonial India.
Ahmad, N. (1917), Rawaid Ajlas Awwal, Anjuman Arain, Rohilkhand and Kumaon, conducted on 18th February 1917 AD at the house of Sheikh Maulvi Abdul Haqq, Joint secretary, and Raees Pilibhit. From Sheikh Nazeer Ahmad Raees e Azam Daang and President, and Shiekh Tajuddin Sahib, Raees Hulkari Dhakia, Secretary. Printed and designed at Kohadapeer, Bareilly.
Ishaaq, M., and Naseem, M. (2001), In Chapter thirteen, Arain, Sangam offset and press, pp.36.
 Chaudhry, Asgahr A. (1963), chapter three, Tarrekh Arain, 5th Ed., Asghar Ali Chaudhry, Ilmi Kutubkhana, Urdu Bazar, Lahore, pp.148.
 Nevill, H.R. (1909), PILIBHIT: A Gazetteer of the District Gazetteers of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, VolXVIII.
 Rudade Ajlas Awwal, Anjumane Arain, Rohilkhand and Kumaon, conducted on 18th February 1917 AD at the house of Sheikh Maulvi Abdul Haqq, Joint secretary, and Raees Pilibhit. From Sheikh Nazeer Ahmad Raeese Azam Daang and President, and Shiekh Tajuddin Sahib, Raees Hulkari Dhakia, Joint Secretary. Printed and designed at Kohadapeer, Bareilly.
Chaudhry, Asgahr A. (1963), chapter three, Tarrekh Arain, 5th Ed., Asghar Ali Chaudhry, Ilmi Kutubkhana, Urdu Bazaar, Lahore, pp.141.
Drake-Brockman, D.L. (1934), District Gazeeter of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, Supplement D: Pilibhit District.