Graves of empire tell of India's troubled past

Fri Feb 14, 2014 7:02am EST
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By Angus MacSwan

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - By the side of a crowded Delhi highway with buses thundering by and hawkers touting their wares lies a small, walled cemetery.

It holds the graves of hundreds of British citizens and other foreigners who, for better or worse, played roles in India's colonial past. Soldiers, missionaries, traders and officials rest here, the cracked tombstones giving only hints of their lives.

Despite the peaceful air, the Nicholson Christian Cemetery near the Kashmere Gate is also testimony to a history of violence. It was founded after the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and many of its inhabitants died in that conflict, now seen by some as India's first war for independence.

The cemetery is named after Brigadier General John Nicholson, who was mortally wounded at the age of 36 leading the assault to relieve the siege of Delhi during the insurrection.

His grave is surrounded by a railing fence and features a white marble slab. His ghost is reputed to haunt the cemetery.

Nicholson was a controversial character in life and in death. An Ulsterman who fought in Afghanistan and Punjab before meeting his fate in Delhi, he was disliked for his haughty manner by fellow officers but revered by many of his Indian troops who elevated him to a cult-like status.

But he detested Indians and Afghans and dealt with them ruthlessly, reputedly displaying the severed head of one of his adversaries on his desk.

To a fellow officer, he proposed "the flaying alive, impalement or burning of the murderers of (British) women and children. The idea of simply hanging the perpetrators of such atrocities is maddening".   Continued...

A grave with a cross is seen during sunset at Nicholson Christian Cemetery in old quarters of Delhi February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi