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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Indian War of Independence - this day, 165 years ago !!

 Today [10th May]  is of very great importance to the Nation – 165 years ago, the events that took place were to pave way for the Nation.   We read in our books ‘the uprising of 1857’ not as a National movement, not as a freedom struggle but as sepoy mutiny, an uprising by a group of soldiers.  ..   

We were fed a distorted history in our schools and colleges  -  ‘the uprising of 1857’ not as a National movement, not as a freedom struggle but as sepoy mutiny, only an uprising by a group of soldiers.  .. .. and Gandhiji  [Nehruji and Congressmen] got us freedom without spilling blood !! ~ British were so kind and noble that they gave freedom on a platter !!   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.   .. .. .. he was not the first man though, and Uprising – the National struggle of 1857 was not the first fight against British East India Company. 

1)   As you travel by Grand Trunk Express from New Delhi, your train halts at Raja Ki Mandi, Agra, Dholapur, Morena, Gwalior, ………. , Bina….. ~ it is 410 km from Delhi and 1770 km from Chennai….The Betwa river, a tributary of Yamuna also known as Vetravati flows here……. Know the place ??  

2)   Claude-Etienne Minié [1804-1879]   was a French Army officer famous for solving the problem of designing a reliable muzzle-loading rifle by inventing the Minié ball in 1846, and the Minié rifle in 1849.  Can you connect him to the events that occurred in India.  

3)   if you  have read History well, do you remember or know, who was the  Governor General  of British East India Co at the time of the First war of Indian Independence in 1857 ?   

On that evening of May 10, 1857, native troops of Bengal Army at Meerut broke out into open insurrection and mutineers marched with triumph towards Delhi ! .. the Britishers were not the kind cats.  Genl Neill who proceeded from Calcutta in May 1857 with a regiment to Varanasi & Allahabad had the notoriety for inflicting inhuman cruelties everywhere he went.  Though dispassionately and carefully depicted by every British historian as ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ – in 1857 it was great outbreak – an uprising against domineering foreign power and their cruel ways of ruling.  Though volumes should have been written on the sacrifices during uprising, History as written by British concisely describes it as uprising in some pockets, duly extinguished by the Generals of East India Company !  

It certainly was not as simple .. .. on that significant Sunday in the month of March at the cantonment of Barrackpore, it broke out – in the sepoy lines which had been quiet – most of the sepoys were lounging around, White officers were in their bungalows enjoying their siesta -  In the late afternoon, a Sepoy of the 34th  Native Infantry, wearing his regimental jacket but in a dhoti instead of the regulation trousers, appeared before the quarter-guard. It was obvious that he was greatly agitated. He had with him a loaded musket and his talwar. He belonged to the 5th Company and his name was Mangal  Pandey.  The open insolence was not common among sepoys, and a Naik quickly carried the report of Mangal Pandey’s disorderly conduct to Sergeant-Major James Hewson.  As the sergeant-major approached Mangal Pandey, the latter took aim and fired. The ball missed Hewson who took shelter behind the bell-of-arms; couple of sepoys tried to persuade Mangal Pandey to surrender his weapons. By this time, the adjutant, Lieutenant Baugh, had arrived on horseback.  

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. "... 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 First war of Indian Independence (there had been a few uprisings earlier – aptly this may not be the first, but of a much bigger magnitude rebellion) against the invaders, who came as Traders (British East India Co)  and ruled the Nation for centuries on behalf of British Crown.    The rebellion began on 10 May 1857 in the form of a mutiny of sepoys of the Company's army in the garrison town of Meerut, 40 mi (64 km) northeast of Delhi. It then erupted into other mutinies and civilian rebellions chiefly in the upper Gangetic plain and central India.   The uprising  posed a considerable threat to British power in that region, and was contained only with their  defeat in Gwalior months later.     

After the outbreak of the mutiny in Meerut, the rebels quickly reached Delhi, the Independence fighters captured large tracts of the North-Western Provinces and Awadh (Oudh). The East India Company's response came rapidly as well. With help from reinforcements, Kanpur was retaken by mid-July 1857, and Delhi by the end of September. However, it then took the remainder of 1857 and the better part of 1858 for the rebellion to be suppressed in Jhansi, Lucknow, and especially the Awadh countryside.  It led to the dissolution of the East India Company, and forced the British to reorganize the army, the financial system, and the administration in India, through passage of the Government of India Act 1858 

1.     Jhansi


If you have not guessed it yet, it is Jhansi, a historic city of northern India, located in the region of Bundelkhand on the banks of the Pahuj or Pushpavati River, in the extreme south of Uttar Pradesh.  Jhansi State was a Maratha-ruled princely state in Bundelkhand. When the Raja of Jhansi died without a biological male heir in 1853, it was annexed to the British Raj by the Governor-General of India under the doctrine of lapse. His widow Rani Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi, protested against the denial of rights of their adopted son. When war broke out, Jhansi quickly became a centre of the rebellion.   

There are many horses of valour like the famed Chetak (Rana Pratap Singh), Bucephalus (Alexander), Nelson (George Washington), Neelaveni (Desingu Maharaja) …  Jhansi ki Rani Laxmibhai is always depicted as riding a horse and fighting valiantly….. Her horses  are named as : Sarangi, Pavan and Badal; according to tradition she rode Badal when escaping from the fort in 1858.  It is reported that British forces surrounded the fort under Sir Hugh Rose who demanded surrender – Lakshmibai fought defending Jhansi but was killed in action.  According to the historical legend,  with her son  Damodar Rao on her back she jumped on her horse Badal from the fort; days later she died in the battle. Equestrian statues of Lakshmibai are seen in many places of India, which show her and her son tied to her back.   

This year (2022) – Jhansi Station was renamed as- ‘Virangana Lakshmibai’ railway station  : with  new code abbreviation VGLB against the earlier one JHS. The new numerical code of the station is 13309727. 

2.     One spark for the mutiny was the Enfield rifle.   

The Enfield Pattern 1853 rifle-musket  was a .577 calibre Minié-type muzzle-loading rifled musket, used by the British Empire from 1853 to 1867; after which many were replaced in service by the cartridge-loaded Snider–Enfield rifle. The Minié ball  is a type of hollow-based bullet designed by Claude-Étienne Minié, inventor of the French Minié rifle, for muzzleloader rifled muskets. It came to prominence in the Crimean War  and the American Civil War, where it was found to inflict significantly more serious wounds than earlier round musket balls.   

3.      Governor General of East India Co at the time of war in 1857

It was - Charles John Canning, 1st Earl Canning, KG, GCB, KSI, PC (1812 – 1862) also known as The Viscount Canning and Clemency Canning.  He was the Governor General during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and became the  first Viceroy of India after the transfer of power from the East India Company to the Crown of Queen Victoria in 1858 after the rebellion was crushed.  The Indian Penal Code was drafted in 1860 based on the code drafted by Macaulay and came into force in 1862 during his regime.   Canning met the rebellion with firmness and in  1858  was rewarded with post of Viceroy.   In Apr 1859,  he received  thanks of both Houses of Parliament for his great services during the rebellion. He was also made an extra civil grand cross of the Order of the Bath, and in May of the same year he was raised to the dignity of an Earl, as Earl Canning. About a month before his death he was created a Knight of the Garter, as he died without issue the titles became extinct.  

Prior to the rebellion, Canning and his wife, Charlotte, had desired to produce a photographic survey of Indian people, primarily for their own edification. This project was transformed into an official government study and  was eventually published as an eight-volume work, The People of India, between 1868 and 1875.  

Nation today remembers the historic day of Indian Independence War against British and remembers the sons of soil, who laid down their lives for our free living.  

Jai Hind

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
Pic at the start :  British reprisal execution – credit :        

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