The Scottish Cemetery Project, Kolkata (Calcutta), West Bengal, India
A heritage project in Kolkata, India, aims to restore a Scottish cemetery which is almost two centuries old and is the final resting place of many Scots who emigrated to West Bengal in the 19th-century.
The Scottish Cemetery was laid out in Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1820. It contains 1,600 headstones and monuments and 4,000 burials. Although it continued in use after Indian Independence it fell into disrepair in the 1970s. In 2008 the Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust (KSHT) was established to restore the cemetery.
KSHT has cleared four acres of jungle, restored the gatehouse, graded and landscaped 70% of the site, assessed the condition of most of the monuments, developed skills training workshops, and opened a technical advice centre. Recently we have drawn up an urban regeneration plan, carried out a detailed social survey, and started a community engagement programme. We are halfway through digitising 130 years of burial entries.
The project is in the centre of Kolkata, one of India’s largest cities with a population of 14 million, estimated to reach 20 million by 2025. Kolkata is one of the world’s most congested cities with a core population density of 95,000 people per sq km. It has the highest primacy ratio of any Indian city, and draws its migrants from West Bengal and the neighbouring states of Bihar, Assam and Orissa. Its migration hinterland is in excess of 200 million people.
The cemetery is an important repository of memory containing thousands of detailed burial records. This data is providing a rich source for research into the growth and worldwide impact of the Scottish Diaspora in the 19th century.
The project provides an important opportunity for Scottish conservation expertise to be transferred to India to assist in the care of cultural heritage. KSHT arranges regular capacity-building courses in Scotland for our Kolkata-based architects. We have sponsored the establishment of a technical advice centre for traditional construction technologies in Kolkata, one of the first in India.
The cemetery is also a vital green space in the midst of one of the world’s most congested cities. We aim to restore the site as a public park for the benefit of the surrounding community.
The project is run by a board of trustees operating as a registered Scottish charity via a MoU with the site owner. It is supervised in India by a qualified conservation architect overseeing a team of archaeologists, engineers, urban designers and social scientists. KSHT raises funds from private donors, charitable trusts and foundations. Each year we spend £30,000-40,000 to maintain the project.
Our training workshops provided hands-on experience in traditional construction craft skills, measured drawing and materials analysis for undergraduates studying architecture, archaeology and urban planning. The project also provides a focus for a deeply deprived neighbourhood. KSHT runs courses in the cemetery gatehouse in family healthcare and child development. We have organised a contact group to give residents better access to the municipal authorities.
KSHT is currently fundraising to establish a masonry workshop in Kolkata to improve standards of conservation, restore the cemetery monuments and provide accredited vocational training in traditional construction skills.
Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust is a registered Scottish charity No SC 039917