Since Friday afternoon last, a few hundred women and children have been gathering at the foot of the Hussainabad Clock Tower in old Lucknow to raise their voice against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC).
The gatherings have thrown the spotlight on one of Lucknow's most recognizable landmarks, which happens to be the tallest clock tower in the country at 221 feet height, and has become an unusual site for mass protest in the heart of the Uttar Pradesh capital's tourist circuit.
While it's been many years since the clock went silent, its vicinity has for the past few days been buzzing with slogans and songs against the amended citizenship law.
Locally known as the Hussainabad Ghanta Ghar, the clock tower was built in 1881 by Nawab Nasir-ud-Din Haider to mark the arrival of the first lieutenant Governor of the United Province of Awadh, Sir George Couper, as per official State government websites. It was built at a cost of ₹ 1.75 lakh, says the Lucknow district administration website.
Made of brick, lime and iron, it has a gigantic clock fitted at the top. Historians say it was built as a replica of the Big Ben in London.
Not protected by ASI
However, the clock tower is not protected by either the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) or the State Archaeology department, to the dismay of many heritage lovers. It is under the control and ownership of the Hussainabad Allied Trust (HAT), which is chaired by the district magistrate.
The Tourism Department highlights its Victorian and Gothic style designs. “Gunmetal is used for building the clock parts. Its gigantic pendulum has a length of 14 feet and the dial of the clock is designed in the shape of a 12-petalled flower and bells around it,” it said.
The clock tower measures 20 feet at the base and rises like a tree trunk displaying clocks of a unique design in the fourth layer facing all four directions. It was designed by R. R. Bayne of Calcutta and made by J. W. Ludgate of London, says the HAT.
Over the years, several heritage lovers and conservationists have demanded the inclusion of the monument among centrally protected sites.
Lawyer Mohammad Haider Rizvi wrote to the ASI in 2014 seeking its inclusion in the list of the centrally protected monuments but his representation, in which he argued that it was a historical edifice and monument of national importance, was not even acknowledged. He then filed an RTI.
The ASI in its reply in August 2016, however, stated that there was “no immediate need” for Central protection for the clock tower.
“Being only 100 years old does not qualify for any structure to be declared a Centrally Protected Monument but it is the historical or art historical value in the history of the nation and security-safety constraints which is to be considered for the protection of any structure,” the ASI said.
It also said that the HAT had not not signed any agreement with it as was required under section six of Ancient Monuments, Site and Remains Act, 1958.
Various illegal interventions have been made by the trust and district administration in the centrally protected monuments, the ASI pointed out. “It is not suggested to take the clock tower under Central protection without total control of the whole archaeological area and rehabilitation programme of the families already residing in the vicinity,” it said.
ASI response ‘insufficient’
Unhappy with the ASI response, Mr. Rizvi says the reply was “hurriedly given” and insufficient. “This is unfortunate. It should have got protection status. If graves [of British era] can be protected, why not the clock tower,” he asks. Till date, the ASI has not protected any new monument in Lucknow, only deprotected some, he adds.
Mr. Rizvi asserts that he will continue to pitch for the protection of the clock tower, if not with the ASI but with the State Archaeology Department.
A senior ASI official said they had not received any formal request from the HAT for including the clock tower into the list of Centrally protected monuments. “They have not sent us a request asking for ASI protection. There is no proposal before us,” the official says, requesting anonymity.
The Clock tower, though almost 140 years old, was not that significant for the ASI, the official says, pointing out that the Bada Imambada, located in the vicinity, was built in 1784. “Most of our monuments were protected in the 1920s itself by the British. The clock tower, being a recent construction back then, was not protected,” he observes.
Became functional in 2011
Over the past few years, the HAT and the district administration made several attempts to get the clock chime again. After many failed steps, they succeeded to make it functional in 2011 but it went silent again soon after.
“They tried well and even started it but it stopped functioning again. The maintenance of this tower is not regular and not in the favour of conservation,” says Roshan Taqui, historian with expertise in conservation of old buildings and monuments, 'problems and possible solutions.'
Mr. Taqui states that the initial idea of the clock tower planners was to erect it as high as the Big Ben, which stands at 315 feet in height. But safety concerns weighed in. “The soil of rhe Gomti river nearby was alluvial. It was not so good for strength and bearing capacity. They feared accidents may take place if the tower was built with that height,” he notes.
The British built clock towers in many places in the country to remind Indians of the “importance of time.” He, however, laments that the area around the Lucknow clock tower has “lost its nobility and old charm, “due to illegal constructions and lack of hygienic management over the years”.