In Oscar-winning film 'Gandhi', the colonial-era Patna Collectorate building was dressed up as a Motihari court to film the famous 1917 Champaran trial that will later spring forth the crucial civil disobedience movement. The trial that took place on April 18 at a magisterial court, completed 100 years today, but amid all the spotlight on Satyagraha centenary celebrations, this heritage landmark of the city is "battling oblivion". "It is a shame that first the Collectorate battled a demolition move, and now in the scheme of grand Satyagraha centenary celebrations, it has not even been mentioned, let alone celebrated. The film 'Gandhi' itself is a heritage for us. "We are marking 100 years of his Champaran struggle, and the Motihari courtroom scene was the moment in history that turned Gandhi into Mahatma. So, this was the most befitting moment to declare the Collectorate as a heritage structure and link it with a Gandhi circuit," says Anil Kumar, professor of Ancient Indian History at Visva-Bharati University in Shanti Niketan in West Bengal. On World Heritage Day today, Kumar and several other scholars and heritage lovers also highlighted the "neglect" suffered by other landmarks associated with Gandhi in the city, especially 'Sikander Manzil'. Gandhiji had come to Patna on way to Champaran on April 10, 1917. He briefly had stayed at the palatial house of Mazhar-ul Haq on Fraser Road. "The house known as 'Sikander Manzil' is still existing albeit obscured by construction of new buildings in its front portion, and I have requested the Bihar government several times to put up a plaque to commemorate his stay in Patna but to no avail. "This was the right occasion to declare it as a heritage and preserve it. But, we don't even see it being mentioned during big events," Patna-based historian Surendra Gopal said. Gopal and a host of other scholars, professionals, school and university teachers, students, had last year written through INTACH to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to spare the demolition of the centuries-old Collectorate and instead restore it into a cultural hub. The Ben Kingsley-starrer biopic was shot partly at the Collectorate's Dutch-era Record Room, which was dressed up as a Motihari jail, while the British-period DM Office was used for depicting the courtroom scene. Many still fondly recall the shooting of the film in 1980s. US-based professional Twisha Chandra, who hails from Patna, and also a member of the Executive Committee of London-based Gandhi Foundation, is currently visiting her hometown, but feels sad to see the Collectorate being "neglected" during the centenary celebrations. "One cannot even imagine it being gone.
And, the Gandhi link to it due to the film's shooting there makes it even more imperative to preserve it. "A memorial plaque outside the building could have been put up as part of an overall plan to bring the landmark on the tourism map. In fact, the Bihar government should have restored and gifted the building to the city on the centenary," she said. Incidentally, the Gandhi Foundation last year, in an appeal letter to Kumar to preserve the Collectorate, had also suggested linking the heritage building with the Gandhi tourism circuit. A civil society-led online campaign 'Save Historic Patna Collectorate', started on April 3 last year, today reaffirmed it appeal to the Bihar government to link Collectorate and 'Sikander Manzil' and other Gandhi-related trails in the city into a tourism circuit. Over 1,000 people and counting, from Patna, other cities, and several foreign countries have joined the preservation drive. The centenary celebrations were kicked off at newly-built Gyan Bhawan on the periphery of Gandhi Maidan, that sits near the Collectorate. The Gyan Bhawan is right adjacent to Gandhi Sanghralaya and the old house of Dr Syed Mehmood is next to it ('Gandhi Shivir'), where Gandhi used to stay during his Patna visits. "The Maidan also has the world's largest statue of Gandhi. And, it is not very far from the Gandhi Setu and the Gandhi Ghat on Ganga, where part of his ashes were immersed. All these can be weaved into a chain and linked to the Gandhi tourism circuit from Patna to Champaran," says Patna-born photographer Rajiv Soni, who has worked on heritage buildings. "The biopic on the Mahatma is still celebrated the world over, and in the UK and India especially. The Collectorate is thus part of the enduring memory of Mahatma Gandhi's connection with Bihar and the (Richard) Attenborough film that has done so much to introduce his life and message to new generations," the Foundation had wrote to Kumar.
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