On the edge of Delhi is a city built by the bare hands of the people who founded it. Not many believed it was possible but the ‘Faridabad Miracle’ showed that a bunch of refugees could build an entire city from a stretch of wasteland if they had a stake in it. And it took just 3 years.
Around 70 years ago, India had just won her independence but the wounds of Partition were raw. Delhi was besieged with refugees from Pakistan and millions were homeless.
The year was 1949, and on a visit to a refugee camp at Delhi’s Purana Qila, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay was heartbroken to see flimsy tents being blown away, leaving women and children exposed to the elements. These were migrants from the North-West Frontier Province, regular folk rendered destitute.
Chattopadhyay was a freedom activist, a social reformer and the prime mover of some of India’s most hallowed cultural organisations. She had a plan to resettle these 30,000 refugees and she laid it out before the two most important people in the country – the President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The idea of Faridabad was born!
It was decided that the new town would be built on the cooperative model. To the amazement of the nation, overnight, a group of shopkeepers, moneylenders, traders and craftspeople became masons, carpenters, fabricators and handymen, and they built a city from the ground up. Organised into labour cooperatives, they constructed roads, houses, a school, a hospital, a transport system and small industrial units.
And leading from the front were Chattopadhyay, Sudhir Ghosh (a trusted lieutenant of Mahatma Gandhi) and Laxmi Chand Jain (a freedom fighter and later member of the Planning Commission). As they arranged for funds, dealt with the bureaucracy and gave guidance and direction, the residents kept toiling to build their precious new town.
The project was special to Nehru, who wanted Faridabad to become a shining example of a cooperative effort – all enterprises would be set up on the cooperative model and the workers would be co-owners.
The Faridabad experiment was the first and only one of its kind in India. It showed that with the right leadership, ordinary citizens could take literally nothing and build a future.
A city of enterprise, Faridabad is a major industrial hub and a major city in the state of Haryana. It is a part of the National Capital Region.
Cover photo courtesy: Nehru inspects the site of the Faridabad township on the outskirts of Delhi, c.1949, from the book Civil Disobedience: Two Freedom Struggle, One Life by LC Jain
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