West Bengal is not Scotland that in every other locality you would find a castle whose turrets and spires reach into the clouds but does that mean there aren’t any? If you are thinking about Tagore Castle at Paturiaghata, you are mistaken.
Bengal has another castle, slightly hidden away from the cacophony of Kolkata but strategically located to be visible enough for people who have travelled on Taki Road.
A little ahead of Berachampa, on your left would stand tall a gate that looks like the entrance of some medieval Victorian building. The place is known as Dhanyakuria and the castle is called the Gaine Gardens.
Originally owned by the Gaines who had settled in Dhanyakuria some 200 years ago, the building was leased out to the British who ran a girls’ home in the property and paid rent to the Gaines. After Independence, the home was run by the Bengal government who recently bought the property from the Gaines.
Upon entering from the gate, though entry is restricted with a police picket in the front gate, a few steps ahead would take one near a pond which beautifully mirrors the reflection of the grand structure — the castle of the Gaines.
The building till some months ago housed a home for girls who belong from economically weaker families. However, they were shifted out from the home and relocated in separate hostels around Kolkata.
The entire thing would have sounded just perfect with the government shifting out students from the home to save the children from some possible accident as the building is not in a good shape. However, a forceful denial by locals about having any information about the building is so obvious that it gives away the game.
My first suspicion arose when someone at the gate said entry is restricted, even till the waterbody. Upon asking him about the home that used to run in the premise, his answer “Ami kichu janina. Duty korchi, duty kore chole jabo. Oshob bishoy ami kichhu jani na (I do not know anything. I am here for my duty and upon completing the stipulated hours of duty, I shall leave. I do not know anything about the home),” raised level of suspicion.
Our entry was being barred forcefully but luckily, for one among our team knowing a certain someone in the area, we could enter the premise.
It is that certain someone and our connection that soothed the guard to some extent when he finally opened up and started telling us about things that the grand structure has been a witness to.
I am purposely hiding the identity of the guard who told me about the things that are happening in Dhanyakuria because trust me, the situation is very bad in the area.
There was a home, the guard confirmed, and entry was restricted then as well but the problem happened after a decision was taken to shift out the inmates.
Before last Durga Puja, the girls were informed that the home will seize to exist as the building is in a bad shape. In an obvious, there was a backlash from not only the children but also the locals who protested against the move. The idea was dropped but after the puja vacations were over, the girls came back to a locked gate and a notice dated 22.11.2018 saying, “This is to notify that the process for shifting of inmates of Dhanyakuria Girls’ State Welfare Home, Dhanyakuria North 24 pgns to other Homes has been initiated due to dilapidated/ unhygienic condition of residential campus of the Home. The functioning of the home in this premises remain temporarily suspended till accommodation for the inmates is developed to make it habitable,” signed by the director of mass education extension and E.O. additional secretary, MEE and LS department, Govt of West Bengal.
The girls were shattered, their dreams were too and the only option ahead of them was the most democratic tool for such situations guaranteed by the law of the land — Dharna.
Along with locals, the girls of the Dhanyakuria home blocked Taki Road for hours and demanded they be given permission to stay in the home. The protest was such that senior district officials had to intervene who assured that the home would be functional once the government takes a stand. The protest was lifted but the promise is yet to be kept.
Talking to a few locals, it came to be known that some of the girls of the home stay with some locals but that remains undisclosed as goons often threaten people who try to raise a voice against the happenings at Dhanyakuria of dire consequences.
The other girls have now been shifted to far off places like Barasat, Howrah and Sealdah say locals, adding that the authorities played a divide and rule game with them.
At a time when people in the city have finally woken up to the fact that heritage buildings must be preserved, a lot needs to be done in places like Dhanyakuria. Buildings or for that matter any structure, talk about history, the time and culture of the days left behind and are probably one of the biggest source of information and it is time we all rise to the occasion and start preserving them. A little more concern from the government might help in doing the work easily.
For the historical background of Gaine Gardens, please click here for Amitabha Gupta’s blog.
For knowing about the structure, please click here for Rangan Datta’s blog.
Note of thanks:
- Amitabha Gupta, who informed me about the place and also took me to Dhanyakuria
- Rangan Datta, who wilfully accompanied us to the place