Today (Saturday the 10th of May 2008) at 18:57 p.m.our Bharatvarsha from Himalayas to Kanyakumari, from Rann of Kutch to the Bay of Bengal, will be paying its homage to the freedom fighters, martyrs and revolutionaries who started the First War of Indian Independence at Meerut in the then United Provinces of Agra and Oudh on the 10th of May 1857.
| Mangal Pandey|
Symbolically at 6.57 p.m. today, millions of Indians will be lighting a lamp or kuthuvillaku and observing a minute silence as a mark of respect and reverence to great freedom fighters like Mangal Pandey, Nana Saheb, Bahadur Shah, Tantia Tope, Rani of Jhansi and many others who heroically and cheerfully offered their lives for the freedom of India in 1857—58.
Most of the British historians like Charles Ball, G.W.Forrest, T.R.Holmes, M.Inns, J.W.Kaye, G.F.Macmunn, G.B.Malleson, C.T.Metcalfe, Earl Roberts and others have mischievously used the white man’s colonial term “Mutiny” to describe the First War of Indian Independence. Sir John Lawrence was of the opinion that the Mutiny had its origin in the Army and its cause was the greased cartridges and nothing else. Sir John Seeley said that “The Mutiny was a wholly unpatriotic and selfish ‘sepoy mutiny’ with no native leadership and no popular support.”
Veer Savarkar, the incomparable patriot and a great son of Bharat Matha was the first historian who in his great work “War of Indian Independence” called the War of 1857 as the “The First War of Indian Independence”.
The sequence of events leading to an open rebellion and revolt at Meerut on 10th of May, 1857, can be summarised as follows. Several months of increasing tension and inflammatory incidents preceded the actual rebellion. Fires, possibly the result of arson, broke out near Calcutta on 24 January 1857. On February 26, 1857 the 19th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) regiment came to know about new cartridges which allegedly had a casing made of cow and pig fat, which had to be bitten off by mouth. The cow being sacred to Hindus and pig haram to Muslims, both Hindu and Muslim soldiers refused to use them. Their English Colonel confronted them angrily with artillery and cavalry on the parade ground, but later accepted their demand to withdraw the artillery, and cancel the next morning’s parade.
The first hero and the first martyr of the War of Indian Independence in 1857 was Mangal Pandey. He was a Brahmin by birth, but he had the spirit of a Kshatreya – the spirit of an undaunted warrior. He loved his religion and Motherland more than his Life. For the sake of these sacred things, he was even willing to throw away his body without any hesitation. On March 29, 1857 at the Barrackpore (now Barrackpur) parade ground, near Calcutta (now Kolkata), 29-year-old Mangal Pandey of the 34th BNI, angered by the recent actions by the British, declared that he would rebel against his Commanders. When his adjutant Lt. Baugh came out to investigate the unrest, Pandey opened fire against him but hit his horse instead. Mangal Pandey called upon his colleagues in the Army to rise in revolt at once. But his friends were not prepared to join him. Mangal Pandey was not a man of patience. He jumped into the parade ground and told his fellow soldiers that they should rise up and drive away the treacherous English enemies out of our Holy Land. One English Sergeant Major Hughson tried to arrest Mangal Pandey. But before he could do so, Pandey’s bullet made him fall on the ground. Soon Lieutenant Baugh came on the scene and Pandey, with his sword, killed him also. Immediately thereafter, Colonel Wheeler arrived and ordered his soldiers to arrest Mangal Pandey. But Indian soldiers refused to do so. Colonel Wheeler was joined by Major General John B. Hearsey, Commanding Officer, Bengal Presidency Division. Thus Mangal Pandey was surrounded by English soldiers on all sides in unbeatable numbers. Mangal Pandey vowed that he would rather die than fall into the hands of the enemy. Therefore he shot himself before the English soldiers could come near him. Unfortunately, he was only wounded and he fell on the ground. Mangal Pandey was arrested. The Britishers tortured Mangal Pandey in order to get exact information about the other revolutionaries who were behind him. But Pandey was not prepared to reveal their names. He decided that he would rather die than reveal their names and betray his Holy Motherland. So Mangal Pandey was ordered to be hanged by Major General John B. Hearsey and his execution was carried out at Barrackpur on 8th of April 1857. A copy of the orders issued by Major General, John B. Hearsey on 18th of April 1857 confirming the execution of Mangal Pandey can be seen below:
Within one month of the execution of Mangal Pandey at Barrackpur in Bengal, the news about his execution spread to all parts of India. Everywhere there was unrest among the soldiers. At Meerut there was a large military cantonment. 2,357 Indian sepoys and 2,038 British troops with 12 British-manned guns were stationed there. Although the state of unrest within
the Bengal Army was well known, on April 24, 1857 the unsympathetic commanding officer of the 3rd Bengal Light
Cavalry at Meerut ordered 90 of his soldiers to parade and perform firing drills. All but five of the men on parade refused to accept their new greased cartridges. On May 9, 1857 the remaining non-co-operating 85 soldiers were court martialled. 74 of them were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labour. 11 comparatively young soldiers were given five years’ imprisonment. The entire garrison was paraded and made to watch the condemned men who were stripped of their uniforms and placed in shackles. As they were being marched off to jail, the condemned soldiers berated their comrades for failing to support them. The very next day, on the 10th of May 1857, an open rebellion broke out at Meerut.
The revolting Meerut soldiers reached Delhi next morning. The local infantry joined them, and together, they killed their own European Officers and seized the City of Delhi from the British East India Company. Delhi became the Centre of the Revolt and Bahadur Shah, the Mughal Emperor, its symbol.
The rebellions sepoys all over the country turned towards Delhi and all the Indian Chiefs who took part in the revolt proclaimed their loyalty to the Mughal Emperor. Bahadur Shah also wrote letters to all the Indian Chiefs and Rulers of India, asking them to organize a confederacy of Indian States to fight and replace the British Regime. Thus began the First War of Indian Independence on 10th of May, 1857. We, as a nation, are paying our homage to the hereos and martyrs of this First War of Indian Independence today.
Veer Savarkar (1883-1966)
When we remember the revolutionaries and martyrs of 1857, we should not fail to recall the fact that it was Veer Savarkar (1883-1966) who immortalized the names of these great freedom fighters in his brilliant and pioneering book “War of Indian Independence” published in the first decade of the 20th century. In Britain, from 1906 to 1908, Savarkar organized all the Indian students and advocated an armed struggle to throw the British out of India. Founding the Free India Society, Savarkar sought to organise fellow Indian students for the goal of independence through revolution:
“We must stop complaining about this British officer or that officer, this law or that law. There would be no end to that. Our movement must not be limited to being against any particular law, but it must be for acquiring the authority to make laws itself. In other words, we want absolute independence.”
Savarkar also wrote his historic book on the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, which he called India’s First War of Independence, a terminology the Indian government accepted after Independence. Savarkar envisioned a type of guerrilla war for Indian independence along the lines of the famous armed Independence Movement of 1857. Savarkar became one of the first writers to describe the revolt of 1857 as the “First War for Independence.” Karl Marx is also said to have referred to the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 as the India’s First War of Independence.
Banned from publication throughout the British Empire, Savarkar managed to smuggle his work on the First War of Indian Independence to expatriate Indian revolutionary Madame Bhikaji Cama, who obtained its successful publication in the Netherlands, France and Germany. The second edition was published by Indians in the US. Later Bhagat Singh printed the third edition.Widely smuggled and circulated, Veer Savarkar’s book attained great popularity in all parts of the world. This great work influenced rising young Indians and future revolutionaries, including Subhash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh. Translations of Veer Savarkar’s book on the 1857 War, were a big success. The Punjabi and Urdu translations of his book travelled far and wide while the Tamil translation became mandatory reading for the Tamil soldiers (who are in majority) of Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army between 1943 to 1945.
The War of 1857 was the first nationwide, organized and well-planned attempt to overthrow the British rule, launched by the people of India under the leadership of various kings, rulers and feudal lords from Kandahar to Kamakhya and Kashmir to Kanyakumari. As R.C. Majumdar has rightly pointed out, the fire of revolution spread from Kolhapur in the South to Peshawar in the North, Gujarat in the West to Bihar in the East. And it was ‘continual upsurge of a popular character’. Azimullah Khan, the right hand man of Nana Saheb Peshwa, and Rangoji Bapu, the emissary of Satara Kingdom met in London to chalk out a detailed plan. Rangoji travelled to Turkey, Russia, and Egypt to seek support for the revolution in India. Azimullah and Nanasaheb travelled throughout the country to contact various kings, chieftains and feudal lords for a nationwide uprising. He travelled to Varanasi, Prayag, Bateswar, Gaya, Puri, Panchavati, Rameswaram, Dwaraka, Nasik, Abu, Ujjain, Badri and Kamrup and visited army camps to inspire the soldiers. Nana Saheb also wrote hundreds of letters to the kings and feudal lords regarding the preparations for the revolution. Nana had also raised a fund of five lakh pounds and deposited in British Banks for the purpose of revolution. The circulation of ‘lotus’ among the self-respecting and patriotic soldiers in the army camps of the British rulers and ‘chappatis’ among rural people all over the country to alert them for the uprising was an amazing feat.
The martyrdom and self-sacrifice of the great heroes and heroines of 1857 War of Independence has been written in golden letters in the annals of Indian history. Even today, the children in the remote villages of northern India sing the glory of the heroes and martyrs in ballads and folk songs. Among them, the name of Jhansi Rani Lakshmibai has been immortalized by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan whose immortal song, “Khoob ladee mardaanee…Vah tho Jhansi wali Raanee thee” is on the lips of every Hindi speaking child of Bharat.
To Conclude in the most inspiring words of Sadhu Rangarajan: ‘Everyone sings the glory of Hinduism, the Vedas and Upanishads and the Puranas and Itihasas, but keep away when it is a question of fight to protect the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya or the Ram Setu in Rameswaram or for the rights of the Hindus in this Hindu Nation. When will Mother Bharat give birth to valiant sons and daughters and true sadhus and sants once again? When will Hindu society learn the lessons from past history and when will they proudly proclaim that this is their Eternal Motherland, the Hindu Nation, Bharatavarsha? Time alone could answer! Vande Mataram!’