In this blog on Colonialism and the city, we will learn about de-urbanization and the making of new Delhi. In the late eighteenth century, Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras rose in importance as Presidency cities. They became the centers of British power in the different regions of India. At the same time, a host of smaller cities declined. Many towns manufacturing specialized goods declined due to a drop in the demand for what they produced.
Old trading centers and ports could not survive when the flow of trade moved to new centers. Similarly, earlier centers of regional power collapsed when local rulers were defeated by the British, and new centers of administration emerged.
This process is often described as de-urbanization. Cities such as Machlipatnam, Surat, and Seringapatam were deurbanized during the nineteenth century. By the early twentieth century, only 11 percent of Indians were living in cities.
The Making of New Delhi
In 1803, the British gained control of Delhi after defeating the Marathas. Since the capital of British India was Calcutta, the Mughal emperor was allowed to continue living in the palace complex in the Red Fort. The modern city as we know it today developed only after 1911 when Delhi became the capital of British India.
Demolishing a past
What’s more in Colonialism and the city? Let us learn further.
Before 1857, developments in Delhi were somewhat different from those in other colonial cities. In Madras, Bombay, or Calcutta, the living spaces of Indians and the British were sharply separated. Indians lived in the “black” areas, while the British lived in well-laid-out “white” areas. In Delhi, especially in the first half of the nineteenth century, the British lived along with the wealthier Indians in the Walled City.
The British learned to enjoy Urdu/Persian culture and poetry and participated in local festivals. The establishment of the Delhi College in 1792 led to a great intellectual flowering in the sciences as well as the humanities, largely in the Urdu language. Many refer to the period from 1830 to 1857 as a period of the Delhi renaissance.
All this changed after 1857. During the Revolt that year, as you have seen, the rebels gathered in the city and persuaded Bahadur Shah to become the leader of the uprising. Delhi remained under rebel control for four months. When the British regained the city, they embarked on a campaign of revenge and plunder.
The famous poet Ghalib witnessed the events of the time. This is how he described the ransacking of Delhi in 1857: “When the angry lions (the British) entered the town, they killed the helpless … and burned houses.
Hordes of men and women, commoners, and noblemen, poured out of Delhi from the three gates and took shelter in small communities, and tombs outside the city.” To prevent another rebellion, the British exiled Bahadur Shah to Burma (now Myanmar), dismantled his court, razed several of the palaces, closed down gardens, and built barracks for troops in their place.
The British wanted Delhi to forget its Mughal past. The area around the Fort was completely cleared of gardens, pavilions, and mosques (though temples were left intact). The British wanted a clear ground for security reasons. Mosques in particular were either destroyed or put to other uses. For instance, the Zinatal- Masjid was converted into a bakery. No worship was allowed in the Jama Masjid for five years.
One-third of the city was demolished, and its canals were filled up. In the 1870s, the western walls of Shahjahanabad were broken to establish the railway and to allow the city to expand beyond the walls. The British now began living in the sprawling Civil Lines area that came up in the north, away from the Indians in the Walled City. The Delhi College was turned into a school and shut down in 1877.