1857: The geographical spread
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1857: Beyond north India
1857 not confined to north India
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The 1857 uprising was not confined to north India
New research reveals that the 1857 uprising encompassed not only the entire Indian subcontinent but also several castes, communities and classes. Bahadur Shah Zafar’s August 1857 Delhi manifesto is path-breaking. It has separate sections dealing with material benefits accruing to peasants, landlords, merchants, public servants, artisans as well as pundits, fakirs and other learned persons. The attempt to move beyond religion and caste is clear. A proclamation issued in Lucknow in Birjees Qadar’s name is even more tantalising — it goes on to claim incredibly that “persons of a lower order such as sweeper, Chumar, Dhanook or Passee” can claim equality with upper castes.
The geographical breadth of the uprising is equally spectacular. It is commonly believed that Sikhs, incensed by the Poorabia sepoys’ pro-British role during the two Anglo-Sikh wars in the 1840s helped the colonial rulers in crushing the Delhi and Lucknow rebellions. However, documents in the Patna archives reveal that there was a plan even in the 1840s of a Poorabia sepoy mutiny in conjunction with the Khalsa army.
The Khalsa army
By 1857, the Khalsa army stood disbanded — Sikh soldiers sent to fight against Bahadur Shah’s army all came from the pro-British cis-Sutlej areas. Nineteenth century Ropar district records state that Mohar Singh, an ex-Khalsa army veteran, proclaimed in 1857 a Khalsa Raj, with express instructions of overall fidelity to Bahadur Shah. Then in Varanasi and Jaunpur, the Ludhiana Regiment revolted; ex-Khalsa soldiers were active in several Punjab ‘mutinies’, especially in Sialkot, Peshawar and Lahore. Punjabi Muslims and Pathans, said to be antagonistic both to Sikhs and Poorabias, actually undertook anti-British military action.
Jammu, Kashmir, Peshawar, Himachal
From 1857 to 1860, in Narinji and Murree near Peshawar, Pathan revolutionaries fought the British in an organised manner. Pathan action resonated as far as Jammu, Kashmir and Himachal — Mian Jamiat, step-brother of the pro-British Jammu Raja, was captured and killed. Gohar Aman, the ruler of Yasin in present-day PoK, came down with his army to affect a junction with mutinous 55th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) sepoys soon after the ‘mutiny’ of Gurkha Sepoys in Juteg and Kasauli, a ‘rebel’ ruler carrying Bahadur Shah’s firmaan appeared in Kangra. By 1858, even cis-Sutlej states reported widespread restlessness, leading the 10th Punjab Infantry, posted at Dera Ismail Khan in present-day Pakistan, to actually rebel in August 1858.
Indian ‘Pillars of the British Raj’
Well-off Jat peasants of Haryana and western UP, said to constitute ‘pillars of the British Raj’, also threw off the foreign yoke. Even after Delhi’s fall, the entire Rohtak-Sirsa-Hissar-Gurgaon tract remained free of British rule — Jats, Gujjars, Ranghars and Mewatis supported the Saharanpur-Muzaffarnagar jehad-e-Shamli set in motion by Muslims who were followers of Shah Waliullah, a radical 18th century Delhi cleric. Mewatis, Bhils and Meenas supported the revolutionary Awa (Marwar), Kota and Tonk movements in Rajasthan. Even as Jodhpur, Jaipur and Udaipur rulers tilted towards the British, the anti-British movement took on a decided anti-royalty stance. The anti-British Bhil impulse spilled over to Malwa in central India and Khandesh in present-day Maharashtra.
On June 14, 1857, the Aurangabad rising woke the British to the possibility of the uprising affecting Bombay, Madras and various loyalist armies like the Nizam’s Hyderabad Contingent. Satara followed with Rango Bapoji, the Satara raja’s secretary, organised a Ramoshi-Koli-Maratha Kunbi militia in the Western Ghats. In July 1857, the Hyderabad rising saw anti-Nizam Rohilla Pathans collaborating with Hadhrami Arab warrior/traders and Hindu Kayasthas. On July 31, 1857, the 27th Bombay Infantry mutinied in Kolhapur and headed straight to Ratnagiri and Savantvaadi, two old centres of Maratha resistance.
Konkan and the South
From 1858 to 1860, a regular guerilla war spearheaded by Mahar, Maratha and Poorabia sepoys, as well as Konkan Bhandaris and Chitpavan Brahmins, raged all along the Indian west coast in the Raigad-Mangalore belt. Further south in Malabar, Moplah Muslim and Nambuthiri Brahmin agitators were arrested for unleashing anti-British propaganda. In Madras Presidency areas, seditious pamphlets urging sepoys to mutiny were found in every military station from Arcot to Madurai. In September 1857, the 8th Madras Cavalry mutinied in Vaniyambadi, a place near Salem. The Madras army turbulence saw several desertions and major conspiracies to incite 12th and 37th Madras Infantry troops in Singapore, Hong Kong and China. A major civil rising along the east coast, in the Godavari-Andhra region, saw Girijan adivasis collaborating with anti-British Reddy landlords. Every Andhra-Telangana district was affected — in Vidarbha and Madhya Pradesh, the Gond movement enveloped the entire Chandrapur-Mandla-Raipur tract.
In Karachi and Shikapur, the 21st Bombay Infantry revolted and in Gujarat, there were risings along the entire north-south stretch from Patan to Surat. Godhra, Dahod, Idar and Rajpipla remained free from British control for months. In Saurashtra, the Okhamandal-Dwarika area produced the only instance of anti-British naval resistance, which continued till the 1860s.
In Assam, Mani Ram Dewan, a major tea entrepreneur, was implicated in an anti-British conspiracy to install Ahom chief Kandarpeshwar Singha on the throne with help from Assam Infantry sepoys. After mutinying at Chittagong, 34th BNI sepoys moved to Silchar, Cachar and Manipur to seek help from Narendrajit Singh, the Manipur ruler’s brother. Naga and Meghalaya warriors also extended help.
In sum, there was no part of India that was unaffected by the uprising.
The writer is a historian.
1857: The geographical spread
1857 R ISIN G REVISITED
Malegaon to Mauritius: On the trail of 1857
150 Years Of The Great Indian Uprising
The gleaming towers of Singapore are a far remove from the squalor of Malegaon, but a common historical thread runs through both, as it does through habitats as diverse as Mauritius and Jabalpur, the powerloom townships of Malegaon and Bhiwandi and the Muslim quarters of Madanpura and Mominpura in Mumbai.
All the above-mentioned were destinations for the refugees of 1857. They came by bullock-cart and boat, by train and on foot, fleeing not only the revenge of the Company but, in many cases, the feudal oppression of the old order.
In the aftermath of the May Rising, when additional forces of British troops had been hurriedly despatched from England, the retrieval of the northern plains was executed without mercy. The main targets of the suppression were the Muslim ulema, weavers and peasants, since the British blamed them for being the masterminds behind the revolt, but the fury of the advancing armies was so terrible that no one was left unscathed and sometimes entire villages were set ablaze. Families of weavers fled from Azamgarh, Maunath Bhanjan, Mau Aima, Mubarakpur, Barabanki, Allahabad, Lucknow, Benaras, Kanpur, Tanda, Faizabad and Basti, all of them heading for the Agra Highway, which snaked down to the Deccan.
Along the way, the refugees sought protection in domains loyal to Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Maheshwar, on the banks of the Narmada and a seat of power for the Holkar dynasty, was a major stop. The then ruler Ahilyabai allowed a large workforce to settle in her territory. Further down the road came Burhanpur, a fertile belt close to the Tapi river, and on to Dhule, Jalgaon and Malegaon in northern Maharashtra.
Bhiwandi, where the road nearly ended, proved to be a promised land of sorts, with its healthy economy and railway line running all the way to Bombay. Some families even moved into the heart of the city, to Madanpura and Mominpura, which in fact gets its name from the Momin weavers of UP.
Mauritius, at that time, was a plantation colony under the British and in need of sugarcane labour. The flow of indentured labour intensified after the revolt. Migration figures are not recorded, but a Mauritian family that had migrated from Bhojpur, has records of a ship crammed with more than 500 Bhojpuris, embarking from the Kerala coast.
Writer Amaresh Misra, in his soon-to-bepublished book ‘War of Civilisations: India 1857’ points out that this Bhojpuri provenance manifests itself in popular culture. ‘‘The local language in Mauritius, Creole, is a patois of French with notes of Bhojpuri — for example, in the song ‘Hamre avion mein chal jo’ or the other common usage for ‘I love you’, ‘Je t’aime va’, where a ‘va’ is added in the way that Bhojpuri speakers say riskva or chalva,’’ he says.
Misra’s research also throws light on the migration to Singapore in 1859, when about 600 families from Gorakhpur fled to Siwan in Bihar, and on to Darbhangha and then to Calcutta. ‘‘The minister of Darbhanga financed their trip to Singapore,’’ says Misra. ‘‘In Singapore, the refugees stayed with the boat people of Malay origin, called the Orang laut. It was only years later that they got jobs as labourers and were given land plots in the Kampong Glam area in the eastern part of the island. Their descendants are still there. Many of them are still not rich and classified as working class, but others have broken out and live in the better parts of town.’’
News of the Sepoy Mutiny first appeared on Page 12 of the May 12, 1857 edition of The Times Of India
MUMBAI’S MANGAL AND OTHER MUTINIES
When The North Was Consumed By Violence, Mumbai And Its Surroundings Were Calm—But Not Untouched
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Mumbai’s role in the 1857 mutiny can best be described as modest, but it would be unfair to say that this bustling port town with its mercantile survivor instinct was completely untouched by the slash and burn.
As a city with commerce in its veins, Bombay reacted characteristically to the news of the Rising: its stock market bucked. Wrote Karl Marx, who covered the mutiny for the New York Tribune, long distance from London, “An immediate panic seized the native capitalists, very large sums were withdrawn from the banks, Government securities proved almost unsalable, and hoarding to a great extent commenced, not only in Bombay but in its environs also.’’
Apart from this wholly natural reflex action, there were at least two sensational mutiny-related events that shook the native town to its foundations. The first was a grim cautionary lesson to prospective mutineers, handed out by the maverick police chief of the time, Charles Forjett, who ordered that two sepoys be tied to mouth of cannon and blown to bits. The other, was the charge of sedition brought against the wealthiest and most distinguished Hindu businessman of the time, the Maharashtrian banker Jagannath Shankarshet, who was implicated in a conspiracy despite enjoying the trust of the Governor Lord Elphinstone himself. In the case of Shankarshet, Forjett once again played a crucial role, but this time it was to exonerate not explode.
His swarthy complexion and black hair suggesting parentage that was not all British, Forjett was fluent in the local language, an expert at disguise, and often walked the streets to eavesdrop on conversations to get a sense of trouble brewing. This grassroots intelligence rarely failed him, and during the mutiny months he was more than ever on his guard. Writes historian M D David, “So tense was the atmosphere that when rumours of an outbreak of the mutiny swept the city many Europeans of Colaba fled their homes seeking shelter in the ships in the harbour, returning only when the rumours were dispelled.”
It came to Forjett’s ears that there was growing disaffection in the infantry and that surreptitious meetings were being held in the home of one Ganga Prasad. Blacked up and in native dress, Forjett is said to have stolen to the house in Sonapur (near Marine Lines) and heard, through a breach in the wall, the group plotting a Diwali attack on the firangis.
Forjett moved swiftly. He had two men, whom he described as the ‘ring-leaders’ arrested. The sepoys were court martialled at Fort St George and pronounced guilty. On October 15, at 4.30 pm on the Esplanade, the two conspirators, the strapping Drill Havaldar Sayed Hussein of the Marine Battalion and Sepoy Mangal Guddrea of the 10th Native Indian Regiment, were trussed with their backs to two cannon. The findings of the court were read out, the order delivered in a thundering voice, and as David writes, “There was a sharp report, a sudden flash of fire and when the clouds of smoke blew away there lay scattered the bloody remnants of the two men.”
The macabre execution took place in front of packed crowds, both Indian and European, and was Forjett’s way of broadcasting the message that any dissent would be dealt with in similar fashion.
History came round full circle a whole century later, when in Independent India, the Esplanade was renamed Azad Maidan to memorialise the numerous freedom speeches made here by Mahatma Gandhi and others. Unwittingly, but fittingly, the re-naming tributes Mumbai’s martyrs of the First War of Independence, its very own Mangal.
In those times, the practice of blowing up criminals was reserved for the most depraved atrocities. When Muslim sepoys in Delhi killed a cow and wanted to turn their swords on the kafir population, the normally mild emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, issued an order that if any cows were killed or Hindus touched, the culprits would be tied to a cannon and blown up. This order is said to have kept Delhi’s Hindu population safe.
Meanwhile in Mumbai, there were rumblings from the hinterland. From Pune came reports of placards being strung up declaring that all Europeans should be murdered and Rs 5,000 offered as reward for the Governor’s head. The man behind this move was supposedly the Peshwa, Nana Saheb, and Jaganath Shankarshet was accused of being in cahoots with him. Shankarshet protested he was being framed by European vested interests. The story of his implication and the consternation it caused is told is some detail in Gangadhar Gadgil’s biographical novel Prarambh. Forjett, who was in charge of the investigation, came to the conclusion that Shankarshet was not guilty.
But Amaresh Misra’s book on 1857, which will soon be published, says that Shankarshet was in police custody for 11 days and even hints at ill-treatment. Says Misra, “In a family memoir, Baburao Paradkar, a descendant of Shankarshet, says that his forefather was in Forjett’s custody, and that when he came out we all knew that ‘unke saath durvivhar hua hai’. In fact, the truth is that Shankarshet was very much in touch with Nana Saheb, and Forjett did find some incriminating documents but there was a compromise and things were worked out.’’
STONE SALUTE: Jagannath Shankarshet is memorialised on a roundel at CST
RED COATS AND REVOLUTION: The Relief of Lucknow & the Triumphant Meeting of Havelock, Outram & Sir Colin Campbell. Painted by T Jones Barker. From the Osian’s Archive
1857 ‘We have no kisses for cowards’
Meerut: That the sepoys in Meerut and other towns were ready to revolt has been suspected for a while. But the sepoys might have been goaded to action by the taunts of the prostitutes in the Sadar bazaar of the city.
On the evening of May 9, after 85 sepoys of the 3rd Light Infantry were publicly humiliated and sent to prison, some of their fellow soldiers were seen in the brothels of the Sadar bazaar. It was not uncommon for the sepoys, many of whom spent long periods of time away from their families, to show up at the brothels. But that evening they were particularly shaken after the humiliation meted out to their comrades.
However, the prostitutes refused to entertain the sepoys and sent them packing. One of the prostitutes present there was Dolly, the widow of a British sergeant who had been driven out of the cantonment. She said, “We told the sepoys that we have no kisses for cowards. We asked them if they were really men to allow their comrades to be fitted with anklets of iron and led off to prison? And for what? Because they would not swerve from their creed!”
Another prostitute from Kashmir, Sophie, added that the unanimous cry among the prostitutes was: “Go and rescue your comrades before coming to us for kisses.”
Interestingly, a similar taunt — but by a low caste labourer — could have sparked the unrest in Bengal earlier this year. According to sources, in January 1857, a labourer asked a sepoy for a drink of water from his lota. The sepoy, a Brahmin from Awadh, refused saying he would lose his caste. The labourer then shot back, “You will soon lose your caste altogether. For the Europeans are going to make you bite cartridges soaked in cow and pork fat. And then where will your caste be?” — RS
1857 Brits debated destroying Delhi
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New Delhi: Imagine India without Delhi. In the aftermath of the 1857 uprising, the British actively pondered over the unthinkable. It’s little known that the British intensely debated destroying the city completely as retribution for the revolt.
Historian Narayani Gupta, who specialises in Delhi during the period, writes that as late as April 1858, John Lawrence, the chief commissioner of Punjab, ‘‘was not sure whether the government of India wished the city to exist’’. She adds that only in May that year did the secretary of state agree with Lawrence that ‘‘the political objectives to be gained by destroying the Palace will be gained by occupying it’’.
So the city and the Red Fort survived, but radical changes were wrought. A lot of buildings and structures inside Lal Qila had been blown up before Lord Canning, who had then been made Viceroy, ordered in 1860 that buildings ‘‘of architectural or historical interest’’ in the fort be preserved.
By then, the army had occupied large parts of the fort and the barracks — once described as the ‘‘most hideous structures in the whole of Delhi’’ — were coming up there.
The city itself changed in more substantial ways. One of the first British acts after the recapture was to de-people Delhi. Mirza Ghalib writes in his ‘Dastanbui’, ‘‘When the angry lions entered the town, they killed the helpless...and burned houses.... Hordes of men and women, commoners and noblemen, poured out of Delhi from the three gates and took shelter in small communities and tombs outside the city.’’ Ghalib lived in Ballimaran, which along with Katra Neel, was one of the few localities to be spared the terror. But outside the walls, many Delhiites died of starvation and exposure.
A few months after the recapture, General Pelham Burn informed Lawrence that ‘‘Delhi is nearly cleared of its inhabitants’’.
Most of the Muslim inhabitants weren’t allowed to return and their properties were auctioned off. ‘‘Many Muslims of Delhi had to settle in qasbas and bastis outside Shahjahanabad, namely Paharganj, Mehrauli and Nizamuddin,’’ says Gupta, whose book, ‘Delhi Between Two Empires’, captures the times. ‘‘The river side of Daryaganj, where havelis of Muslim noblemen had stood, was converted into a cantonment which existed till 1909.’’
Before the uprising, Delhi had a cosmopolitan character with Europeans living alongside the Indians — albeit mostly in the tony area around Kashmiri Gate. This too changed after 1857. Civil Lines, north of Kashmiri Gate, was created as a White residential area away from the city and quite distinct from it.
Sadar Bazaar, now the major wholesale centre of Delhi, came up at Jahanuma, outside the walls, to service the large army now consciously being maintained within the city. The area flourished and led onward march of the city to the north.
The uprising also hastened the arrival of railways in Delhi. The first line connecting the city to Calcutta was completed in 1866. This brought more people into the city, leading to development of areas like Bada Hindu Rao and helped the city’s growth as a commercial centre.
In many senses, as Gupta points it, the mutiny changed Delhi from a city structured according to the imagination of Emperor Shah Jahan to the wholesale and retail centre that it is today.
The desolate surroundings of the Jama Masjid in 1865, shot by Samuel Bourne. The Jama Masjid was almost destroyed as a mark of imperial supremacy. It was used as barracks for soldiers and the prayer halls as stables for cavalry horses. The building was given back to Muslims for prayers only in 1862
TIMES NEWS NETWORK, 26 Aug. 21
Passing by Delhi Gate located in Najafgarh, the Delhi Metro station there and the jheel (lake), it is hard to imagine this is the site of the battle of Najafgarh, when Indian sepoys and British soldiers fought each other on August 25, 1857 during India’s first war of independence.
The southernmost and westernmost stations of the train network, Ballabhgarh and Najafgarh were at that point in history a part of the kingdom of Raja Nahar Singh, a key figure in the battle of Najafgarh. He was among those who were later sentenced to death by the British.
On the day, British forces led by Johnson Nicholson fought the combined forces of the sepoys of Bareilly and the Nimach Brigade, making it one of the most significant stands by Indian soldiers during the siege of Delhi. It is believed that there were over 800 casualties in the battle.
1857 A MALEGAON STORY
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With its Muslim profile and powerloom economy, Malegaon in Maharastra is a child of 1857. Community elders who have been handed down tales of the slaughter that engulfed Meerut, Awadh and Lucknow, have not forgotten their Gadr origins, and with the 150th anniversary commemoration, memories are stirring once again.
Ninety-one-year-old Basheer Adeeb’s grandfather, Kallu Haji and his two sons Mohammed Usman and Mohammed Sultan, joined the river of migrants that flowed out of the United Provinces. Ironically, it was transportation technology introduced by the British, the railways, that helped the weavers and peasants in their flight. “My grandfather told me they used bullock carts and trains to leave Uttar Pradesh,’’ said Adeeb, who has written a book on Malegaon’s history. “The trains came up to Burhanpur (in Madhya Pradesh) and after that they had to walk. Burhanpur was the weavers’ first shelter town. Some stayed on, others kept on towards Jabalpur, Nagpur, Kampti, Shahda, Dhule, Malegaon, Yeola, Bhiwandi, and their last stop, Mominpura and Madanpura in Bombay.’’
Apart from the advancing bayonets of the East India Company it was also exploitation by the zamindars that the peasants wanted to escape. “The weavers did not even have the right to name their own children,’’ said Adeeb. When their wives gave birth a a child, the zamindar had to be consulted. He would typically brand the children with degrading names like Buddhu, Chhedan, Kallu, Kallan, or Khaddu. When the zamindar found out my grandfather had named his sons Usman and Sultan, he was furious. My grandfather was tied to a tree and lashed for having the audacity to name his children on his own. This was the reason my grandfather decided to leave.’’
The migration did not take place in one single burst but was spread over years. Once a family reached Malegaon, word was sent back to those still in Awadh or Lucknow, telling them to join—a family pattern that is still followed by migrants who flock to big cities for jobs.
It was not as if Malegaon had not existed before 1857. The local fort built in 1765 by the Marathas indicates it was already an important centre. However, its powerloom economy is a result of the migrant weaver population. Since the first census was conducted only in 1881 (Malegaon then had 10,622 people) there are no pre-1857 figures to compare the expansion in population or to record the influx of refugees. Adeeb says about 75 families settled in Malegaon after the gadar, in the Sangmeshwar, Islampura, Rasoolpura and Belbaug areas.
Until 1857, there were only six mosques in Malegaon—today the town boasts 250, as well as the biggest Islamic education institution for girls and the biggest Muslim cemetery in the country, where the September 8, 2006 bomb blasts took place killing 25.
The most dramatic event in the modern history of Malegaon was the arrival of electricity in 1936. Today Malegaon has around one lakh powerloom machines and 80 per cent of the city’s four lakh population is dependent on this industry. But there are those who have turned their back on electricity and stuck to the old craft of handlooms.
Mohammed Toufique, whose grandfather migrated from Bara Banki in UP after the mutiny, still runs a handloom outfit in Ramzanpura on the outskirts of Malegaon. “My father used to say handlooms should not be replaced by powerlooms. This is the reason I still operate a handloom at this age,’’ said the 77-year-old weaver, who supplies cotton to the town’s doctors for dressing wounds.
The arrival of electricity turned Malegaon’s weavers into merchants and businessmen and ushered in a prosperity that they have never dreamed of. Adeeb’s grandfather had arrived from Allahabad in his kurta-pyjama with two children. Today, Adeeb’s family has 110 members, they own several powerloom units and shops and one of his sons is an American citizen with a clinic in Texas. It’s been a long journey.
Mohammed Toufique, whose grandfather migrated from Barabanki, still runs a handloom outfit in his memory
1857: Punjab and its battles
Dawn September 23, 2007
EXCERPT: Punjab and its battles
The monograph highlights the part played by Punjab in the Great Revolution of 1857, against the East India Company’s forces.
The colonial power was extra cautious and over enthusiastic in dealing with situations at different places in Punjab lest matters went out of hand.
THE intensity and level with which the revolution started and went on in some parts of India — especially the northwest, east and the centre — was not to be witnessed in most of the areas of Punjab. It almost remained oblivious of that thrust, which had put the whole of English army and the commands on the back foot. However, the British seemed so much bitten with ‘a movement unforeseen, undreamt of, sudden and swift in its action’ that they were scared to death and in most cases overreacted to the slightest of the rumour, or a chance, of anything that could brew to become a revolt of that scale. Punjab had only been run over in 1849, but Sir Charles Napier had seen the seeds of revolt in its army here just a year after that. It, therefore, seemed quite natural that the colonial power was extra cautious and over- enthusiastic in dealing with situations at different places in Punjab lest matters went out of hand.
Punjab was also boiling as much with the feelings of hatred or revenge for the English. However, its influential classes as also the Sikhs and Pathans, quite on the contrary, were helping with men, material and money the usurping forces in crushing the movement of freedom being actively run by both Hindus and Muslims in other parts. Its English part was especially very pronounced in subduing Delhi and heralding an end to the very symbol of Free India in the shape of the Mughal king.
While dilating on the relative inaction of Punjab in executing any mutiny of immense reckoning, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), Muslim educator, jurist, author and a contemporary historian, in his pamphlet ‘Causes of the Indian Revolt’ (published in 1859) enumerates a number of reasons for this lukewarm show of fervour — or rather anti-movement stance in many cases. He writes: ===’ The Mohammedans’ ‘The Mohammedans there had been greatly oppressed by the Sikhs, and had received no injury at the hands of the British. When the British first took the country, oppression was rife. This was decreasing dayday, whilst the contrary was the case in Hindustan proper. The whole of Punjab, when first annexed, was disarmed and thus the weapons necessary for rebellion were not forthcoming. The Sikhs too, though not so wealthy as in former days, had still sufficient to live upon, chiefly from monies, which they had inherited. The poverty, which was rife in Hindustan, had not yet had time to become rife in Punjab. Besides these there were other cogent reasons why Punjab remained tranquil. Firstly, there was a powerful European army on the spot. Secondly, the wisdom shown by the officials in disarming the Sepoys at once. Thirdly, the number of the rivers and the shutting up of the ferries on them, which rendered the few who did rebel, powerless. Fourthly, all the Sikhs, Punjabis and Pathans, who might otherwise have tried their hand at rebellion, had already taken service or were being formed into corps and the desire for the plunder of Hindustan was strong on them. We thus find that the service, which the people of India took in the rebel army under such difficulty and changes, was easily obtained in Government service in Punjab. The circumstances of Punjab were quite different from those in Hindustan proper’.
Sir Syed might have his own limitations as he was not a dissenting subject of the British at the time when he wrote his ‘explanatory’ treatise almost a year after the great rising. Moreover, he had taken upon himself the task of defending the Muslims — squarely being accused — before the now allpowerful masters. While he might have been right in his deductions, there also seemed other reasons which shaped the conduct of Punjab in this First War of Independence. For one, the Sikhs had never been kind to the Muslims during their rule over Punjab. The worst sufferers in history at their hands were the Muslim places of worship — mosques. Their other religious architecture like mausoleums and tombs were also not spared to be used — or misused — for other purposes never consistent with the purpose of their building. The Muslims here might, therefore, have felt it an act of deliverance from oppression when the British took over their country. By revolting against the deliverer, they might have invited the remnants of the old regime to cling to power once again, bringing in another period of misery for them. But, perhaps more important should have been the psyche and the attitude of the rajas — rulers — of the Punjabi states and the feudals and landlords of Punjab, who had not been affected by the Thomasonian reforms and were traditionally enjoying the same powerful clout and an authority over the population living within their respective landed territories. Like their forefathers, they were tuned to bow to the rising sun to continue reaping the harvest of their influence hence siding with the British at this juncture.
It is, however, surprising that the very Sikhs, who had given the British the toughest of the times of fighting at Multan, Chillianwala, Gujrat etc. not only resisted from siding with the freedom fighters against them but, on the other hand, helped the foreign masters against the same very natives endeavouring to throw off the white’s yoke. Some historians are of the view that such an attitude was partially due to their having believed in the prophecy that they would one day capture Delhi and rule the whole of India. Their state of this imaginative prediction was exploited by the British in the most intricate way. They impressed upon them that it would be done but only with the collaboration of the Islanders from the Atlantic. They also printed some bills to this effect and distributed them within their communities. Now doubly sure of the coming true of the forecast, the Sikhs were readily got used against the enemies of the white masters.
Another action on the part of the English that much influenced the Sikhs in desisting to take sides with the natives was the propaganda and subsequent printing and distribution of a notice. It purported that the first decree that was granted by the king, Bahadur Shah, after holding the command of the revolutionary forces was to order the indiscriminate killing of the Sikhs. The widespread news of the alleged order had the desired effect on the community, which went a long way in making them refrain from rising against the British power.
From these conclusions, however, it should not be inferred that the venom against the white usurpers present in other parts of India was not altogether found in Punjab. The sipahis were already influenced by the movement and were not behind their comrades at other places. However, with the conditions more conducive and favourable for the British, they were able not only to contain the activity of the natives but also came forward to crush any discontentment, disaffection or defiance with ruthless power even on the slightest of the doubt or suspicion.
Ulema and Brahmin Pandits
Only days after the outburst at Meeruth, Robert Montgomery and Sir John Lawrence were rather shocked on the intelligence gathered through a Brahmin as to how widespread was the virus of outright revolt in the native personnel of the army throughout Punjab. The army at the Mian Mir, in Lahore, was to start the operation and take over the Fort, which would send signal to other places to start the action especially at places like Peshawar, Amritsar, Phillaur, Jullunder etc. To turn the air of revolution in their favour the Muslim Ulema — scholars — from Ludhiana and Brahmin Pandits from Thanesar were having rounds of different areas of Punjab to prepare the ground for the action.
On getting the information the British moved fast. According to their own account:
‘The important move, which gave us a foothold in North India when the empire seemed well nigh overwhelmed by the flood of mutiny which had burst forth so uncontrollably in the Northern Provinces, was the disarming of the troops at Meean Meer. The danger on the morning of May 13th was far greater than had been conceived. A plot had been laid for the simultaneous seizure of the fort and the outbreak of the troops in cantonments. To understand the importance of this move it must be borne in mind that the fort commands the city of Lahore; that it contains the treasury and the arsenal; that at Ferozepore, 50 miles distant, there is another arsenal, the largest in this part of India; and had these two fallen, the Northern Provinces and the Punjab must have been, for the time, irrevocably lost, the lives of all Europeans in these regions sacrificed, Delhi could not have been taken, and India must have been ab initio reconquered’.
This would very clearly show the British favouring part played by Punjab, so important in shaping the destiny of the whole India. Although there were no signs of any such discontentment on the face, the British took the premeasure and rounding up the native sipahis by the English force equipped with guns and cannons, disarmed the Indians. Two of the sipahis were later blown by the cannons on June 9th. It surely furthered the hatred of the natives towards the white masters. Even without proper armament now in their possession, the 49 Regiment seemed to be bent upon revolting on July 30th when there was a nasty dust storm going on in Lahore.
Parkash Singh a sipahi of the Regiment came out with loud outburst meant to evoke his fellows to kill the English. He attacked the commanding officer, Major Spencer, with his sword and killed him on the spot. A panic struck the whole outfit due to the dust stone and they ran hatter scatter, though could not have been of any effect being without arms. However, they were followed by the English and some Sikhs to the Ravi. About 150 of them were killed and the rest, 397, rounded through treachery. Out of these 115 were sent to gallows the next day while the rest, after suffering the agony of black hole, perished.
At Ferozepur, immediately on getting the news of the action at Lahore on May 14th, necessary steps to entrench the garrison were taken and except an attack, which was repulsed by the Europeans, no other activity was witnessed. During the night the sipahis of the 45th Native Infantry, which was already known for its stance of rejecting the greased cartridges, burnt the church, the Roman Catholic chapel, the school building and some 17 residences of the officers. When the treasury was moved to the entrenchment, it was found that except for 133 of the men of the 45th Regiment — with most part of the 57th Regiment — had already tied. A Faqir — a mendicant, usually of religious nature in India thought to be collecting followers to rise against the colonialists, was taken into custody and executed. To impress upon the natives of their ruthless attitude with the dissenting elements even the highway robbers were executed. According to the English, the severity in their actions was responsible for maintaining peace in the district of Ferozepur. However, on August 19th some 142 men made rush on the horses and ponies and drove off to Delhi. Some 40 of them were seized and executed, while most of the others also caught and imprisoned to be hanged later.
In the Fazilka area of the district peace was mostly maintained but not without the help of the chiefs of the local clans as in most of the regions of Punjab. As a reward ‘some of these villages were conferred in proprietary right on the more prominent of the Bodlas and Wattus, whose zealous and effective aid had enabled Mr Oliver to maintain the peace at Fazilka, while revenue free grants were made to a number of them’.
Amritsar, predominantly a Sikh district, did not give much of headache to the British on its own. Although not much worried about the loyalty of the Khalsa, they were little apprehensive should they change their fidelity especially when there were only 70 European Artillerymen and the rest of the force consisting of a detachment of 59th Native Infantry. After the disarming of the native troops at Mian Mir, three officers went over to Amritsar and reported back the necessity of sending immediately half a company of European 81st Foot to strengthen the stronghold of Govindgarh, should any untoward incident happen there. It was done and the white force entered the fort on May 15th. The Natives though also remained there, yet were disarmed on July 9th. The European officers went to the countryside and made round the peasants and the common folk to act against any deserters. There was no disturbance within the district while on the contrary the fugitives from Lahore, who had run to the Ravi, were rounded up here and almost all of them annihilated. According to records some 150 men fell to the villagers and police while others had escaped to an island. Out of these 45 had died of fatigue and exhaustion and the rest captured and executed the next morning. ‘About 42 subsequently captured were sent back to Lahore, and there, by sentence of courtmartial, blown from guns in presence of the whole brigade’. And such were the ruthless ways with which the freedom fighters were dealt by the colonial masters. The fate of even those Sikhs belonging to the district but in service with their masters at Delhi was also not different when they scrambled home after the fall of that city.
Sialkot was perhaps the main station where the natives of the Company’s army revolted and gave a tough fight to the English. When the news of the disarming of the native troops at Mian Mir, on May 13th, reached here it created considerable unrest, and the guns were removed to the British Infantry barracks. On the night of May 20th orders were received to dispatch all the available British troops to join the flying column on way to Delhi. The station was thus left without the presence of all-European troops, except a few soldiers in hospital. The native forces left behind were two troops of the 9th Bengal Cavalry, chiefly Hindustani Muslims, and the whole of the 46th Native Infantry, also Hindustanis. These made no secret of their sympathy with the freedom fighters in the central and the North Western Provinces. They killed many of the English officers, but as the records and later writings would prove, they did not do any harm to the English ladies, or rather protected them from others if there were seen any elements getting out of control. The revolutionaries from here moved towards east, to Trimmu, and in spite of having just one cannon as opposed to several with the English, faced them courageously and went on fighting face to face till they met defeat at the hands of Captain Lawrence, who executed them before the cannons when the active fighting was over. Here too, it were not the Punjabi force — which consisted of the newly recruited Sikhs and heavily banked upon by the British — but the Hindustanis, as the white masters would term those from central or the North provinces, but outside of Punjab.
Some of the parties of the revolutionaries, who had marched towards Rohtak on May 22nd, were supported by the natives from the English army when they reached there on May 24th. They looted the treasury, burnt the houses of the English, who had already fled from the place, and declared the rule of the Nawab of Jhajjar over the area. The breakdown of law and order in the district necessitated pouring in more force to keep the area under control. Soldiers, who were on leave, were called into the headquarters. The Nawab of Jhajjar was asked to dispatch some troops to Rohtak. The Nawab did not take any notice of this ‘order’ from the English. Later on when asked again, however, on May 18th, he sent a few horsemen instead of the cavalry and the guns. According to the English, ‘these, however, proved very unruly and worse than useless, for they inflamed the villagers as they came along. Then as day succeeded day, and it appeared that nothing was being done to re-assert British authority, the troublesome portions of the populace began to raise their heads, and the whole of the once warlike people became proudly stirred. On May 23rd an emissary of the Delhi King, by name of Tafazzal Husain, entered the district by Bahadurgarh with a small force’. He could not be stopped by the officers of the English and succeeded in collecting treasures and taking them back to Delhi.
The unrest, local feuds and infightings amongst different factions continued in the area affecting badly the writ of the ‘English Government’. It was not before the couple of weeks after the fall of Delhi on September 14th that the colonial masters could restore their control. When the full order was regained in these areas the state of Jhajjar was taken over by the English and the Nawab proceeded against. His trial took place in Delhi before a Military Commission presided over by General N. Chamberlain. It commenced on December 14th, and judgment was given on the 17th. The charges against him were as 1) he had aided and abetted rebels and others waging war against the British Government in places being at the time under martial law; 2) that he had furnished troops, money, food and shelter to the rebels; and 3) that he had entered into treasonable correspondence with them. Moreover, he had not fulfilled or followed the conditions of being loyal to the English and providing troops in hour of need.
Ihsan H. Nadiem is an archaeologist by profession. He has published some 25 research papers in different journals of international repute, over 250 popular articles on the cultural heritage of Pakistan and a two-volume Excavation Report from Rome
Excerpted with permission from
Punjab and the Indian Revolt of 1857
By Ihsan H. Nadiem
Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore
The mutiny in Lahore
By Shahzeb Khan
On July 30, 1857, some sepoys from 26th Native Infantry murdered their commanding officer and escaped. One is bound to presume that this mutiny happened in Meerut. But no, this was a mutiny that took place in Punjab!
This may come as a surprise to many as it did to me. One of the main accounts of the events can found in The Punjab Mutiny Report, printed at the Punjab Civil Secretariat in 1881. All the references here are from the same report and according to it MianMeer was an army garrison in 1857. One of the regiments deputed there was the 26th Native Infantry (N.I.). This regiment had planned to take control of the Lahore fort, which then was a place of immense strategic importance. It was thought that whoever possessed fort, controlled the city. The civil secretariat was yet to be constructed and the fort was the main office from where all instructions were issued. The fort also housed a very large arsenal of the British army along with an immense treasure.
On May 12, 1857, John Lawrence, the Chief Commissioner of Punjab, was not in Lahore and his Judicial Secretary, General Robert Montgomery, received the news of Delhi’s capture by Indians. There is enough evidence in the document to support that the administration in Lahore expected such an event. They were apprehensive of the continual emergence of “treasonable” messages which they intercepted through strict censorship of all post. They had also beefed up their security at all entry points of Lahore.
On receiving the news, the local administration immediately gave orders to replace the native guards with their European counterparts. MianMeer, the biggest military garrison in Lahore, became a threat for the Europeans. Their persistent censorship of letters sent to sepoys suggests that they were fearful of such a revolt. General Montgomery thought of a plan. In MianMeer, a military parade followed by a ball was planed for May 13. They decided to go ahead with the parade as any decision to the contrary might suggest something unusual and may prove to be a stimulus for the expected uprising.
The following day, in the parade ground, Brigadier Corbett strategically placed 12 horse artillery guns in the parade ground. He discreetly ordered the European troops to go to the parade ground with loaded rifles. During the parade, the native troops were maneuvered to come in front of those loaded cannons and rifles. They disarmed.
The next important event took place at Lahore railway junction. The native troops had planned to capture the arsenal which was stored there. In that arsenal there were 7000 barrels of gun powder and many other important materials. According to the report written on the uprising in Punjab had this arsenal been captured by the natives, the history would have altered decisively. Brigadier Innes, commanding at that station, took control of the arsenal to avert the capture by the Lahore and the Ferozepur brigade of native troops.
The attempt was actually made on the morning of May 14. Native infantry did storm the arsenal but they were repulsed and defeated by the force of the Europeans whom Brigadier Innes had just thrown in.
In the same document at least 12 uprisings of Punjab are mentioned. Apart from them there was the famous struggle of Gugera Kharals, in Sialkot, where the native population burnt the Deputy Commissioner’s offices and all the records. After reading about these revolts, it is not difficult to come to certain conclusions. It seems apparent that the resistance movement of the Indians, particularly the sepoys, was an organized national movement. Through organized I do not mean well organized, but that there are evidences which strongly suggest the presence of conscious planning for the movement. Furthermore, the presence of a central command system cannot be rebutted easily.
My claims are based on the following evidences.
1. Before the uprising in Punjab, the local administration expected such a revolt, therefore, preventive measure were taken such as the censorship of all posts. Every letter which came to Lahore was looked at suspiciously and well inspected. Letters addressed to the sepoys were opened and read. If anything suspicious was found, the letter was confiscated and the addressee ruthlessly interrogated.
The official investigative report mentioned earlier says, “In most places the district officers in person, opened the post-bags and suppressed suspicious letters, especially those addressed to sepoys.”
2. It was the looming threat of such an uprising that led the British administration to enforce strict censorship laws on the local press. In Peshawar the editor of Murtazai was imprisoned for publishing “treasonable” material. The editor of Chasma-i-Faiz was ordered to move his establishment from Sahiwal to Lahore so that it could be kept under check more strictly.
All this means that the British authorities knew all along that a resistance movement was gaining substance and could at any time erupt into a full-fledged rebellion. Their very act of censoring posts reveals that they were apprehensive of some hidden network trying to coordinate such activities.
Another inference which could be drawn from the happenings is that the sepoys represented the common people. Their resistance against prolonged alien occupation represented the people’s derision for the Europeans. Their struggle convinces us that they were politically alive to their socio-economic exploitation.
The sepoys realized their responsibility and were not frustrated by the adversity of circumstances. They had a sense of direction and moved in a coordinated manner towards their goal. They stood by their brethren, regardless of the religion difference. They were Indians first, and Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs later. Their faiths did not keep them from uniting against their common foe and collectively resisted the alien encroachment upon their rights as free humans: attributes which, perhaps, can help us solve our contemporary problems.
The uprising of 1857 started in a series of events all over India, from Meerut to MianMeer, the sepoys and the common man, all put up a fight to being an end to foreign occupation but it took another 90 years for them to succeed in their mission.
1857: The geographical spread