Patna, Partition and Migration: The Tale of an Abandoned City

Contrary to popular belief, Patna was severely affected by India’s Partition – but the migration was slow.

The Indian government has initiated a procedure of monetising ‘enemy properties’, with its first slot of 31 such properties from Uttar Pradesh. According to a list of state-wise enemy properties available on the website of the Ministry of Home Affairs, UP stands at the top with 4,433 such immovable properties, while Bihar is at the sixth position with 82 properties. 

Patna has only two such listed properties, which can lead one to believe that it is one of those cities which were least affected by India’s Partition. However, the ground reality is quite contrary. 

From the eastern corner of the city (purab darwaza) which marks the eastern end of the old Patna, previously known as Azimabad, to the western gate (paschim darwaza) – multiple mohallas (localities) with very obvious Muslim names have been completely abandoned by their Muslim inhabitants as a result of India’s Partition and post-Partition violence.  

A painting of the eastern gate. Photo: biharrajya.com

Patna was severely affected by India’s Partition, but the migration was slow. People tried to find a ray of hope, an expectation to stay safe in their homeland, but fate had some other plans. Naqui Ahmad Irshad, former ADM and the grandson of poet Shad Azimabadi wrote that the people of Hajiganj, once a prominent Muslim locality of Patna, continued to migrate until the year 1962. One of the last surviving Muslim houses of the area belonged to his grandfather which was sold in August 1974. The home of Shad’s nephew, Khayal Azimabadi, was already disposed of in 1954. When Dr. Nawab, a renowned surgeon from Bihar, found the place unfit to reside, he also sold his house and settled in Darbhanga. With his departure, the last program of the Muharram mourning at Hajiganj also came to a permanent end. 

Poet Shad Azimabadi. Photo: Wikimedia commons

With this also ended the legacy which was established in the vicinity by Syed Mujtaba Hussain, Syed Mustafa Hussai, Syed Qudrat Hussain, Mir Enayat Hussain Imdad, Syed Taqi Mir, and Syed Ali Mir, and their illustrious ancestors. Those who preferred to stay in their homeland were later forced to settle in safer Muslim localities in different quarters of Patna such as Moghalpura, Alamganj, Pathar Ki Masjid, Sultanganj, Sabzibagh, Phulwari and Danapur, among others. 

The riots of 1946 and the consequent division of the country disturbed several religious activities including the Muharram mourning in Patna. One of the first to suffer was the Imambara of Mohsin Sahab at Hajiganj which organised the Majalis until 1946. Every year, on 8th Muharram, the Islamic standards (Alam) from Chamru Dandiya (famous for an extant Imambara) were received here which, on 10th Muharram, were further transported to the Karbala Mir Farhat Hussain of Lal Imli (a Mohalla near Patna City Railway Station with barely any Muslim population) for the final rites. But the circumstances sharply changed after 1946 and the descendants of Mohsin Sahab had to sell all their properties including the said Imambara in 1956. Similar misfortune befell on the Imambara of Kaiwan Shikoh also putting an end to the procession of 20th Safar (Chehlum) which originated from the house of Syed Taqi Mir and terminated at Shah Baqar Ka Takia. Among its organisers were Syed Ali Mir, Syed Taqi Mir, and Syed Mujataba Hussain but they all got lost in the wake of Partition and post-Partition brutalities.       

Once a property owned by the Muslim residents of Mohalla Peer Damadiya, ruins of a home that has been converted into a cattle shed. Photo: Special arrangement

The Noon-gola locality, which has now been renamed as Nand-gola, was once the residence of the family of Lutfullah Khan Sadiq, the Nawab of Panipat. Their family graveyard along with the tombs of Shah Qasim Ali, Shah Lillahi, and the graves of Shah Alimullah and Nawab Mohammad Hassan Khan (from the family of Nawab Bakhsi-ul-Mulk Hedayat Ali Khan Bahadur Asad Jung) were situated  here, but all these are now undetectable. Neither is there any trace of the mosque of Isa Khan Rifat. This quarter housed the Imambara of Imtiaz and Sarfaraz Khan, who were the sons of Shakir Khan, which was later managed by Hedayat Ali Khan (Sadr-E-Aala of Bihar) and his descendants Abdul Shakur Khan and Nazeer Hussain Shaiq, an eminent Urdu poet). Shakir Khan organised a Duldul (replica of Imam Hussain’s horse) procession which was quite famous in the city. When the country was divided in 1947, all these families had to leave their ancestral place, deserting it forever and now, there are no traces of their houses or the said Imambaras.        

Those who stayed back in their mohallas after 1947 had to suffer multiple riots including those occurring in 1990 and 1992 which forced them to leave permanently. As a result, their properties were looted and desecrated. There are innumerable properties lying abandoned and encroached in Patna which once belonged to the Muslims. Those who are still living in Patna are unable to gain their properties back owing to a  sense of fear and lack of community members around them. It is a general perception across the city that all the abandoned Muslim properties are in such a state because their owners migrated to the other side of the border, however, this is not always true. This opinion is on a rise these days giving ample opportunities to land sharks to grab such properties. This is a  brunt of Partition that the minority is still facing in Patna and other similar places.   

“Noon-gola, Mohalla Peer Damadiya, Zulqadar Bagh, Simli, Nagla, Bangla, Abdurrahmanpur, Nooruddin Ganj, Rakab Ganj, Nawab Ganj, Sadara, Jamnapur, Begumpur, Deedarganj, Dalhatta, Shah Bahor Ka Takiya, Meer Jawan Ki Chawni – all these Mohallas were densely populated by the Muslim families before the Partition took place in 1947. But, today you can easily count their numbers which won’t exceed 40”, said Anwar Alam, the last Muslim resident of Noon-gola, who bid farewell to the area after the 1992 riots – one of the worst post-Partition riots that the country witnessed.  


Hindu activists climb the dome of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya which was quickly demolished. Archival photograph: Sondeep Shankar

“Our family was the last Muslim family in Noon-gola. People started migrating much before the Partition was announced. It was the riots of 1946 which made them believe that the quarter inhabited by their forefathers for centuries wasn’t safe for them anymore. My grandfather too wanted to move out, but his Hindu neighbours asked him to stay. I grew up in Noon-gola, and everything was almost fine until the riots in 1990 and then in 1992 – the year when Babri mosque was demolished in Ayodhya,” Alam added. 

He concluded by saying, “I wasn’t here in 1990, but in 1992 the atmosphere had changed. The residents who had asked my grandfather to stay, swearing on their relations and brotherhood were dead and so were their promises. I was attacked in the same area where I was born. Around 20 people heckled me on the streets; though I somehow managed to escape and took shelter in Rabbu Sahab’s clinic, which was blown up as soon as I left. That was my last day there. I sold everything and moved to a safer place, near the western gate”.

Though 1992 came as a substantial nightmare for the persecuted minority in Patna, the statistics of violence were no less fierce in 1990 – which witnessed the bombing on the sacred Simli Khanqah and the house of Sattar Sahab. This year also saw the brutal murder of Afzal, a young man, near Dhawalpura, once a Muslim hub.      

Kamaal, a resident of Nagla, said that there were a few families who decided to stay in the area despite all odds, and they suffered the most with the passage of time, adding that“ there were friends as well”. He remembered how he, along with his friend Sanjay Pandit, used to wipe out the hateful slogans smeared on the walls in the area asking the Hindus to march to Ayodhya on December 6 to demolish the Babri Masjid in 1992.

Similar fate struck Qasai-bada, also a prominent Muslim vicinity near Begumpur. Still, there is a mosque which is the last surviving symbol of the community which once resided here.   

Mosque of Munshi Kazim Ali as seen from the Ashok Rajpath. Photo: Special arrangement

Quite close to the former residence of Shad is the Mosque of Munshi Kazim Ali – a survivor of the horrors of post-Partition migration. Ali had constructed this mosque in 1825, unaware that it would be encroached upon and desecrated by the majority population in the future. The mosque was turned into a cattle shed by a local milkman. It was only because of the efforts of the neighbouring Muslims of mohalla Batau-Kuan that after several years of scuffle and struggle, the structure was recently revived as a mosque. Despite all these hardships Ali’s  grave could not be rescued, and as per the locals, it is still situated inside the house of the grabber. Neither does he allow anyone to visit the said tomb. Though the mosque has been rescued, on account of almost no Muslim populace in the vicinity, it remains vacant. For its safe future, an Imam has been appointed who maintains it and takes care of the daily religious activities.                

Kashmiri Kothi at Karachi, built by Syed Akhtar Nawab of Kashmiri Kothi, Patna City when he migrated to Pakistan. Photo: Special arrangement

Surprisingly, those who shifted to Pakistan kept their memories of Patna alive. One such family was of Syed Akhtar Nawab Sahab of Kashmiri Kothi, Patna City, whose present head head Syed Haider Mehdi, now residing alternately in Kashmiri Kothi (Karachi) and Milton (Canada), tells a curious story of how his mother Afzalun Nisa Begum, daughter of Nawab Syed Mohammad Akbar Khan of Doolighat, brought the Panjas of Alam (Islamic Standards) with her to Karachi. He said that much before 1947, her uncle Nawab Manzoor-ul-Hassan Khan used to display these standards as a mark of mourning in Muharram. When he fell on hard days he gifted these religious relics to the said lady who continued the tradition of displaying them in Patna. When she arrived in Karachi the said ritual sustained there as well until they resided there. Now, since Syed Haider Mehdi has aged gracefully, he has shifted the Muharram programs to Milton where the same relics from Patna are displayed during the 10 days of mourning.          

The Alam that belonged to Nawab Manzoor Hassan Khan and was passed on to his niece who later moved to Karachi and took the alam with her as a memoir. Photo: Special arrangement

Syed Nazim Hussain, the grandson of Nawab Syed Abul Hassan Khan Aarzoo of Sangi Dalaan, Patna states that he was a child of two to three years in age when his family migrated to Pakistan in the year 1957. “Whatever we had with us at that moment, was our language, our literature and our culture. Leaving your home leaves you in a state of yearning – and as a result of this yearning, our newly built homes in Karachi were exact replicas of our homes in Patna.”

Syed Faizan Raza is a senior IT Professional and an area representative of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia. Ali Fraz Rezvi is an independent journalist, theatre artist and student of preventive conservation.