In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, on 15 July, a general ward in Hyderabad’s 95-year-old Osmania General Hospital was flooded with ankle-deep water following heavy rainfall. Videos of the flooding soon began circulating on social media, showing hospital staff desperately pushing water out as packets of personal protective equipment floated nearby. Thirty patients from the inundated wards were shifted to another ward on the second floor of the already packed hospital, after state-response teams arrived.
Osmania hospital is one of the only tertiary hospitals in old city, home to nearly half of Hyderabad’s total population. The Telangana government’s various failures in dealing with the pandemic, including its low testing rate and the underreporting of cases, are likely more pronounced in the old city, which is poorer and more densely populated. Despite this, on 25 July, the state government said it would begin a consultation process with legislators to order the demolition of the Osmania General Hospital.
The hospital is a historical landmark and a key feature of the architecture of the old city. I have grown up all over the world and currently live in New York, but I have returned to Hyderabad nearly every year of my life. In each visit, there is one sight I know I can rely on to greet me on my approach to the old city: the cascading domes of the regal Osmania General Hospital on the banks of the Musi river. Like the hospital, many of Hyderabad’s most important landmarks date back to the reign of the city’s last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan. The Nizam has left an indelible imprint on Hyderabad, whose streets were a maze of Indo-Saracenic architecture that gave the city its distinctive identity. With the progressive erasure of its Nizamate past falling into disrepair, the past century has not been kind to this heritage. Recent governments have furthered this process by frequently demolishing buildings of this era for infrastructure or out of a short-sighted reimagining of the identity of the city.