At the altar of development

In the early 1970s, as the landscapes of Kochi were undergoing significant changes, around 100 Christian families from Perumanoor near Ravipuram moved to a new settlement. Most of them came out of their homes with heavy hearts. More discouraging to them was the fact that the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows at Varavukkattu in Perumanoor and the cemetery attached to it also had to be moved.

An aerial view of the Cochin Shipyard construction yard in 1971 (right) The current shipyard

When they left Perumanoor, many of them grabbed a handful of dirt from the cemetery, where their ancestors were buried, and took it with them. On January 16, 1972, Our Lady of Sorrows Church, now known as Ambikapuram Church, was opened in Panampilly Nagar, with an adjacent cemetery. This year in January, parishioners began the church’s eight-month Golden Jubilee celebrations. The celebration committee decided to release a book on the history of the church.

Among the families who moved there were also people of other religions. The history of the church is also connected with the history of the Cochin shipyard, as it was to make way for the shipyard that the residents of Perumanoor voluntarily left.

“The Japanese engineers who arrived in Kochi to finalize the shipyard site in the late 1960s, focused on the area surrounding the Perumanoor Church. In their view, there was no better place to Kochi to build a shipyard. Although the locals were not ready to relocate, the priests and community leaders convinced them to move to a new settlement in view of the wider interest of society,” David said. Parambithara, a Congress leader and former adviser to Kochi Corporation.

“Although the shipyard authorities took over the land of more than 300 families, they did not demolish all the buildings and houses. They kept as many structures as possible, which were used as quarters for shipyard officials,” Parambithara said. The area acquired for the shipyard was a bustling commercial and residential area. “Ernakulam South Police Station was on land reclaimed for the shipyard. Near the church stood a market around which the life of the inhabitants revolved. An arrack shop was another landmark in the area,” he said. In addition, there was a workshop, a cinema hall, a hotel, a grog shop and even a small station on the premises acquired for the shipyard. “The Atlantis Hotel, one of the main hotels in town at the time, was in the neighborhood,” he said.

Former Kochi Mayor Soumini Jain recalled that his mother’s ancestral home was among those abandoned for the shipyard. “About 15 houses and properties belonging to the Kottyezhathu family – my mother’s family – have been acquired,” Jain said. “A very wide road ran through the dockyard and in British times the kings and the viceroy would use it. Even after the dockyard took over the land, the road was accessible to the public. been closed for security reasons,” she said.

The evicted family members were offered jobs in the shipyard. “I joined the shipyard in 1980 and retired two years ago. I was able to witness various events leading up to its construction,” said Victor Stephen, whose family was among those evicted. “When I joined the shipyard, I stopped at our house which had become the civil servants’ accommodation. I would tell them once we owned the house,” Stephen said. “The house of Chakola, a well-known family in Perumanoor, is still in the premises of the shipyard. It once served as an office at the shipyard,” he said. “In the late 1960s, local residents and young people staged a protest against the delay in building the shipyard. Young leaders like lawyer Jacob Pallan and KM Roy (journalist) made a replica of the ship using paper and wood. It was as big as a fishing boat. The plan was to set it sail in the backwaters after organizing a march through the city streets. But the police resisted this decision and put the vessel under sail in the backwaters of the Venduruthy Bridge,” Stephen said.

Ambikapuram church authorities and members of the church’s Golden Jubilee celebrations organizing committee plan to obtain as many ancient documents as possible to recreate the history of Perumanoor. “We are releasing a book that can offer insights into the history of Perumanoor. We would collect village records and other details,” said a member of the organizing committee. Once their attempt bears fruit, it will shed more light on a bygone era and Kochi on its own transition path.



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.


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