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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Remembering the hero of 1st war of Independence 1857 ~ Mangal Pandey

It is the story of a hero that the Nation must be reading in School books etched in its History – the sad tale of an execution scheduled for April 18 but was carried out ten days before on April 8, 160 years ago. "... Plassey had been in 1757 and in the hundredth year after the battle it seemed everyone was awaiting a spark.  It was to come in the shape of a new cartridge. The projectile for the new Enfield rifle was part of a self-contained paper cartridge that contained both ball and powder charge. It required  the end to be bitten off and the cartridge then rammed down the muzzle of the weapon. To facilitate this process the cartridge was heavily greased - with animal fat.  "The preceding months held tensions and several serious events but they failed to cause as big a conflagration as those at Meerut. Fires broke out near Calcutta on 22 January 1857. On 25 February 1857 the 19th Regiment mutinied at Berhampore and the regiment allowed one of its men to advance with a loaded musket upon the parade-ground in front of a line and open fire on his superior officer; a battle ensued. On 31 March 1857 the 34th Regiment rebelled at Barrackpore.

On that fateful day, in 1857, Mangal Pande of the 34th  Native Infantry attacked his British sergeant and wounded an adjutant. General Hearsay, who says Pande was in some kind of "religious frenzy", ordered a jemadar to arrest him but the jemadar refused. Mangal Pande then turned the gun against himself and used his foot to try to pull the trigger to shoot himself. He failed and was captured, along with the jemadar he was hanged.   The whole regiment was dismissed as a collective punishment and because it was felt that they would harbour feelings against their superiors after this incident.  Every  other sepoys thought of this as harsh punishment.

Barrackpore or Barrackpur  is the  headquarters of Barrackpore subdivision in North 24 Parganas district in the Indian stateof West Bengal. The town was a military and administrative center under British rule, and was the scene of several acts of rebellion against Britain during the 19th century. The name Barrackpore may have originated from the word the English word barracks as the site of the first cantonment of the British East India Company.   Two rebellions against British authority took place in Barrackpore in the 19th  century. The first of these was in 1824, led by Sepoy Binda Tiwary.  In this rebellion, the 47th Bengal Native Infantry refused to board boats to cross the polluting "dark waters" to Burma in the First Anglo-Burmese War. Consequently, British-manned artillery fired upon and "erased" them.  In 1857, Barrackpore was the scene of an incident that some credit with starting the Indian rebellion of 1857 !  All along, the British & the historians preferred to call it the ‘Revolt of 1857’ – which to us is the First war of Independence.  Today marks the death anniversary of the man eulogized as the man whose act of defiance ignited the 1857 uprising.  Perhaps sons of cow belt soil would remember the movie  - Mangal Pandey - The Rising (The Rising - Ballad Of Mangal Pandey)  and the hero of the movie.  Alas the real hero is not so well recognised.

Mangal Pandey was a Bengali soldier of the 34th  Native Infantry.  He was arrested, sentenced to jail and a military court sentenced him to death.  They set the execution date to April 18th but they killed Mangal Pandey on April 8 because the Britishers didn’t want to wait too long.  Mangal Pandey was thus the first freedom fighter and martyr of the 1st  War of Independence. The Doctrine of Lapse, issue of cartridges greased with animal fat to Indian soldiers – most of whom were vegetarians (cartridge wicks had to be plucked out with the teeth before hurling them), introduction of British system of education and a number of social reforms had infuriated a wide section of the Indian population who rose in revolt all over the country.

Mangal Pandey was born in  village of Nagwa in district Ballia Uttar Pradesh on 19th July 1827 and sacrificed himself for the Nation when he was not even 30.   The village in which young Mangal opened his eyes was Surhurpur—a small sleepy hamlet, which still retains the dusty rustic look, that speck of golden grime, the wont of Awadh, distinguishing the region from the more greener pastures of east UP. Divakar Pandey, Mangal’s father actually belonged to another village — Dugvaan-Rahimpur in Faizabad Tehsil.  Mangal Pandey entered the east India Company Bengal army in 1849. He was 22, a tall lad, lean and well built. Village anecdotes paint him as a man 9 feet tall—this is excusable exaggeration of a legend. The peasants recruited by the Company as Sepoys were mostly unusually tall—so much so that during the 1857 wars Scot Highlanders were brought over especially from Britain to match Sepoy strength and height. Local perceptions played a great part in victory or defeat—the natives considered Sepoys invincible.

Earlier there was another uprising at Vellore and bloodthirsty force was used to quell that  mutiny—then Barrackpore, the scene of Mangal Pandey’s defiance faced a serious crisis in 1824-25.  Mangal’s act of defiance in 1857  did not enthuse the other sepoys instantaneously. Pandey injured two British officers before a sepoy, Sheikh Paltu, held him from behind.  Mangal Pandey then tried to shoot himself but only superficially injured the bulging muscles of his chest. He was disarmed by Major-General Hearsey, tried and executed on April 8.  It was only a month later that the Mutiny broke out at Meerut on May 10. The next day the rebel sepoys marched to Delhi and entered the city through the Rajghat Gate. Until September, the sepoys held control of Delhi after an orgy of bloodshed.

Though Mangal Pandey did not have any connection with Delhi as such, he  nevertheless is a hero  and in Meerut, a temple commemorates him. Every sepoy who had rebelled in Delhi and elsewhere was dubbed "Pande" by the British troops and their retaliation was termed "Pande-bashing" !  

The general Order of the Commander in Chief (virtually a judgment) read "armed with sword using words tending to incite men of his regiment to turn our and join in resistance of lawful authority - striking and wounding lieutenant"  .... " Court orders to suffer death by being hanged by neck until he died".

Surprisingly enough, Mangal Pandey was a forgotten entity until 1957, when the centenary of the Great Uprising was observed. Fifteen years after that a temple was dedicated to him in Meerut.  The fact of the matter is that India knows very little about her first hero. Documents are scarce and mention only the outlines; the Indian literary world, and books on 1857, have ignored him; there is a major dispute about his place of birth and origin; and then  a film has been made.


with regards – S. Sampathkumar
8th Apr 2o17
Pic : cover of a book on the hero by Manoj Publications.

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