Saturday, July 3, 1999
The town was once an important trade
TODAYS sleepy old town of Ferozepore, known more for its cantonment, was once an important trade centre.
The town, which occupied pride of place in the British Empire, is today sidelined as it has lost all its commercial value with the closing of the border at Hussainiwala after Independence.
The only major thing which has happened in the last many decades is the setting up of an engineering college here recently. However, this was not always so.
Moga, Muktsar and Faridkot were earlier part of Ferozepore district that is believed to have got its name from Feroz Shah Tughlaq or a Bhatti chief, named Feroze Khan.
The Manj Rajputs say the town was named after their chief Feroze Khan, who lived in the middle of the 16th century. The principal traders were Bhabras. When the place was struck by a pestilence in 1543, traders moved to Kot Isa Khan.
The influence of the Sikhs on the region started from 1758, when they defeated Adina Beg, Mughal Governor of Lahore. Three years later, when Hari Singh, chief of Bhangi misl, captured Kasur and nearby areas, one of his sardars, Gurja (Gujar) Singh, along with his brother Nushaha Singh and his two nephews Gurbakhsh Singh and Mastan Singh took possession of Ferozepore. Later, Gurja (Gujar) Singh gave Ferozepore to his nephew, Gurbakhsh Singh. The Ferozepore territory then contained 37 villages.
In 1792, Gurbakhsh Singh, while dividing his possessions among his four sons, gave the fort and territory of Ferozepore to his second son Dhanna Singh. In 1819, Dhanna Singh died, leaving his widow Lachman Kaur. In 1820, Lachman Kaur went for a pilgrimage to the shrines of Haridwar, Gaya and Jagannath after having placed her father-in-law, Gurbakhsh Singh, in charge of the territory.
During Lachman Kaurs pilgrimage, her husbands nephew, Baghel Singh, gained admittance to the fort under the pretext of visiting his grandfather, and occupied it.
After about three years in 1823, on her return from the pilgrimage, Lachman Kaur made an appeal to the British authorities against the occupation by Baghel Singh. Capt Ross, the Deputy Superintendent of Sikh Affairs, represented her case to the Lahore agent. Maharaja Ranjit Singh recalled Baghel Singh, and allowed Lachman Kaur to rule Ferozepore. When Lachman Kaur, who was issueless, died in December, 1835, the estate came under the possession of the British Government. In July, 1838, Chanda Singh and Jhanda Singh, the two brothers of Baghel Singh (he died in 1826), made a claim to inherit the estate. But the case was decided against them.
The economy of the town was on the decline at the time of the British annexation. In 1838, the population of Ferozepore town was 2,732. In 1841, it rose to 4,841, mainly due to efforts of Sir H. Lawrence, who built a market place towards the east of the old fort, which is now no more. The main market was also completed under his supervision.
There was a time when the town was used surrounded by a wall, which had 10 gates, namely Delhi Gate, Mori Gate, Baghdadi Gate, Zira Gate, Makhu Gate, Bansanwala Gate, Amritsari Gate, Kasuri Gate, Multani Gate and Magzini Gate, providing protection to people living inside. Five of the gates are now no more, while the existing ones Kasuri Gate, Multani Gate, Baghdadi Gate, Makhu Gate and Amritsari Gate are in a state of utter neglect.
Rani-ka-Taalab, named after Lachman Kaur, is now a dry tank. Situated on a campus of an educational institute, it has the samadhis of Lachman Kaur and her husband Sardar Dhanna Singh on its side.
The temple of Radha-Krishan and Lord Shiva are also situated near the samadhis.
Old records state that Moti Bazar and Hira Mandi in the town were once big markets selling pearls and diamonds, respectively. Before Partition, Hira Mandi was the abode of singing girls. Most of the towns markets and lanes do not bear any number. They are named after eminent local personalities and philanthropists. For instance, some of them are called Gali Dugglan, Mohalla Sodhian, Mohalla Baurianwala, Basti Shekhan, Basti Balochan, Hata Khuda Bakhsh, Kuchha Harnam Das and Gali Kumrianwali.
Once the town was surrounded by gardens, including Tulsi Ram Bagh, Gole Bagh, Nishat Bagh, Ram Sukh Das Bagh and Kanshi Ram Bagh. Gole Bagh was the only garden which was under the supervision of the municipality. The remaining gardens were either the property of individuals or trusts. Around 1960, these individuals and trusts started disposing of the garden land as it became difficult for them to maintain it. Gole Bagh, which was once full of fruit trees, is now used to dump garbage.
The town has a number of institutes of importance. The Arya Orphanage was set up here with the blessings of Swami Dayanand, the founder of Arya Samaj, on October 26, 1877. The Swami was invited here by Rai Sahib Mathra Das, an engineer. The institute, which has given shelter to thousands of orphans and destitute, is spread over 21 acres.
Lala Lajpat Rai, who visited the orphanage, called it "the pride of the nation". Lord C.R Attlee, a member of the Simon Commission, who visited the institute on August 17, 1928, observed: "I was most favourably impressed by the excellent work by this orphanage which is an honour to society".
Another important institute here, the Home for the Blind, was established in 1956. The institute has two buildings. The aim of the home is to educate and rehabilitate the inmates. Since its inception, hundreds of blind youth have been rehabilitated. To overcome a financial crisis, some portion of the blind home has been rented out now.
This town has a municipal library and a district library as well. The Army has opened a library, named after Dronacharya, in the cantonment area for Army personnel as well as civilians. It has over 20,000 books on every conceivable subject. Around 50,000 books are expected to be acquired within the next three years. The library also has video games, computer games, and Internet facilities.
There are three educational institutions, namely DAV College for Women, Dev Samaj College for Women and Dev Samaj College of Education for Women, exclusively for women. Two other educational institutes RSD College and Guru Nanak College are co-educational.
Besides, there are a
number of schools, including two government schools, one
each for boys and girls. Shaheed Bhagat Singh College of
Engineering and Technology has been set up on the
Ferozepore-Moga road. Besides, there are two industrial
training institutes, one each for boys and girls, and a
Need to promote industry
FEROZEPORE residents are glad to learn that there is a move to reopen Hussainiwala border. They feel that the town will become prosperous when that happens. When this land route was thrown open to passenger traffic after the 1965 war, Ferozepore town became a hub of trading activities. During the peak season, about 100 trucks, loaded with fresh grapes, entered India from Afghanistan. Nearly 400 porters, both on Indian and Pakistan side of the border, found employment during this season. Each porter earned between Rs 8 and Rs 10 per day.
Economically, this town is poor as compared to other border towns of Punjab. The main reason is that there is no big industrial unit at Ferozepore. A few pushy entrepreneurs have set up small-scale industrial units manufacturing items like washing soap, rice-mill machinery, plastic, nawar, air-conditioners, dhoop, agarbatis etc.
There are over 500 industrial units, both registered and unregistered, in Ferozepore, which provide employment to more than 2,000 persons. Most of the industries are agro-based. According to the state government industrial policy for the year 1996, 30 per cent subsidy and 300 per cent exemption in sales tax is given to the new industries.
People of this border town say the government should set up a big industrial unit at Ferozepore to promote subsidiary units.
According to the census conducted in 1991, the population of the town, both of municipal and cantonment area, was 1,31,832. Now it is assumed to be over 1.50 lakh. But it is strange to note that there is no institute offering post-graduation degree. Only MA (English) classes are being run for women students at Dev Samaj College for Women.
The residents also demand a mini-secretariat here. According to an official, over 150 offices of Punjab Government are located in different buildings in the town and cantonment as well. Interestingly, Ferozepore is not only the district headquarters but also the divisional headquarters. The districts of Ferozepore, Moga and Muktsar fall in the division.
The bridge over the railway track here is about 120 years old. It was constructed by the Britishers. Former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, on a demand raised by the locals, announced the reconstruction of the bridge. He also announced a grant of Rs 5 crore for the purpose. But, the promise remains unfulfilled. The authorities concerned repaired a portion of the bridge in 1997 instead of constructing a new one.
Residents of the town are sore over poor supply of water. During every summer season, residents suffer from gastroenteritis and diarrhoea due to the supply of contaminated water. In 1996, insanitary conditions and supply of contaminated water claimed 21 lives in three localities, including Awa Basti and Bhattianwali Basti. Residents, especially in the municipal area, also complain of insects coming in tap water.
Sewerage was laid in the municipal area a few years ago. But, people allege that it does not function properly. Dirty water flows out of the drains. The roads in the municipal area are in a miserable condition too. Several colonies which came into existence in the past decade, lack the facility of water supply, sewerage and other civic amenities. These colonies include Shanti Nagar and Vikas Vihar. To protest against the lack of basic amenities, a few local organisations had held demonstrations in March and demanded dissolution of the Ferozepore Municipal Council.
There are many Central Government offices at Ferozepore. They include those of the Army, the CRPF, the BSF and the Railways. Two trains run between Ferozepore and Mumbai, one in the morning and the other in the evening. There is a demand to run a third train in the noon to handle the passenger traffic on this route.
Stray cattle on the roads are a nuisance and a traffic hazard. Sometimes passersby are hit by these animals. The authorities concerned express their inability to take action in this matter as, they say, they dont have huge funds to keep and maintain stray cattle.
To impart a new look to the town, the work to beautify the Grand Trunk Road from Octroi Post No 7 to DCsResidence Chowk is in progress.
The project unit cost Rs 61.86 lakh. The funds for the project are being arranged from the state government, District Planning Board, MP funds and the Baba Shershah Wali Trust. Street poles fitted with sodium vapour lamps are being installed on the G.T. Road, up to a length of 1.67 km. The landscaping of the Octroi Post No 7 chowk will be done on the pattern of chowk in Sector 17 in Chandigarh. The road will also be widened to incorporate four lanes. The work is likely to be completed within a month or so.
Shaheedon ki dharti
FEROZEPORE is called Shaheedon ki dharti (the land of martyrs). Even today one can see the building in Toori Bazaar which was used as the secret headquarters by the revolutionary trio Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev.
On the first floor of the building, the three revolutionaries manufactured bombs, while on the ground floor, one of their associates, Gaya Pershad, practised medicine. Just a day after moving in, Bhagat Singh, who was a Sikh, got his long hair cut by Gajjanand, a barber, across the road. This was done to escape the police.
When the news of the murder of Saunders, Assistant Superintendent of Police, reached Ferozepore, Dr Gaya Pershad disappeared from the scene. Saunders was shot dead by Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev in Lahore on December 17, 1928.
The two-storey house is now owned by a trust. The ground floor is used for commercial purpose and the first floor for residential purposes. In the past, there was a persistent public demand that the historic building be taken over by the government. The public wanted a library on the ground floor and a museum on the first floor, housing the photographs of the revolutionaries who fought and died for the freedom of the country. But, the government did not pay heed to these demands.
Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were sentenced to death in the Lahore conspiracy case and ordered to be hanged on March 24, 1931.
But, in view of great upsurge in the country, the Britishers hanged them on March 23, 1931, at 7.30 p.m. The bodies of the three martyrs were cremated under cover of darkness on the banks of Sutlej, about 10 km from Ferozepore.
After Partition, the cremation spot went to Pakistan but on January 17, 1961, when India and Pakistan exchanged enclaves, the site came back to India. A Shaheedi conference is held there every year on March 23 to pay homage to the martyrs.
The foundation stone of the memorial at Hussainiwala was laid on March 23, 1965, by the then Union Defence Minister. Y.B. Chavan, but its construction could not be undertaken as war had broken out that very year between India and Pakistan. In 1968 the then Chief Minister of Punjab, Lachman Singh Gill, got the memorial completed within a short span of 37 days at a cost of Rs 1.84 lakh.
This memorial was damaged by the withdrawing Pakistani troops in 1972. They also removed the busts of the three national heroes during 1971 war when the area was captured by Pakistani troops. The memorial came up once again in 1973 due to the efforts of the thenPunjab Chief Minister, Giani Zail Singh.
Another monument at Ferozepore the Barki Memorial was set up in 1969 in memory of those soldiers of the 7 Infantry Division who laid down their lives on the battlefield in 1965, and paved the way for the fall of Barki, a town situated at a distance of 15 miles south-east of Lahore.
The foundation stone of the Barki Memorial was laid on September 11, 1969. It has a pillar in the centre, a Patton tank and a Barki milestone in the south and a water fountain in the north. The pillar is 27 feet high, and is built of red and white sandstone. Then there is the Saragarhi Memorial at Ferozepore. The Saragarhi Memorial Gurdwara was built in the memory of those 21 Sikh soldiers of the 36 Sikh Regiment who sacrificed their lives while defending the Fort of Saragarhi in Waziristan on September 12, 1897, which was attacked by nearly 10,000 Pathans.
The memorial (gurdwara) was declared open in 1904 by Sir Charles Revz, the then Lt-Governor of Punjab.
Under British rule, two historic churches came into existence in the cantonment area. These churches were: Saint Andrews Church and Roman Catholic Church. The former is located on the Jhoke Road and the latter on the Church Road. The third church, situated on the NBI Road , was raised by Missionaries of Methodist Denomination during 1925-30.
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