1857: Indian Independence: By Aban Chinoy


1857 STRUGGLE FOR INDIAN INDEPENDENCE / INDIA’S FIRST WAR OF INDEPENDENCE:  

It was an uprising against British Rule in India..In Britain and the West it was called as the Indian Mutiny or Indian Revolt of 1857..In India it was considered as the first outbreak /uprising of an independence movement against British rule..The uprising was put down, the methods employed by the British were harsh, a common punishment was to tie the ‘mutineers’ to the mouth of a cannon and then fire the cannon..
The East India Company had upgraded to the new Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifles which used greased paper cartridges..The Sepoys had to bite into the paper and tear it with their teeth in order to open the cartridges and load the rifles..Rumours had begun in 1856 that the grease on these cartridges was made of a mixture of beef tallow and pork lard, this offended both Hindu and Muslim troops..On March 29, 1857 on the parade ground at Barrackpore in Bengal, an Indian Sepoy named Mangal Pandey fired the first shot of the uprising..His unit in the Bengal Army had refused to use the new cartridges for the Enfield rifles and this unit was about to be disarmed and punished, Pandey shot the British sergeant major and a lieutenant..Pandey was put on trial and hanged on April 8,1857..Pandey is considered a hero in the 1857 uprising..The British called all the mutineers as ‘pandies’ as the uprising spread..The British manufacturers soon changed the cartridges in an attempt to calm the spreading anger among the Indian sepoys and the fact that they stopped greasing the cartridges only confirmed the rumours about cow and pig fat, in the minds of the sepoys..
In a large military camp in Meerut, a number of Sepoys of the Third Indian Cavalry of the Bengal army refused to use the new rifle cartridges..The British stripped them of their uniforms and put them in chains..Other sepoys joined in on May 10, 1857 and things became quickly chaotic as mobs attacked British civilians including ladies and children..Since there were no means to spread the message of revolution at that time, the revolutionaries chose to spread their message by circulating roti – the Indian flatbread and a lotus flower to every village..This was an indication that they were going to revolt..The uprising spread to Delhi, Cawnpore, Lucknow and Jhansi.. After capturing Delhi the mutineers proclaimed Bahadur Shah Zafar as the Emperor of all India..Ordinary farmers, peasants and artisans also took up arms to support the sepoys in their fight against the British in order to resist the heavy taxation, evictions, discriminatory tariff policy against Indian products and destruction of traditional handicrafts..
Other regions of the East India Company – controlled India, such as Bengal, the Bombay Presidency and the Madras Presidency remained largely calm..In Punjab, the Sikh princes backed the East India Company by providing soldiers and support..The larger princely states of Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore and Kashmir, as well as the smaller ones of Rajputana did not join this uprising..The Madras army did not help the mutineers, rather they were employed to suppress the mutineers at Cawnpore..Thousands of Marathas of the Bombay army helped in suppressing the revolt..The British recruited for their armed forces native soldiers from those communities which had been neutral, especially the Gurkhas, Rajputs of Rajasthan, Punjabi Muslims and Sikhs..The Bombay army had 3 revolts in its 29 regiments, whilst the Madras army had none at all although elements of one of its 52 regiments refused to volunteer for service in Bengal..54 of the Bengal army’s 74 regular Native Infantry revolted but some were immediately destroyed or broken up..A number of the remaining 20 regiments were disarmed of disbanded..In total only 12 of the original Bengal Native Infantry Regiments survived to pass into the new army..All 10 of the Bengal Light Cavalry Regiments revolted..
In the fighting, some British civilians managed to flee but many were massacred..Fighting in some places continued well into 1858 but the British were ultimately able to establish control..As the Indian sepoys who resisted were captured, they were often killed on the spot..Outraged by the massacres of British civilians, some British officers believed that hanging the sepoys was too humane..They practised the execution method of lashing the mutineer to the mouth of a canyon, then firing the canyon and literally blasting the man to pieces..Sepoys were forced to watch such displays as it was believed to set an example of the horrific death that awaited mutineers..
The leaders in the uprising were: Nana Sahib from Cawnpore (since he was refused pension as he was the adopted son of Peshwa Bajirao II) alongwith Tatya Tope and Azimullah..Begum Hazrat Mahal of Awadh led the uprising from Lucknow, Bakht Khan of the Barreily unit of the army led the command from Delhi and last but not the least Rani Lakshmibai from Jhansi / Jhansi Ki Rani who represents a symbol of resistance to British rule in India..Lord Dalhousie tried to annex her kingdom under the Doctrine of Lapse..Her child had died in infancy and she had adopted a child whose name was Damodar Rao..As per the doctrine of lapse an adopted child did not have the right of accession to the throne thus the kingdom could be annexed to the British East India Company..Rani Lakshmibai was determined to defend Jhansi, she fought valiantly and was even able to acquire Gwalior from the Scindia rulers who were British allies..Rani Lakshmibai was martyred on the battlefield, in the town of Kalpi..Tatya Tope was captured and executed by hanging in 1859..Bahadur Shah Zafar was deported to Rangoon where he died in 1862..Nana Sahib and Begum Hazrat Mahal seemed to have escaped to Nepal..
The uprising was declared over on July 8, 1859..The uprising did not succeed since there was lack of coordination between the leaders thus they could not organise and guide the movement efficiently..Also the military equipment was inferior and there was no regular supply of funds, food and ammunition..Every group in the uprising struggled independently without any joint effort..The 1857 uprising brought an end to the British East India Company that had been active in India for nearly 250 years..Following the fighting of 1857 – 1858, India was legally considered a colony of Britain, ruled by a Viceroy and directly governed by the British Crown as the new British Raj..It also led the British to reorganise the army, the financial system and the administration in India..This post is by Aban Mignonne Chinoy..This post is dedicated to Shashank Misra who lives in Meerut which was the place from where India’s first war of independence started and his narratives of the uprising inspired me to write on it..

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