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Ms Aishwarya Tipnis, Architect & Conservation Planner, Aishwarya Tipnis Architects

Identification of Shared Cultural Heritage: Dutch in Chinsurah Project Methodology


Identification of Shared Cultural Heritage: Dutch in Chinsurah Project Methodology Ms Aishwarya Tipnis, Architect & Conservation Planner 1.1

Background

Located approximately 50kms to the north of Calcutta along the Hooghly river are a string of settlements which form a unique ensemble of erstwhile trading posts of the British (Calcutta), Dutch (Chinsurah), French (Chandernagore), Danish (Srerampore) and Portuguese (Bandel) in close proximity. Fondly known as the "Europe on the Ganges" this ensemble is a unique cultural landscape, an exceptional centre of maritime trade in the 17th Century witness to the rise and fall of colonial ambitions. A testimony to the confluence of cultures and a starting point of the "Contemporary Bengali Culture" manifested in the form of architecture, town planning, literature and art that developed in the region. The focus of the current project is on Chinsurah, the erstwhile Dutch trading settlement established in 1655. It flourished as a prosperous trading town under the Dutch until it was formally ceded to the English in 1825 in exchange for the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. The influence of the European trading powers of both the Dutch and the British, is still legible in the urban fabric of Chinsurah in the form of the town layout, urban design, architecture and infrastructure of the town as well as the way of life of the people of Chinsurah; the names of the localities such as Armenitola, Feringhitola still survive. The influences on the intangible heritage such as the food, language, religious customs, education have been absorbed into the indigenous culture and local daily life. Although the town is rich in its urban heritage, only two sites are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India namely the Dutch Cemetery and the Tomb of Susanna Anna Maria while the Hooghly Imambara, Moti Jheel Mosque and Bankim Bhawan are protected by the West Bengal Heritage Commission. Chinsurah's unique urban heritage is defined by its urban morphology, street pattern and ensemble of non-monumental historic buildings. This is highly vulnerable and under threat from lack of maintenance and urban development pressure, old buildings are rapidly deteriorating and becoming derelict and dilapidated; some are being demolished making way for more rewarding economic investments. In this process of modernisation there is an imminent risk that the core values of the place are irrevocably lost even before they are identified, documented and appreciated. It is important to document and preserve this shared cultural heritage and create a new knowledge base, that would contribute to the preservation of the significant buildings and elements from the Dutch period as well as create a positive development within the town. There is an opportunity for education and outreach, interpretation and engagement with the local community in the process of conservation. 1.2

Purpose

Heritage plays an important role in the identity of a place, it reflects its image and reveals stories of its past giving it a sense of character. If understood and managed properly it has the power to effectively contribute to the overall quality of urban environment and serve as the starting point of

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sustainable urban development. Conservation of the historic assets is a crucial step in the development process aiming at improving the aesthetic and recreational qualities of Chinsurah as well as enhancement of the local identity and character of the town. Funded by the Embassy of Kingdom of the Netherlands, New Delhi, this project is an initiative of Aishwarya Tipnis Architects (ATA) in collaboration with Presidency University Kolkata. The aim of this multi-disciplinary project is to identify and document this shared cultural heritage and develop a digital database for the shared cultural heritage of the erstwhile Dutch colony of Chinsurah in West Bengal, India. The larger purpose of this project is to form a base for the "integrated development" of Chinsurah where the goals of urban heritage conservation are intertwined into the economic social and cultural development of the town. The project methodology is guided by UNESCO Recommendations for the Historic Urban Landscape (2011), which is an approach to the management of heritage resources in dynamic and constantly changing environments. The project focuses on recognition of those values and attributes that define the meaning and sense of place of Chinsurah. It demystifies the various layers and interconnection of natural and cultural, tangible and intangible, international and local values that defines the town. It is hoped that cultural mapping exercise would become a starting point for the integration of urban heritage conservation in the process of urban development of Chinsurah in a way that protects and enhances its sense of place, individual character and identity. 1.2.1

Partners

The multi-disciplinary team comprising of academics, professionals, community volunteers and students have mapped out this tangible and intangible shared cultural heritage within the erstwhile colony of Chinsurah. The project team at ATA has been led by Ms Aishwarya Tipnis, supported by Dr Oeendrila Lahiri for historic research and Ms Payal Wadhwa, Inspire Conspire Retire (ICR) as the Interpretation Planner. The team at Presidency University has been led under the supervision of Dr Souvik Mukherjee, Department of English & Mr Milinda Banerjee, Department of History. The cultural mapping project has concentrated on five aspects, Documentation & Mapping of the Tangible & Intangible Heritage, Developing a Historical Timeline, Developing an archive of oral history, Development of comprehensive database of the Dutch Cemetery as an electronic resource and Engagement and Community Development for dissemination of the Dutch Heritage in Chinsurah. Aishwarya Tipnis Architects (ATA) supported by ICR has been responsible for Cultural Mapping, Oral History, Timeline, Engagement & Community Development. Presidency University has spearheaded the development of the database of the Dutch Cemetery in Bengal as an electronic resource that can be accessed over the Internet as well as supervised, Research for Oral History, Timeline & Technical Development of Project Website including GIS. InspireConspireRetire (ICR) are the interpretation planners working as consultants to ATA and have contributed to defining the design language whilst building a cultural engagement strategy for this project.

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1.3

Methodology

The project methodology has been based on the value based approach to heritage conservation particularly on the UNESCO Recommendations for the Historic Urban Landscape (2011). This is an overall management approach that sets out to identify the values both tangible and intangible as well as their interconnections within a historic city. It promotes the idea that any intervention within the urban fabric would retain the cultural significance of the town, with an aim to strengthen its culture as well as identity within the process of development. The project aims to accomplish the first three objectives set out in the HUL Action Plan namely 1. Survey & Mapping of City's assets natural cultural and human resources 2. Reach consensus (participatory planning community consultation) on what values to protect + attributes that carry these values 3. Assess vulnerabilities of these attributes to socio-economic stresses and impacts of climate change. The methodology developed to achieve the above mentioned objectives of the HUL is hinged on the premise of understanding the city as living heritage with layering of multiple meanings and values. The multi-disciplinary approach was critical to identifying the tangible and intangible values that defined the heritage of Chinsurah and therefore a multi-disciplinary team comprising of historians, geographer, architects, urban conservation professionals and students of history as well as architecture was put together. A) SURVEY & MAPPING 1.3.1

Defining the study area

The study has concentrated on the extents of Chinsurah town during the colonial rule bound by Jora Ghat the northern edge, Boser Ghat on the south, Tolaphatak on the west and the Hooghly river formed the eastern boundary. 1.3.2

Preparation of Historical Timeline

Historical research was undertaken at the National Library Kolkata, National Archives Delhi and other online sources to develop an overview of the historical evolution of Chinsurah. A graphic timeline has been developed that gives the reader at a glance an overview of the socio-political events happening in India and simultaneous events that took place in Chinsurah. The evolution of the town has been graphically represented and supported by an illustrated academic paper on the history of the Dutch in Chinsurah and in Bengal. 1.3.3

Documentation & Mapping

A team of academics, professionals, community volunteers, students of architecture carried out a door to door survey created an inventory and documentation of the historic city of Chinsurah. The mapping was spread out over a period of 6 months.

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Phase 1: Survey & Data Collection 1. In the absence of a detailed map for the town, a base map for the study area was developed based on the satellite image from Google Earth, this was digitized and has been used as a base map for the study on the field.

2. Two kinds of mapping exercises were conducted for Chinsurah, the first was the experiential mapping of the town to determine the "sense of place" of the town, marking local landmarks, nodes, districts etc. Based on the theory of the Image of the City by Kevin Lynch, this map illustrates how the city is used and perceived by its users, this map was generated by conducting interviews with the community as well as experience by the volunteers and became the basis for the development of the heritage trails and other community engagement initiatives. The experiential mapping includes soundscapes, smellscape, physical and social infrastructure, transportation, the invisible city etc.

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3. A simultaneous exercise was undertaken to determine the physical urban fabric, urban morphology, green spaces, building heights, landuse, views and vistas, building typologies, materials of construction and conditions.

4. A rapid inventory and photo documentation of the historic buildings, structures and spaces of Chinsurah was undertaken and compiled in the form of a comprehensive database.

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5. Typologies of the heritage was identified and critical buildings were mapped and drawn to understand the spatial relationships and construction materials.

6. A rapid study of the community profile, their economic condition occupation was conducted, historic neighbourhood, padas (neighbourhoods) and historical names of the streets, padas were compiled to understand the socio-economic profile of the community. This was then plotted on the map. Local stories about the places were gathered and were integrated in the development of the heritage trails. 7. Photo documentation of the intangible heritage of Chinsurah was conducted.

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Phase 2: Interpretation & Presentation 1. Map regression was employed to understand the historical evolution of Chinsurah from the maps dating to the 18th, 19th and 20th Century and this analysis was then graphically illustrated. 2.The physical mapping were then superimposed with the experiential mapping to triangulate the issues, threats and vulnerabilities affecting the urban heritage of Chinsurah. 3. The historical research was further extrapolated on the mapping, giving a spatial dimension to the historical and archival information. The multi-disciplinary Digital humanities approach enabled the geotagging of spaces and places with the historical events. 4. A comprehensive database was prepared and plotted on GIS compiling the mapping, historical research and analysis, allowing a searchable database available on the website. This database can be used by the Local Government in including the heritage register in the future planning of Chinsurah.

5. A heritage trail map was developed based on the interaction with the community, collection of the local history stories and corroboration with the historical research on Chinsurah.

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1.3.4

Collection of Oral History

To begin defining what the sense of place of Chinsurah was, what makes it special, we needed to find the pulse, search its soul. A herculean task in itself, this project has aimed at collecting a general overview of the stories and narratives of what the community holds about the Dutch in Chinsurah. This archive is a short compilation of the series of interviews, experiences of various citizens of the town about their everyday life in a historic city, their families, their communities and history. Although not strictly an oral history project, the methodology for this archive was loosely build around the concept of oral history archiving. The focus of this project was to record the narratives of the community and their associations with the Dutch in Chinsurah. Given that the Dutch had left Chinsurah in 1840, it was already established impossible to record first- hand accounts of the Dutch and therefore it was decided that this section was focussing on the folklore and narratives that they relate with the Dutch in Chinsurah. The primary task was to develop a questionnaire and then film the interviews of the people from the community who came forward to share their experiences, an exercise that was established over two months. The videos were entirely shot in Chinsurah in the months of April-June 2014. Presented on the website in the form of four concise videos this is just a beginning, a way forward to a gamut of possibilities in recording the memories of the people of Chinsurah. The first video is member of the Seal family, one of the most illustrious and richest merchant families of Chinsurah, who speaks about their family history and trade at the time of the Dutch. The second video is of the priest of the Sandeshwartala Temple, the most important Hindu shrine of the region where a 10 day gajan festival is held at the Bengali new year, the priest talks about the folklore and the connection of the Dutch Governor Daniel Overbeck and his gift to the temple. The third video is shot at the Hooghly Mohsin College, one of the few surviving Dutch buildings in Chinsurah. This includes an interview of the History teacher as well as the students and their knowledge about the Dutch in Chinsurah. A local history enthusiast speaks about his knowledge of the history of the Chinsurah and its Dutch connection. 1.3.5

Development of an online database of the Dutch Cemetery

An independent project developed by Presidency University aimed at the digitising of the records of the Dutch Cemetery. Our project makes the spatial relationships with the Dutch people buried in the Cemetery as well as their contributions to the physical environment. The partnership between ATA & Presidency University enabled this marriage of the disciplines allowing each to interpret the data from their own perspectives.

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B) ANALYSIS OF VALUE & SIGNIFICANCE A value-based approach to conservation as prescribed in the ICOMOS Burra Charter (1994) & Recommendation of Historic Urban Landscapes (2011) has been adopted for the valorisation of the historic buildings and spaces in Chinsurah. Based on the historical research, documentation and mapping, values and significance (tangible and intangible) and their interconnections were identified. The values were further extrapolated and specific attributes for each of the values were identified. Based on the definitions were further graded as per the priority. The methodology for valorisation was then further applied for each of the listed building and a comprehensive grading of the structures was achieved. Further based on the documentation and mapping, the issues and vulnerabilities affecting the historic town were mapped to develop an understanding of the risks and opportunities presented by the town. This included the mapping of heritage delineation and listing, ownership, use, state of preservation, transformations, hawkers and street vendors as well as tourist infrastructure.

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C) REACHING CONSENSUS: COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT 1.3.6

Community Engagement Workshops

One of the most important tools for urban heritage management is community engagement, which empowers the people to identify key values in their urban areas, articulate their aspirations and visions for the town. The interpretation strategy worked with a two-pronged approach for community engagement to bring out the values associated with Chinsurah. The first approach "Chinsurah looking at itself" was aimed at engaging the local community to define what it considers valuable, what it wants to pass on to the next generation and thereby instilling a sense of pride within the community. The principal strategy was to involve the local community in the mapping process from the very onset. A group of community volunteers was formed that would assist the project team on the field survey, this core group was called the "Rangers". This had two advantages firstly that it built trust amongst the locals and allowed access and deeper penetration into the community who welcomed the survey team into their houses, shared their stories and views on the heritage of Chinsurah and secondly it became a word of mouth medium of dissemination of the information collected during the survey to the others in the community. Local enthusiasts and historians, school teachers came forward and shared their insight into the history of the town. Interviews were conducted with local residents, students, rickshaw pullers, teachers, doctors, people on the street to gauge the sense of place of Chinsurah, this was captured on video and has been composed into videos in the oral history section of Chinsurah.

Community Mental Mapping of Chinsurah The first workshop for community engagement was conducted for the School Children in the age group of five to twenty in the form of a painting competition on the theme of "Heritage of Chinsurah". To have a wider audience reach this was organised as part of the local "Durga Puja" festival which is one of the most important festival of Chinsurah and attended by almost everyone in the community. This was envisaged as a mental mapping project, where the children drew what they defined as the most important landmarks within the town. Forty three children participated in the competition held on the 29th & 30th September 2014 as a part of the ‘Tola Phatak Sarvajanik

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Durga Puja Committee’ & 'Upasana' - Antarbagan Chuchura Durga Puja respectively.

The community survey had indicated that most children were unaware of the history of the Dutch in Chinsurah and thus a brief was prepared which was given out to the children giving them a brief narrative of the history of the town. Based on the brief, the children were asked to use their imagination to draw and illustrate the themes from the history of Chinsurah. Out of forty three children who participated in this competition the best illustrations were selected and have been compiled in the form of a children's story book of the Dutch in Chinsurah, this bilingual book in English and Bengali is available for download from the website.

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Comic Book Workshop The second workshop was conducted on 15th October 2014, it was led by the Interpretation Planner, Ms Payal Wadhwa. The content of the workshop included definition of what the power of comics can be, the many ways one may draw one, what the various ingredients of a comic are. Further the idea was to engage the students with creative ways of interpreting the historical values in the contemporary setup. The workshop was attended by twenty seven children of age group eleven to twenty. The children were asked to imagine a short story that had themselves, Chinsurah and the Dutch and illustrate it in the form of a comic book and their responses were drawn over a period of a fortnight in elaborate comic pages. The objective of the workshop was to encourage the children to understand the multiple layers of the town and its relevance in the contemporary life. The workshop was successful in raising awareness about the history of the Dutch in Chinsurah, make the children conscious of the history and heritage in their contemporary setup as well as valorise what is important for them as a community.

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Heritage Walk for Chinsurah The second approach towards community engagement was "World Looking at Chinsurah", the objective was to identity the global values associated with Chinsurah. Workshops, symposiums, social media and the website were envisaged as a way of bringing together not only experts and enthusiasts but also people in Netherlands with genealogical interest in Chinsurah. The aim is to secure a place for Chinsurah on the tourist map for both Indian and International Tourists. Creating heritage awareness not only through heritage trails but inviting the community to contribute to the storyline, identifying not only architectural landmarks but also community specific points, training local residents as volunteer guides and bringing cultural change. With this aim, the third workshop held on 16th October 2014 was centered around developing a narrative and heritage trail for Chinsurah informed by the local history, stories and assimilation of the archival research which was conducted with local historians and enthusiasts. A heritage trail and map was thus prepared by the project team based on the output from the workshop and consultation with other experts such as Bauke Van der Pol, who has recently published a book on the ‘The Dutch VOC in India’. Two local historians were trained to conduct the heritage walk. As part of the "World Heritage Week" in November, free heritage walks on the themes of "In the footsteps of the Dutch" & "Dutch in Bengal" were conducted in Chinsurah on 23rd November 2014 led by the local historians. A total number of twenty people including students, teachers, residents, enthusiasts and architects from Calcutta participated in the walk. It has been designed as a sustainable model that can be run independently by the local historians and the brochures of the walk are available for download. The project also created a social media page on facebook and blog for Dutch in Chinsurah project, that helped connect to more than 500 people within the community and in Netherlands and generated much interest in the findings of the Dutch in Chinsurah project. People from the community came forward to share their own stories, histories and heirlooms regarding the town.

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1.4 The Way Forward Vision To develop Chinsurah as a vibrant town, where cultural heritage is at the heart of urban development in a manner that protects and enhances its sense of place, individual character and identity.

Based on the documentation, mapping and community engagement, the objectives were defined for the future development of Chinsurah. These objectives were further developed into strategies and tangible projects for Chinsurah. This study aims to form a base for the further integrated development of the town of Chinsurah. Chinsurah along with its neighbouring erstwhile European settlements of Chandernagore (French), Srerampore (Danish), Barrackpore (British) and Bandel (Portuguese) along the banks of the Hooghly is a unique cultural landscape still retaining its old world charm, this little Europe on the Ganges has tremendous potential to change the fortunes of this area by means of a well developed cultural heritage and tourism strategy that builds on its inherent character. The need of the hour is to develop an integrated development plan for the precinct that incorporates the needs of urban development, creation of housing and public spaces, creative reuse of the large tracts of the Industrial lands along the River Hooghly belonging to the Port Trust, Railways and Jute Board as well as tourism, environmental improvement and community development. In a country like India where poverty, illiteracy and infrastructure development , heritage conservation remains an elitist dream. So what is the future of Chinsurah's heritage? Will it succumb to development pressures and end up become yet another chip of the block generic town or will it rise to the occasion and work towards its development while being sensitive to its past? Taking a cue from other historic cities all over the world, there is a need for rehabilitation of historic homes enabling them to be given new lease of life, by providing the occupants with a healthy environment and modern facilities. With local government support and active community participation Chinsurah can become a pioneering solution to India’s vast living Colonial heritage. The aim of urban conservation is not to freeze a settlement in time or to treat it an open air museum depicting life in the 19th Century, but to sensitively address the problems for today and mitigate with the forces of change to ensure that new development is in keeping with the character and appearance of the historic area.

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Identification of shared cultural heritage:Dutch in Chinsurah: Project methodology, Aishwarya Tipnis  

Identification of shared cultural heritage:Dutch in Chinsurah: Project methodology,Aishwarya Tipnis

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