Since old habits die hard the whole city had once again flocked to Lucknow’s Hazratganj to usher in yet another new year. Today, the mile-long Hazratganj in the heart of Lucknow may resemble a shopping street in any other Indian city but memories of what the place once used to be are not forgotten.

Bishop Reginald Hebber had visited Lucknow around 1824 and he found Hazratganj wider than the High Street at Oxford. The buildings along the wide promenade were in Gothic style. It was the fifth nawab Saadat Ali Khan who had planned the road as a processional route for himself. He had built two ceremonial gates in half Grecian and half Moorish style on either end of Hazratganj.

The gates were demolished by the British in 1858. Within the gates were palatial buildings that do not exist anymore. Some believe that before taking over the throne in Lucknow, Saadat Ali Khan was forced to flee to the banks of the Hooghly in 1775 to avoid a murder charge. During his stay in Kolkata he had fallen in love with the architecture of the city that was inspired by Greek and Roman styles.

In 1798 when he had sat on the throne in Lucknow he had found the lanes of his capital city narrow and unpleasant. He had designed Hazratganj in imitation of Kolkata’s Chowringhee Road.

In the 19th Century Hazratganj blossomed into a fancy shopping centre, but in March 1857 it was converted into a battlefield. Local freedom fighters, and members of the East India Company army, had fought fist-to-fist here when more than 860 Indian soldiers had died in defence of Lucknow.

Once the British emerged victorious, the architecture of Hazratganj was redesigned. Many imperial buildings were demolished. In place of private residences of princes, the British built a post office, a railway office, cinema houses, a police station, a fire station and a church in Gothic style.

There were rows of shops with glass doors, and restaurants with wooden floors for ballroom dancing. Pastry shops like Kwality’s were popular and the Swiss confectionery shop called Benbows was a favourite for the savouries and cakes served there.

None of these places or buildings from the past exist, but the tradition of “gunjing” in Hazratganj continues to this day.

No Truck with Truckers

Daily life came to a screeching halt as nearly two lakh truck drivers, 2000 bus drivers and countless auto and taxi drivers put a brake on transport around Uttar Pradesh (UP) early this week. The drivers had struck work to protest against the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita proposal that proposed 10 years of imprisonment for drivers caught in hit-and-run cases.

The anger of truckers resulted in chaos as crowds of citizens were seen searching for fuel at one empty fuel station and another. Overnight, the price of vegetables and fruits had shot up by 30 percent. Potatoes and onions had sold for hundreds of rupees per quintal at wholesale markets and panic buying was the order of the day.

Thousands of commuters were seen walking to their destination in the industrial city of Kanpur, as truckers had forced commercial vehicles to stay off the road. Out of 267 petrol stations in Kanpur, 20 per cent had dried up.

Kanpur also ran out of milk when 114 vehicles were not allowed to drive to their respective destination. The 302 kilometre long Agra-Lucknow Expressway witnessed violence as drivers pelted stones around the Mainpuri district.

The Florence of UP

The truckers strike had badly affected the business of glass bangles in the city of Firozabad near Agra. Unsold stocks of colourful bangles had piled up in factories along with other glass items while workers had no more raw material left to continue their work.

Firozabad is the hub of India’s glass blowing industry and known as the Florence of the country. The life of every resident of Firozabad invariably revolves around the glass bangle industry but the life of most of those employed in the glass business is miserable. Most of the bangle makers have no formal education.

They are unable to make their trade flourish, and have little confidence to take up another profession. For generations the artisans have been exploited by an uncaring market, and wily middlemen.

Yet the artisans continue to create objects of art despite extreme poverty and hunger. Many have not enjoyed a proper meal in many days, and parents are unable to send their children to school.

Glass was first introduced to India by traders and visitors. Broken glassware was collected and melted in a furnace in Firozabad, and recycled into new objects. The city’s glass industry gained worldwide fame.

Firozabad is also called ‘suhaag nagri’, or the township of married women whose wrists are adorned with colourful glass bangles.

The practice of bangle-making goes back to Mughal Emperor Akbar when Muslim ‘shishgars’, or glassmakers, first produced glass bangles.

The modern industry is about 200 years old where the challenges faced by workers have multiplied. According to contacts in the industry the demand for glass bangles appears to have decreased in spite of daily production.

Many exploitative conditions persist like low wages, increased work hours, and virtually no job security. The need is to raise awareness about the plight of workers employed in all spheres of industrial work.

The small scale glass manufacturing units in Firozabad contribute about 70 percent of glass production in the sector, providing employment to more than 150,000 people from and around the city. There are nearly 500 units of small scale industries manufacturing glass supported by the government’s Centre for the Development of the Glass Industry (CDGI) set up in 1992. This is a joint venture with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Abused on Campus

After absconding for two months, three men have finally been arrested for the alleged gang rape of a 22-year-old student at the Indian Institute of Technology-Banaras Hindu University (IIT-BHU) campus.

According to the FIR, the student had stepped out of her hostel to meet a friend when three men riding a motorcycle had waylaid her last November and also recorded the sexual abuse. The incident had triggered protests by students, who demanded better security inside the campus. Police said that the three accused are in their 20s and not students of IIT-BHU.

Former Chief Minister and Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav had tweeted that the ruling party played with the dignity of women and had protected those accused of atrocities. However, officials insist that UP is the safest place in India today despite rising cases of rape, crime and exploitation against women.