Assam: Armenian Church in Dhubri or a Ladies’ Club?
The debate still continues amongst the denizens of Dhubri town over a rickety cottage on PM Dutta Bahadur Road, opposite the Queen Victoria statue, two years after what was believed to be the rediscovery of an “Armenian Church” in 2018.
While many believe it to be just an old Assam-type house that was established as a “Ladies’ Club” during the British period and is still being used as such, the elderly locals of the town claim that it was an Armenian Church before the British occupation. Its obscure past and unique architecture has drawn the curiosity of several heritage enthusiasts.
According to the 1901 Census Report at least five Armenians were listed as living in Dhubri and as per sources there were at least 12 to 15 Armenian graves and among them were two of children. But despite the rising curiosity, there remains a severe lack of “documentary evidence” of the structure ever been a church, despite the efforts of many to find it. So far, the only evidence has been secondary, and at best, based on hearsay.
The issue of rediscovering the church was first brought in front of the public by a Dhubri-based journalist Bijoy Kumar Sarma in 2015. Since then, it has been a matter of public debate. Sarma quoted several old Dhubri residents, amongst them remains renowned numismatist Sankar Kumar Bose, who is currently based in Kolkata but was born in Dhubri in 1937, is the pursuit of evidence.
He also quoted Lilly Chand, the secretary of the Ladies’ Club. According to Chand, after the church was abandoned, British then living in Dhubri town started the Ladies’ Club in 1935.
The cottage certainly has architectural features that bear resemblance with the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth in Kolkata. The stained arch-shaped glass windows and a centrally placed triangular dome are a few similarities.
This debate also took form of a legal dispute between the Ladies’ Club and state government over the land the structure stands on. On August 2018, the Gauhati High Court ruled that the land would be shared by both the Ladies’ Club and the Dhubri District Museum, and that the Ladies’ Club that would continue to function out of the cottage.
Meanwhile, the cottage even today, remains in a battered condition with a broken gate and a broken lock and a garage constructed on the previously disputed land.
As put correctly by a nearby resident "putting aside the debate of whether the structure was an Armenian Church or a Ladies’ Club, it is a heritage building that must be protected immediately.”