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Rare archives unravel Patna Collectorate link to landmark World War II event

Prayers were offered in temples, mosques and churches, and the poor were fed in the campus of the historic Patna Collectorate as part of events held in the city in September 1943 to celebrate the surrender of Italy during the World War II, according to archival documents.

PTI | Patna | Updated: 14-09-2020 12:23 IST | Created: 14-09-2020 12:14 IST
Rare archives unravel Patna Collectorate link to landmark World War II event
Representative image Image Credit: Pixabay

Prayers were offered in temples, mosques, and churches, and the poor were fed in the campus of the historic Patna Collectorate as part of events held in the city in September 1943 to celebrate the surrender of Italy during the World War II, according to archival documents. On September 8, 1943, US Army Gen. Dwight Eisenhower had publicly announced the surrender of Italy to the Allies. Indian soldiers had played a critical role in both World Wars.

According to the archival documents, the Patna District War Committee had organized a host of events on September 11 to mark this landmark event in history, from morning till evening. Going by the rare private collection of the Jalan family of the legendary Quila House in Patna City, the program for the celebrations of the victory of the United Nations (Allied powers) over Italy began with prayers offered in "temples, mosques, and churches" and flags hoisted on all public buildings from 7.30-8.30 am.

This was followed by "feeding of the poor in the Patna Collectorate Compound from 10 am to 12 noon". Ironically, the historic Patna Collectorate complex -- Dutch-era Record Room and Old District Engineer's Office and British-era DM Office Building and District Board Patna Building -- is planned to be soon demolished by the Bihar government after the Patna High Court in a judgment lifted the interim stay on demolition of the buildings imposed by a bench of the court in September last year.

Delhi-based Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) had filed two PILs on August 30 last year, seeking to revoke the demolition order originally proposed in 2016 and the constitution of the Bihar Urban Arts and Heritage Commission, pending since 2012. The heritage commission set up on the directions of the court had recommended demolition of this centuries-old landmark despite opposition from heritage experts and a large number of citizens.

The Patna High Court verdict has come as a big jolt to historians, conservation architects, and many other heritage lovers and experts who have been pleading the Bihar government to not demolish the historic Collectorate, and preserve and restore it as a "rare signpost of history" while linking it to the heritage tourism circuit in the state. Aditya Jalan, 43, the current scion of the Jalan family, said this hitherto unknown connection of the Patna Collectorate to the World War II has come to light thanks to a rare invitation card of 1943 addressed to his great grandfather Dewan Bahadur Radha Krishna Jalan, he accidentally found while going through his family archives recently.

"It is interesting, we found the documents related to a WW2 event when its 77th anniversary just happened," he said. Aditya said he wants to share these "nuggets of history" with people and on August 15 had launched a page on Facebook and Instagram to make history more appealing to them.

Scotland-based researcher Paula Gonzaga de Sa, who curates the posts on the page, said finding the Patna Collectorate's link to the WW2 was such a "priceless find" and it unraveled an "important piece of history" of the city. "This same week, 77 years ago, there were celebrations in Patna following the surrender of the fascist government of Italy during a turning point in World War II. It is touching to see that one of the highlights of these celebrations was feeding of the poor in the Patna Collectorate compound," she told PTI.

There is another archival document (letter), from August 10, 1917 - another time of war (World War I) - telling about the Patna Collectorate's staff being intensely involved in organizing and distributing food supplies for people affected by monsoon floods in the area, Paula said. The letter was written by then Patna Collector J F Gruning, to R K Jalan, a well-known personality, she said.

"This all points to the important role that the Patna Collectorate, whatever may be its other functions, played in the community and social fabric of Patna throughout its history. This is a heritage of social participation and inclusiveness that it is fitting to preserve, share, highlight and make available for present and future generations," Paula said. An important historical link and a piece of history will be lost forever if it is demolished, she rued.

Describing more about the rare 1943 invitation card issued by "J. A. Walmsley, Chairman" of the Patna District War Committee, she said the public meeting was held in the evening that day at 7.30 pm at Sinha Institute (Sinha Library campus). The meeting was to be addressed by Sir Sultan Ahmad, a noted barrister, and Member of Information and Broadcasting in the Governor-General's Executive Council, and other speakers.

There was a Police Parade at Bankipore Maidan (now Gandhi Maidan) in the evening preceded by "procession of Boy Scouts, Civic Guards, and A. R. P. workers" to the maidan, the invite said.


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