Born in mid-1860s, the city went through
constant metamorphosis to get its present look
By B Datta Ray
Lure of limestone brought the different warring Europeans, the British, the French, the Portuguese, the Greeks and the Armenians to the Khasi Hills. Henry Inglish & Co. with wide-spread limestone business interests had established themselves at least 30 years before the British government took up position in the Khasi Hills.
At the conclusion of the Khasi wars, the headquarters of the British Political Officer was shifted from Nongkhlaw to Cherra Poonji in 1835. The strategic line of communication planned by David Scott joining Surma Valley with Assam Valley was also completed. The government ordered the removal of the European detachment and the abolition of the convalescent depot at Cherrapunjee in view of unfavourable humid climate there in 1834. The search for another place for the sanatorium continued.
W J Allen, Member of the Board of Revenue on deputation to Khasi Hills, recommended the removal of the Suddar Station from Cherra Poonji in his report dated 14 October, 1858.
Political officers, Geologists and Botanists recommended the removal of the district headquarters to Shillong or its peripheries from Cherra Poonji as the location of the latter was neither central nor strategic.
The outbreak of the Jaintia rebellion in 1860-61 proved the inadequacy of the location of the district headquarters in respect of transport and communication. The search began for a new site for shifting the political station from Cherra Poonji. Mairang, Sohrariurn, Laitlynkot and Nongkrem were thought of and examined. They were not found suitable for future expansion. Mairang was centrally-located and was free from the mists (which very often shrouded the Cherra station), cooler and drier than any other part of the Khasi Hills and of seemingly paramount importance, suitable for European constitutions.
Shillong is born
Capt. Rowlatt, the Deputy Commissioner of Khasi & Jaintia Hills was asked to submit a map of his district indicating area, population, cultivation patterns, extent and the supported height of each area above the sea level in the absence of a survey ever having been conducted. But nothing else could be done in the absence of final orders from the Bengal government about the Shillong scheme. Soon enough, however, he was asked to proceed and make Shillong his headquarters and a little cottage was made there. The Committee which was appointed in 1862 to select a suitable site for the district headquarters suggested its location and that of the sanatorium on the high plateau of Shillong. It also recommended that the Yeodo (present name: Iewduh) Valley be reserved as a depot for the sick European troops and for a Cantonment. The Shillong plateau is 900 feet higher than Yeodo with a perceptible difference in temperature.
Despite the distinct recommendation of the Committee, the Government of Bengal approved the removal of the Suddar station of the district of Khasi & Jaintia Hills from Cherra Poonji to Yeodo.
A more detailed survey of Shillong and Yeodo then made by Mr Barclay was called for and the topographical survey department was asked to conduct it. Meanwhile, a large number of people applied to the Commissioner of Assam, Col Hopkinson and the Deputy Commissioner of the Khasi & Jaintia Hills, Maj H S Bivar for allotment of sites for building purpose at Yeodo.
The agent to the Governor General, North Eastern Region informed the Bengal government of the steps taken for acquiring land for civil and military stations and a sanatorium at Shillong and Yeodo in the Mylliem syiemship. In anticipation of the approval of the Government of India, the Bengal government sanctioned the cash purchase and other arrangements which Col Hopkinson had made at an expenditure of Rs 8,433 for acquiring 2,499 acres of land for the station of Shillong. This amount included Rs 1,000 paid to the family of the Rajah of Mylliem for removing all claims to the tracts so selected and purchased. The total amount also included Rs 500 paid to the negotiators of the deal and Rs 500 for the conservancy of plantations, marking of lots etc. Such an important advantage to the government was secured at a very moderate cost and with the full consent of all concerned.
Col Hopkinson, the Commissioner of Assam, suggested to Col Haughton, in-charge of allotments in Yeodo, that 10 acres as a maximum area which was the rule at Murree Hill station at a price of Rs 50 per acre which remained in force till 1889. Some allotments were made and slowly the station at Yeodo was taking shape. But till early 1862, the final order of the Government of Bengal did not reach the Commissioner of Assam about the Shillong scheme. However, Maj D Vriggs, Superintendent of Works had started earlier work in making Shillong-Yeodo road. Things moved at a quicker pace since the Lt Governor of Bengal visited Yeodo in August 1865. The Suddar station of Khasi & Jaintia Hills had not been shifted from Cherra Poonji to Yeodo as the cutacherry was not ready to receive public offices and particularly the Treasury.
Soon things settled down smoothly and the transfer of civil departments was effected to Yeodo after the bottleneck for completion of the cutacherry construction was eased by Capt Clarvus in April 1866. Krishna Kishor Dhar was the Chief Official at the Deputy Commissioner’s office first at Cherra Ponjee then at Shillong. Yeodo was renamed Shillong in the evening hours of 28 April 1866 by Col Henry Hopkinson as the name Yeodo might create confusion.
Shillong, the dream child of Col Hopkinson, was born.
The old city
At that time Crinoline Falls in the south edge and the Umkhrah brook in the north of Shillong were the main source of water supply for the small township. Near the Deputy Commissioner’s office, cutacherry, there was a good spring for drinking water.
Col Hopkinson improved and developed the spring area for the storage of drinking water and soon it came to be known as Hopkinson’s Tank. In later years, the Chief Commissioner of Assam, Sir William Ward improved and extended it further by putting a small dam on the north-eastern side of it in 1893. Since then it came to be known as Ward’s Lake. The great earthquake of 1897, however, completely destroyed it and the stored water gushed out and washed away the iron bridges connecting the new station within the Polo Ground on the Umkhrah brook downstream.
After the quake
With the reconstruction of Shillong after the earthquake, Ward’s Lake took its present shape and was renovated again in early 1950’s at the instance of Governor Jairamdas Daulatram.
Until two decades ago, Guwahati had never been the political headquarters of Assam neither of the Ahoms nor of the British. Guwahati had no better claim over other places in Assam by population or trade. David Scott had its heart fixed at Nongkhlow in the Khasi Hills. His successors in the Commiserate, W Cracraft, T C Robertson and Col F Jenkins never thought of making Guwahati the headquarters. Robertson was even more careful in avoiding Guwahati. Jenkins who held his office as Commissioner of Assam from 1834 to 1861 had his headquarters in a boat, having always moved about and spent his time on the Brahmaputra. Col Hopkinson who succeeded Jenkins held office till the creation of a new Chief Commissionership in 1874.
He considered Guwahati to be insanitary and pleaded for making Shillong his headquarters. He began to spend a good part of the year at this district headquarters. The government of Bengal did not accept his suggestion and asked him to consider shifting the Commissioner’s office to Tezpur where the regiment has been removed from Guwahati on the grounds that the political headquarters should be nearest to the Regimental centre. Bengal could not appreciate the strategic importance of Shillong over any other place in North-East India. The Government of India also rather considered Shillong – like Cherra Poonji and Darjeeling inconveniently placed as regarded its accessibility to the people of the plains. It suggested that the Commissioner not exceed his stay beyond three months in a year at Shillong.
With the Jaintia rebellion, in the early 1860s, Shillong had already become the provincial headquarters of the military and, in effect, of the Department of Public Works and Police as well. The strategic importance of Shillong stood vindicated and the costly Jaintia uprising could have been avoided had Assam’s headquarters been located at Shillong.
The Orissa famine of 1866 brought out the administrative disadvantages of outlying areas. The elevation of Assam into a Chief Commissionership in 1874 was to redress the injustice done to such areas as the north-east frontier of Bengal, directly under the Government of India.
The political headquarters of the newly appointed Chief Commissioner Col RH Keatinge was at Guwahati for 40 days from 7 February 1874. It was shifted to Shillong, the capital of the new province on 20 March 1874.
In anticipation of the sanction and approval of the Government of India, the Chief Commissioner bought, from Col Bivar, a house and ground at Shillong by the Hopkinson’s Tank which became his official residence since 20 March 1874. The house eventually took the shape of the present day Raj Bhavan. Col Keatinge used all the arguments of Col Hopkinson in favour of selecting Shillong as his political headquarters citing climatic, administrative and strategic reasons for its selection. The Government of India, at Fort William without any further discussion approved the selection of Shillong, the dream-child of Col Hopkinson as the capital of the new province. Col Hopkinson was at least vindicated.
At that time, Shillong was not so easily accessible. The road to Shillong was only practical for carts for 10 miles from Guwahati. In the Khasi Hills, road-making was not difficult and the completion of a cart road did not take much time. The strategic and political importance of Shillong was appreciated by all concerned. The road was authorized to be opened at a cost of Rs 35,000 only for the 70 miles at the rate of Rs 500 per mile, the road itself being 10 feet wide. Maj D Briggs was in charge of road-construction. In due course, stage-bullock and horse-carts were introduced on the Shillong-Guwahati Road. M/s Golam Hyder & Sons had a Mail Service contract on this road. Eventually a motor bus service on the route was introduced by this enterprising Bengali family. Their two buses were called Ranee and Maharanee. The first automobile was introduced in Shillong by E C Oakley who held a driver’s licence from the Calcutta police. He was allowed driving by the lake with a speed limit of 8 miles per hour in the town.
The performance of Oakley was not a happy one. It was decided by the government on 7 October 1905 that Shillong was not suited for the use of motor cars and motor cycles as several roads lay along hill-sides where a frightened horse could be exceedingly dangerous. The use of such vehicles was confined to the Guwahati-Cherra road including the branch to Mawphlang. It took a long time to widen town roads for motor vehicles to ply.
Although Shillong had been a town during the colonial period created for official purpose, almost out of nothing, jungles were cleared, roads laid, houses constructed and offices built for administrative purposes. It was born on 28 April 1866 when offices of the rudimentary district headquarters of the Khasi & Jaintia Hills were transformed for political and administrative purposes. At that time the British authority covered only the Jowai sub-division and 32 British occupied villages in the Khasi Hills. Eight years later, on 20 March 1874, the headquarters of the Chief Commissioner of Assam was shifted from Guwahati to Shillong.
By 1878, the new colony and 106 households had come up in the Thana Road, Jail Road and in the present-day European Ward precincts. It was wholly an official colony with no water works, no street lighting or any other town amenities available at the time. A scheme was formulated for setting up of a station.
Under official inspiration 96 households prayed for a station committee. Although initially the Syiem of Mylliem, Hain Manik raised a voice of dissent, the threat of inclusion of Mawkhar and Laban within the British territory did the threat and he agreed to be a member of the municipal commissioner of the Shillong Station Committee, a wholly nominated body of the officials with the Syiem being the only unofficial Commissioner.
The total population under the municipality at that time of 1878 was 2,155. There was no fixed term of a member. He continued till he either resigned or died.
For example, Munshi Md Ahsanulla was nominated on 24 February 1879 but continued till April 1894. The Deputy Commissioner Maj H St. P Maxwell recommended retirement by rotation every 3 years with eligibility for reappointment. Except for Rev Evans, the rest of the member-commissioners from Mawkhar were illiterate. The water supply scheme of Shillong was completed in 1883-84 at a cost of Rs 15,093. The next year another Rs 2,000 was spent on it.
Shillong was taking shape in a socio-religious setup. With the coming in 1866 of the district headquarters, the Calvinistic Protestants under the Welsh Mission came and started preaching. Rev Griffith Hughes of the Welsh Mission came in 1871 from Cherra Poonjee to Mawkhar village atthe edge of the administrative town which was his primary base. The first church was opened in Mawkhar in 1874 by him and rebuilt by Rev Thomas Jerman Jones in 1886. The Anglican Church services were conducted under official patronage at the Chief Commissioner’s residence in 1875 and prior to that in a room in the cutacherry for quite sometime until the Cathedral was built in 1876. The All Saints Cathedral was razed to the ground by the 1897 earthquake and subsequently rebuilt in 1902. Rt Rev Hubert P Walsh became the first Anglican Bishop of the Diocese, in 1915.
The Catholic Church came to Shillong with the German Salvatorians under the first Mission Superior Fr Otto Hopfenmuller on 27 February 1890. They put up in Fr I Broisis’ Good Hope Villa, then small and unfurnished. The Europeans and the Anglo-Indians, hardly 20 persons in all, were Catholics. There was no Khasi Catholic till that time.
With the coming of Fr Christopher Becker in March 1906 the Catholic Church spread in Shillong, particularly in Laitumukhrah owing largely to the Jesuits and later the Salesians since 1922. The Unitarian Church was started by Hajom Kissor Singh Nongbri, a rebel Christian at Jowai in 1887. Unitarianism soon came to Shillong at Madan Laban. Dr J Thomas Sunderland who came from the UK in 1896 stoodby Hajom Kissor Singh in the formation of the Unitarian Unit and in framing its constitution.
Ms Annie Margaret Barr who came from England soon plunged into the Unitarian movement. It was a small congregation but its service to the people was immense.
Outside the British territory of Shillong in Laban, the Laban Sanatan Dharma Sabha (Laban Hari Sabha) was established on land donated by Rai Saheb Prasanna Kumar Bhattacharjee in 1896. He was assisted by Surendra Kr Chakraborty and Joy Govinda Choudhury. The original structure after the earthquake in 1899 was extended and improved. In the heart of British Shillong in 1901, the Shillong Hindu Dharma Sabha (Jagannath Mandir) at Thana Road was established on a rent-free 99-year lease hold 7,045 sq ft plot of land.
Rajchandra Choudhuri and Brajendra Nath Sen came to Shillong with the shifting of the district headquarters to Shillong in 1866. They brought with them the message of the Brahmo Samaj to Shillong.
A Mahila Samity and a Ram Mohan Mahila Library were established in 1887 by Hemanta Kumari Choudhuri. They were subsequently shifted to Laban to a locality which came to be known as Brahma Palli which was to become the hub of Brahmo Samaj activities.
In 1904, Raj Chandra Choudhuri built the Khasi Hills’ Brahmo Samaj Mandir on a plot of land donated by him. Dr Lakshi Prabha Borah was an outstanding Assamese Brahmo in Shillong at that time. In 1874, some Bengali Brahmos established the Shillong Brahma Samaj. Job Soloman and Radhan Singh, two Khasi devotees set up a Brahmo Samaj at Mawkhar. In 1889, Nilmoni Chakraborty was sent by Sib Nath Sastri to Shillong. Jeebon Roy a friend of the Brahmos, established his M E School at the Mawkhar Brahmo Samaj Hall. The Brahmo Samaj Movement at Shillong was mostly confined to the upper class Bengali officials and a few Assamese and Khasis. Nilmoni Chakraborty left Shillong in 1889 for Cherrapunji and subsequently made the Brahma movement a rural-reconstruction programme.
Ramkrishna Mission came to Shella in 1924 under Swami Prabhananda (Ketaki Maharaj) helped by two Khasis. With the demise of Nilmoni Chakraborty in 1941, Gouri Charan and Yogidhan Wahadar resurrected from the ashes of the Brahmo Samaj movement, the Ramkrishna Mission in the south Khasi Hills. In 1929, it came to Shillong and was housed in rented premises till 1934 at Laban, Jail Road and Mawkhar. It got land of its own in 1934 at Laitumkhrah. The temple was built in 1938 and was renovated in 1970. Unlike the Brahmo Samaj movement the Ramkrishna Mission got support of all sections and classes of Shillong by its social services.
Along with the shifting of the Khasi Hills headquarters from Cherrapunjee to Shillong, a few eminent Muslim businessmen hailing from West Bengal also moved to the new headquarters and bought property in and around Police Bazar. They soon established the Police Bazar Masjid at the entrance of Thana Road on a site provided by Golam Haidar ably assisted by his son Haji Kasimuddin Molla and subsequently Maula Box.
Zamatulla and Abdul Gaffor Shaikh Dudar Box were eminent Muslim personalities of those days and must be remembered for their part in the building of the Masjid. During the earthquake, the Laban Masjid was reduced to rubble and the imam perished with it. In early twentieth century it was rebuilt by the community on the same spot. The Laban and Laitumkhrah Masjids were erected in the twenties and thirties in this century.
A small Sikh community came to Shillong in the wake of World War I. They established themselves in self-employment and big construction work. Sardar Nagina Singh took the lead in establishing Police Bazar, Anupchand Lane a Sikh Gurduwara for prayer meetings and social services in 1920.
When Assam was constituted into Chief Commissionership in 1814, the government did not take any initiative for the establishment of schools for European and Eurasian children in Assam who were sent to schools either in England or in Bengal.
Col Keatinge was in favour of a school in Shillong for the European and Anglo-Indian children because of its excellent climate. In pursuance of a direction of the Government of India for providing elementary education to European and Eurasian children, the European and Eurasian girls’ boarding and day school was opened at Shillong in March 1881 under the management of the Chaplain of Shillong with government initiative with an average attendance of 8 students till 1887. The government closed it down and granted a substantial sum as grants-in-aid to a private school from 1888 and allowed the use of the European Government Girls School building. In 1883, a boarding school for European arid Eurasian boys was opened with 11 boys. This school worked till 1886. Thereafter, all such boys on scholarship were sent to Darjeeling, Kurseong or to other similar schools.
In 1896, the only school for European and Eurasian children was the Shillong Mixed School run by Miss Blake using government school buildings. This arrangement in Shillong was meant for middle-class European and Eurasian children and not for the poorer sections among them.
Miss Blake decided in 1896 to give up her private educational venture and the government was compelled to erect a building on the old site near Laban and reopen it under direct supervision of the DPI, Assam as a government institution after the great earthquake of June 1897. It grew as Pine Mount School for girls.
At this stage different Christian Missions wanted to open schools for European and Eurasian children with government maintenance grant. Rev J C Evans and Rev R Evans of Welsh Mission and Rev Fr Angelus M Munlem Zlohen of the Roman Catholic Mission wanted such help.
According to education records 1918, published by Educational Co of Ireland, Talbot Street, Dublin, there was a Church of English Boarding School for girls just over the Golf Club ground with an elevating and refining outlook. The Prefect Apostolic of Assam, Dr Edmund Christopher Becker of the Roman Catholic Church invited the nuns of Loreto Convent and helped them with land on the Hopkinson Hills and resources to open a Convent of Loreto Nuns in 1909. After much persuasion by Fr Becker of Salvatorian Mission, the Irish Christian Brothers opened in 1916 St Edmund’s College.
The Assam government agreed to give all support to the new European Boys’ school which got affiliation of the Calcutta University for IA and ISc in 1924 and became in due course a full degree college with BT teaching.
In 1910, the Salvatorian sisters were housed in St Mary’s Hill. It blossomed into a girls’ school and a degree college in later years when the Sisters of Notredamus Mission arrived in Shillong in 1915 to replace the German sisters of Salvatorian order who had been arrested and deported to Germany in the wake of World War I.
St Anthony’s School, started in 1922, became in 1928 an ME School and eventually a first grade high school. Intermediate Arts was opened in 1934 and soon it became a leading degree college run by the Salesian order of Don Bosco.
The Jail Road Infant school was started in a hut constructed by the Jail Road Society Hall Committee which got the land from Lt Col Howell, the Deputy Commissioner in 1897 donated by government for social and religious purposes. The school was started in 1913 by Rajendra Choudhury. It was raised for ME School level in 1922 and since 1925, it was shaped by Satish Chandra Sikidar. It got affiliation of Calcutta University in 1933 as Jail Road Boys’ High School.
Rai Bahadur Anup Chand Hindi High Sehool was founded by Govind Narayan Sanganeriah in 1926, in Anup Chand Lane, Police Bazar. It was opened by Sir John Henry, Governor of Assam at that time. The school was hard hit by economic depression and the World War. The present premises was purchased in 1942 and the institution was raised to High School level.
Hakeem Mohammed Ismail of the Survey of India and Bashir Ahmed Khan, a businessman hailing from Kashmir started a Maktab for Urdu-speaking children at Thana Road in 1920. It passed through many phases. The present premises at Police Bazar, G S Road was acquired in 1940 and the Islamia Madrassa High School got affiliation from Calcutta University in 1943.
On the failure of the government and Welsh Mission to open a high school in Shillong, Jeebon Roy, born in 1838, founded the Shillong Zilla High School in 1875-76. His son Sib Charan passed the entrance examination from that school in 1880 from the Sylhet centre. It was after a decade had elapsed since it was taken over by the Assam government that it came to be known as the Shillong Government Boys’ High School. Rev J C Evans was appointed its headmaster in 1891.
The Khasi Jaintia Presbyterian Girls’ High School was established by the Welsh Mission in 1892 with Ms Bossin William as its Principal till 1896. Jeebon Roy also started the Mawkhar Bengali School for Khasi boys and ran it for a few decades. The Shillong Bengali Girls’ School was raised to middle vernacular level. Prasanna Kumar Bose was secretary of the school in 1902 and Dinanath Dhar took over from him in 1903.
One of the premier institutions, Lady Keane Girls School and College, had its humble beginning in the Jail Road Govt. Girls ME School in 1932 named as Jail Road Girls’ High School. It received the patronage of Lady Jaycalline Keane, wife of the Governor of Assam. The High School section was shifted to Grooveside cottage in Keatinge Road in 1935 and it was decided to open an Intermediate Arts College there. The Govt. of Assam, procured land from the defence department and school and college buildings – their construction made possible by public donation – was completed in 1937. It was inaugurated by Lady Keane.
The School got affiliation of the Calcutta University in 1937 and the college got affiliation the next year with BA classes opening in 1936. In Laban a girls’ primary school was opened in 1902 later upgraded to ME-level in 1928 and subsequently a high school in 1958. The Laban Boys’ Primary School was opened in 1923 and later upgraded to a high school in 1945.
Quake and after-effects
A terrible earthquake occurred in Shillong on the evening of 12 June 1897 and a very bad after- shock the next morning. All masonry buildings, including the government house, the secretariat, the church, the jail, public offices and private houses were levelled. Public and private losses were heavy and practically nothing could be saved anywhere. The mortality, however, was confined to 29 persons, including a European. All services, including the tonga service to Guwahati, were disrupted as was the functioning of the Shillong Water Works.
Soon question arose over the possible transfer of the headquarters of the province of Dhubri Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Kohima, Haflong, Mokukchung, Wokha and even Sylhet. F C Arbuthnott, the Deputy Commissioner Khasi Hills, suggested Upper Shillong. But the problems of water supply and greater rainfall than in Shillong coupled with the mist went against it. Chief Commissioner, WE Ward decided to reconstruct the headquarters at Shillong on the grounds that it would be more economical to rebuild it on the same site. To layout a new station in Upper Shillong would probably cost not less than Rs 3 lakh over and above the cost required for rebuilding at the old sites.
In 1891-92, the India government proposed the transfer of the Chittagong Division from Bengal to Assam. By 1902, the idea was elaborated to combine the Eastern Bengal and the western parts of Bengal’s northern districts with Assam to constitute a new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam under a Lieutenant Governor, Dhaka as the capital and Chittagong as subsidiary headquarters. The then Chief Commissioner Sir Bamfylde Fuller welcomed the proposal because all the tea growing districts of Bengal and Assam would then be under one administration. After 31 years of life, Assam lost its separate identity on 16 October 1905 and Shillong ceased to be the headquarters of the administration due to the Bengal partition. But its population structure mostly remained unaffected as most of the government employees in the civil secretariat did not take their respective families to Dhaka, only camp offices remained at Shillong.
The offices had to move back from Dhaka in 1911-12 by government announcement of annulment of the Partition of Bengal. After being more than six years included in the province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, with effect from 1 April, 1912 Assam was, once again reconstituted as a separate province with Sir Archdale Earle becoming the first Chief Commissioner in a reconstituted province with Shillong as its headquarters. Under the first Chief Commissionership, Assam had no legislative council for making laws and regulations. Assam laws were enacted by Imperial Legislative Council. With the annulment of the partition of Bengal, Assam was allowed for the first time, a Legislative Council with the Chief Commissioner as its President. The ball-room of the Government House at Shillong was used as Lcgislative Council Chamber.
Building blocks & power play
With the coming of the Government of lndia Act 1919, Assam was elevated to the rank of Governor’s Province with a distinct legislative body independent of the Governor. Non-official members could not appreciate the implications of the new reforms and wanted the continuance of the ballroom at the Governor’s House as Legislative Chamber. The Government of India did not accept this view and wanted that the Reformed Legislative Council should be housed in a building consistent with its dignity and importance. The first Governor of Assam Sir Nicholas Dodd Beatson Bell intended that the Prince of Wales should open the new legislative council. So it was decided to adhere to the opening of the new council in the Government House chamber. The selection committee for the selection of the site of the new council chose Inkpot site which included a play-field for local boys of Jail Road and Thana Road of Shillong involving a cost of Rs 30,000 for the new Legislative Chamber. The Inkpot site was acquired by the Shillong Municipality in 1902 from Brojendra Kishore Roy Choudhury for Rs 204 for making a public garden.
The recreation of the Mission building, the Presbyterian Church got Rs 18,000. The foundation stone of the new reformed Legislative Chamber for Assam was , laid by the second Governor of Assam, Sir William Sinclair Morris on 28 September 1921. This edifice houses since 1937 the State Legislative Assembly.
Another construction at the cost of more than Rs 37,000 was made on the open space on the Secretariat Hill in front of the Secretariat behind the Comptroller and Accountant General’s office for the offices of ministers and members of the Assam Executive Council. There were 48 nominated and elected non-official members in the Legislative Council of which Rev J J M Nichols Roy and Dr H G Roberts lived in Shillong and Rai Bahadur Ghanashvarn Barua and Khan Bahadur Syed Abdul Majid were ministers in the government.
Abdul Majid was succeeded by Khan Bahadur Kutubuddin Ahmed. Sir Syed Muhammad Saadulla succeeded him as minister. Ghanashyam Barua was the first minister of Assam in the reform days. Syed Abdul Majid of Sylhet was a member of the Legislative Council of Eastern Bengal and Assam. He became minister after the reform. Both of them died in office. Syed Abdul Majid was succeeded by Rai Bahadur Promode Chandra Dutta of Sylhet. He was defeated in the election of 1926 and was succeeded by Rev J J M Nichols Roy. A no-confidence motion on the last day of the session in March 1929 led to his fall from power. Maulana Abdul Hamid and Rai Bahadur Kanak Lal Barua were then appointed ministers. Abdul Harnid made his mark as the President of the Council.
During the diarchy period, the absence of a reliable bank at Shillong was keenly felt both by the government and the people. The Imperial Bank agreed to start a branch in Shillong in 1924.
The Provincial Autonomy scheme came into operation on 1 April 1937 under the government of India Act, 1935. The Provincial Autonomy brought with it a Legislative Council. A beautiful structure east of the Protestant Church was built to house it. It now houses the permanent Shillong Bench of the Gauhati High Court. It was built by Eastern Bengal and Assam Commercial Syndicate for about Rs 90,000.
The United Muslim Party under the leadership of Muhammad Saadulla formed the first ministry under the Provincial Autonomy and Rev J J M Nichols Roy of Progressive Party was one of the ministers. But on 12 September 11 38 he was forced to resign. The acting Governor Henry Joseph Twynham invited Gopinath Bordoloi, the leader of the Congress party to form the government. Bordoloi, who lived in the Ashlv Hall, gave shelter to Mahmud Ali of Karimganj who joined his coalition government. Gopinath formed the government in consultation with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the Congress President, and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. They visited Shillong at that time to assess the political situation there. Netaji stayed earlier in the twenties soon after his release from Mandalay Jail in Myanmar, in the Kellsol Lodge. Subhas Chandra was invited by Rev Br J.I. O’Leary in 1938 due to the Congress difference with the British war aims. Saadulla immediately came to power bringing together different groups and individuals. Ms Mavis Dunn was the first woman ever to join government under the Provincial Autonomy scheme. This ministry lasted for a little over one year.
There was a brief period of Governor’s rule and the third Saadulla ministry was formed on 25 August 1942. Ms Mavis Dunn joined this government as well which remained in office till 23 March 1945. Another coalition government was formed on this date and Ms Dunn was dropped. On 1 October 1945, the Assam Legislature was dissolved. But Saadulla continued as the head of a caretaker government till the general election was held in January 1946.
A Congress ministry was formed on 11 February 1946 under Gopinath Bardoloi and Rev J J M Nichols Roy was elected as one of the members of the Constituent Assembly from Assam as a non-Muslim League nominee. Jawaharlal Nehru during his visit in Assam in 1946 addressed meetings at the field in front of Fire Brigade and also at the Khasi National Durbar Hall.
During the war years at the height of Japanese invasion of Kohima, the Assam Civil Secretariat was dispersed over different localities at Shillong. Allied military authorities occupied a major portion of St Edmund’s School and College premises and also those of Loreto Convent for conversion into military hospitals. St Edmund’s was offered the use of the old secretariat building to house St Edmund’s College and School temporarily for holding classes. Accordingly to the annals of St Edmund’s College the offer was declined. St Edmund’s University section including BT teaching continued on a skeleton scale in the morning in the college building. St Edmund’s College was virtually transformed into a field Military Hospital for the Allied forces.
Despite bifurcation of the civil secretariat into civil secretariat and Governor’s secretariat on 1 April 1937 to deal with Reserved subjects under the Government of India Act 1935, the volume of work increased during and soon after the war years.
By the end of the war years a decision was taken to construct a new reinforced cement concrete structure to house the expanding civil secretariat at the secretariat hill which became functional soon after Independence. The old secretariat building was handed over for the use of police authorities. The new secretariat was built by Gannon Dunkerly & Co of Bombay.
Shillong in pre-Independence days was a small town with a population mostly government servants with limited trade and no industrial activities. It did not respond to national mass movement and political activities were primarily confined to electoral maneuvering. In 1941, as against a government War Mela and subsequent police atrocities in Shillong and Guwahati attempts were made to organise a students’ strike. It evoked limited response. Even the 1942 Quit India Movement mostly went unnoticed. Two young employees of St Edmund’s College, Bimal Sengupta and Rajkumar Bhattacharjee, courted arrest and were sent to Nowgong Jail. Some young people during August 1942 distributed leaflets and pasted placards. Aruna Asaf Ali the underground rebel leader of the Quit India Movement came to Shillong during this period.
In 1878, at the time of the formation of the Municipal Board, Shillong had a population of 2,149. In 1881, there were 4,288 persons in the town and in the next decade it increased to 6,720. The following table shows its population trend since then:
1901: 9621; 1911: 13639; 1921: 17203; 1931: 26536; 1941: 38192; 1951: 58512
It is a safe presumption that by 1947, the population in the town was around 50,000 only. The separation of Assam from Eastern Bengal and restoration of political headquarters once again and consequent building of a few more offices and residential houses, Legislative Council etc. led to its further growth. The setting of new schools and colleges, Provincial Autonomy since 1937 and sequences of the Second World War, Shillong being in the periphery of the eastern war zone, created more offices and thereby population increased at a high rate.
During the period of 1864-1942, the core sector of the town remained non-tribal. But with the westernization which started with the work of different Christian Missions, painfully slow urbanization outlook, spread of higher education opportunities and wider economic and political participation of the Khasis in Shillong, society showed trends of change during 1921-1947. Shillong society being dynamic, cosmopolitan and plural, has •shown changes although the extent and nature of the change vary from locality to locality. It is a case of limited interaction and adjustment in the outfit and trends to-wards the structural changes as an impact of Second World War and stationing of Allied forces in Shillong.
The history of Shillong during 1864-1947 showed steady development of an administrative centre for official purpose, almost out of nothing – for offices and residence. It developed in a tribal setting for colonial administration purpose where people had very little voice in its progress and development. Only with Independence people got gradually a share in the development of Shillong.
(The article is a reproduction from the Golden Jubilee souvenir)