In a city like Mumbai where we are starved of public spaces, fields or maidans play a very important role. Go to any of the big landmarks, from Oval Maidan to August Kranti Maidan or Shivaji Park and you will see a multitude of people there at almost any given time. But those who go there, often don't realise just how historic the city’s famous maidans are.
One such place which has lost its political significance is the August Kranti Maidan in the Gowalia Tank area. The Gowalia Tank was once a water tank, where the maidan stands today. The name Gowalia comes from the term ‘Gau’ which means cow and ‘walia’ meaning cow herders and was thus named as it was a bathing place for cows. However, after piped water began to be supplied to the city, the tank was filled up and a maidan was built in its place. It was in front of the maidan, in Tejpal Hall, that the Indian National Congress was founded by Allan Octavian Hume on 28th December 1885.
But the reason why it is known as 'August Kranti' maidan is that it was here that Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India movement on 8th August 1942.
After the speech calling for the British to ‘Quit India’, Mahatma Gandhi and all the major leaders of the freedom movement were arrested. The charge of the movement and the large crowd which had gathered at the maidan was left to the young leaders of the Congress like Aruna Asaf Ali and Usha Mehta among others. Aruna Asaf Ali hoisted the tri colour at August Kranti Maidan on 9th August, 1942 and this marked the official start of the movement. Now this historic maidan has been converted to a memorial and a garden which is used mainly as a recreational spot by local residents.
Unlike the August Kranti maidan, the Azad Maidan, in front of the iconic BMC building and the Victoria Terminus or CST station has still managed to hold onto its political character.
This maidan was witness to a gruesome sight in 1857. While the revolt against the British rule had spread across north India, there were rumblings of it in the East India Company sepoys stationed in Mumbai as well. A plan to revolt against the British rule was being hatched. However, the two ringleaders who were spearheading the plot, Sayyed Hussain and Mangal Gadiya were betrayed by a police informer and arrested. On October 18, 1857, both of them were tied to cannons and blown to death at Azad Maidan. As a warning, the public was invited to witness this gory spectacle. While the 1857 revolt failed in the city, the embers of the fight for independence kept burning.
Azad Maidan also saw a huge satyagraha during the Flag Satyagraha in 1930, when hoisting of the tricolour was banned. Leading freedom fighter Avantikabai Gokhale, hoisted the tricolour in the maidan despite a heavy lathi (baton) charge. This maidan also witnessed the largest ever political meeting Mumbai had ever seen, on 28th December 1931, when Mahatma Gandhi addressed huge crowds during the civil disobedience movement. Azad Maidan is a popular spot for political protests even to this day.
A maidan, which is mostly in news for both politics and cricket in recent times, is Shivaji Park which was laid out in 1925. Referred to as the Mahim Park for the first 2 years it was named Shivaji Park after the great Maratha king. This park was also witness to numerous sabhas of freedom fighters including those of Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru. One of the important meetings which took place at Shivaji Park was on 9th August 1942, a day after the call for Quit India was given out by Mahatma Gandhi at Gowalia tank. On the eve of 9th August, Gandhi was supposed to address a large gathering at Shivaji Park but he was arrested that very morning. The news of Gandhi’s arrest spread among the public and his co-workers and they were worried about who would preside over the meeting. It was then that Mrs. Kasturba Gandhi decided to preside over the meeting. Thousands of women gathered to listen to her. Kasturba Gandhi and her companion Sushila Nayyar were arrested at Shivaji Park and sent to Arthur Jail in Mumbai and hundreds of women who had gathered there to hear her speak were lathi charged. Shivaji Park later also played an important role in 1960 during the ‘Sanyukta Maharashtra’ movement which demanded a separate state of Maharashtra from the Bombay Presidency.
Today, few Mumbaikars have the time to stop and remember how the city’s old maidans were grounds that brought together people for a cause - today they do the same in a very different way. They are the stage to make a political point through dharnas and protests.
Cover Image: Azad Maidan / Pinterest