Buried history of several Britons is craving for attention at Sabzibagh Christian Cemetery on Ashok Rajpath.
Hundreds of century-old graves in the cemetery right in front of Pirbahore police station are in a shambles, abandoned for decades. The burial ground has virtually gone into oblivion behind shops in front and new tenements on the three other sides. Now a forgotten piece of collective past of the city, several officers of British civil services and their kin “rest in peace” here.
Cecil Faulder, late commissioner of Patna division, was buried here. The inscription on his grave reads, “In the loving memory of my dear husband, Cecil Faulder, late commissioner of Patna Division. Aged 50, died April 28, 1904.” J. Short ESQ, then deputy postmaster-general of Behar (Bihar), who died at Bankipore on April 4, 1896, was also buried here.
Sudhir Kumar Jha, the retired director-general of police, said Sabzibagh Cemetery was the first documented burial ground of the city. “It was inaugurated by then Bishop of Calcutta in 1830. Most of the graves here are of British officers and their family members who had settled in Patna, mostly in Danapur Cantonment area. Later, the cemetery was closed in 1886 as there was not much space left for more burials,” said Jha.
Jha said one of the most important graves is that of then city magistrate Henry Douglas, who made significant contribution in planting trees around Gandhi Maidan and Exhibition Road. According to the inscription on Henry’s grave, he was in the Bengal Civil Services and born on November 18, 1859. He died at the age of 78.
There are graves of British civil service officers or their spouses every few feet. Infants’ graves, too, are in plenty here. One such grave is of Rodger Glynn Chambell, born on September 11, 1900, and died on December 21 the same year. Another grave is of five-year-old W&F Wood.
Despite its prime location, the cemetery, spread over 20 cottahs, has an abandoned air about it. M.H. Rehan, caretaker of the cemetery, claimed descendants of a few Britons buried here used to come here till a couple of years ago and light candles on the graves.
Uncared and unattended, the graveyard is a ghost of its earlier self. All one finds here today are wild trees and weeds, and overturned and faded headstones. In many graves the inscriptions bearing the name and other details of the dead person are illegible or the tombstone itself is missing. Fifty-year-old Bhola, a gardener here, said in the recent past, robbers took away headstones of several graves for its rare stone craft. Inscriptions on the surviving graves mention names of companies from Chunar in Uttar Pradesh, meaning the stones and marbles came from there.
There are no records or written documents at the cemetery to throw light on the identity of those buried here.
There is no funding for maintenance either. Bhola claimed he has not been paid for long. “My father and forefathers used to look after the graveyard so I am following the family tradition. But I have not been paid for my services in the past two decades. I take care of my family doing gardening work in the nearby areas,” said Bhola.
Mohammad Abu Bashar, vice-president of the Minority Welfare Association, claims that the Catholic Church cum Archbishop’s House, a stone’s throw from the cemetery, is supposed to look after it. “The church does not provide any funding. Nor does anybody pay attention to its deteriorating condition.”
In 2011, then block development officer, Patna Sadar, carried out some development work at the cemetery with Rs 13,84,000 approved by state minority welfare department. Unfortunately, it translated into more damage than good for the cemetery.
Bashar said: “Soil was used instead of sand. As a result, many old graves got completely buried. Two rooms and a dais were constructed atop some graves near the entrance. Had that work not taken place, there would have been many more graves today. After I lodged a formal complaint, the state government has ordered an inquiry.”