Saturday, 9 May 2020

Poignant Nicholson Cemetery, Delhi - one of the oldest English cemeteries in India

Nicholson Cemetery,Delhi.  indianexpress.com
.Nicholson Cemetery. Delhi .thedelhiwalla.com/
During the Raj, when the British crown ruled over India  more and more Anglos  moved over to this new land for jobs and business prospects and among them  there were innumerable military officers and missionaries; many of them stayed in this exotic land that ultimately became  their final resting place. This is the reason why you will find many English cemeteries in  Kolkata (Calcutta),  Chennai (Madras), Mumbai (Bombay), Delhi and other places where the British  lived in large number. The Nicholson cemetery in Delhi is one of the oldest  in India. 
Nicholson Cemetery. Delhi.huffpost.com
Nicholson Cemetery is a poignant  reminder of  transient  and fragile nature of life. It lies in a serene, quiet place far removed from the din and the hustle and bustle of  Delhi's mad  urban traffic. Upon approaching this place, visitors say  the urban noise dies down,  changing into a placid silence.  The pathetic fact is  there are numerous headstones that record the short lives of children born to colonial officers who did not live to see their first birthdays.  ''Neem, date and tamarind trees stand  like sentinels, while thick bougainvilleas, weighed down with flowers, shed pink petals over the graves of ‘dearly loved’ children and ‘beloved’ spouses. The personal details of the departed are preceded by carefully chosen poems or Biblical verses. One tomb inscription reads: “Jesus said, weep not.” Many graves date from 1857. Some graves have peculiar symbols presumably suggestive of their chosen profession. 
Nicholson Cemetery. Delhi .thedelhiwalla.com
Nicholson Cemetery, formerly known as the Old Delhi Military Cemetery and the Kashmere Gate Cemetery, is a Christian cemetery  in Delhi. It is the site of the earliest known Christian burials in Delhi NCR and was  built in 1857 and is named after Brigadier-General John Nicholson, a Victorian era military officer who played a major role during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The St. James' Church,  the oldest place of worship for the Christian community of Delhi,  manages  the cemetery. The church along with cemetery, St. Stephen's hostel, and the Victorian era houses of Kashmere Gate neighborhood were once part of  an area that consisted predominantly  of Christians of European and Indian origin.

John Nicholson, born on 11 December 1821 in Dublin, Ireland and son of  Alexander Nicholson, a physician, went to college after his father's death in 1830. Educated at  Dungannon, his maternal uncle, Sir James Weir Hogg, took keen interest in his welfare and   got him a job  in the Bengal Infantry of the East India company that was doing mercantile trading in India and running a proxy government there for the crown. Nicholson began his military career with the Bengal army -  attached to the 41st native infantry.  at Benaras (now Varanasi, UP). After December 1839, he was with  the 27th native infantry  and saw action  in the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–1842) and First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-1846). His  war experiences in the NW provinces against the tough people there  in a rugged terrain changed his persona. He become a ruthless and an  obdurate  character, a hard-core army man who had no room for mercy. To him mercy to the enemies was an anathema. 

It was during the great rebellion of 1857 in the Siege of Delhi, his devilish and demonic character showed his ugly face. The Indian Rebellion  began as a small struggle at the East India Company's garrison  on 10 May 1857 in the town of Meerut, MP.  Because the English army  failed to handle it in a fair manner, the trouble escalated into riots and later into rebellion  across the northern states  in the upper Gangetic plain and central India.  Racial and religious discrimination besides, repressive British rule and unethical seizing of Indian kingdoms from the rulers, using some pretexts (Doctrine of Lapse and Subsidiary Allowance), etc  gave an impetus to the brewing frustration and anger  among the Indian soldiers  with the EIC's  Army.   It slowly snowballed into a major revolt  that went out of control for a pretty long time. It was considered the first major war of independence against the British  that shook the foundation of the British empire;  the reverberations were felt in other British colonies.

Indians never liked Nicholson for  his racist attitude and rude behavior. Though looking quiet, he  was quite intimidating and unscrupulous when treating the rebels caught by his troops. He sent numerous Indians to the gallows without any trial.  In the wake of this rebellion, at Delhi there was a need for a burial ground for the large number of  casualties resulted from the Siege. A new burial-ground  for the Christians was opened in front of the Kashmere Gate, near to Ludlow Castle. The assault on Delhi  that took place on 14 September 1857 was commanded by  Nicholson. He was shot in chest by a sepoy of  from the rebellion when he was storming the hideout near the Lahouri gate.  He was  taken to the   hospital tent where he died after a few days  on 23 September.  Nicholson was among the first people buried there. A white marble slab from the Red Fort was taken to build his tombstone and epitaph on it reads:  
''The grave of Brigadier General John Nicholson who led the assault of Delhi but fell in the hour of victory mortally wounded and died 23rd September 1857 aged 35.'' 

This cemetery was not renovated for a long time and the  British High Commission in India  had it renovated in 2006. The renovation work took nearly  three years and the cost was around rs.7 lakhs.  It hired British multinational security G4S (formerly Group 4 Securicor) headed in India by David I. Hudson to assist the restoration work. This historical grave  used to be a hangout for drug addicts, hobos and anti-social vandals. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholson_Cemetery,_New_Delhi
https://www.thedelhiwalla.com/2014/04/26/city-monument-nicholson-cemetery-kashmere-gate/
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/nicholson-cemetery-the-mo_b_9509164