Time and tide wait for none, they say. But in the history of a nation certain dates are remembered forever for their important association with the history. 10th May is one such date that has significant association with the history of modern India.
It was this date that inspired the Indians to take up arms in rebellion against the tyrannical rule of the British East India Company. The flames of the revolution spread from Barrackpore to Meerut, from Delhi to Chennai with thousands of ‘Hindustani’ sacrificed their lives at the altar of the Mother Bharat to free her from the foreign yoke.
This First War of India’s Independence as Swatantryveer Savarkar described sowed the seeds of independence which culminated in truncated independence of the country on August 15, 1947. This great event was deliberated painted as “Sepoy Mutiny”, “The Uprising of 1857”, and “The 1857 Rebellion.” But the fact was it was an all India attempt to free the motherland organised under the collective leadership of Bahadurshah Zafar, Nanasaheb Peshwa, Tantya Tope, Jhansi Rani Laxmibai, Begum Hazrat Mahal, and others. The Hindus and Muslims fought this was as “Hindustani” and not on the religious lines as Muslims or Hindus. This unity of the Indian society was well mentioned by British historian George William Forrest in the introduction of the State Papers soon after the end of the War of Independence.
George Williams said:
“Among the many lessons the Indian mutiny conveys to the historian, none is of greater importance than the warning that it is possible to have a Revolution in which Brahmins and Sudras, Hindus and Mahomedans, could be united against us…”
We as a nation celebrate the Independence Day on August 15 every year with great pomp and show and no one should have any objection to this celebration. But how many of us are really aware of the supreme sacrifices made by these nameless Indians to free Mother Bharat? How many of us know what hardships they underwent in the cells of Cellular Jail in the Andaman in those days? The Indian children today are well aware of the Pizza Huts and MacDonald outlets, but they are least bothered to know what had happened on May 10, 1857.
The freedom movement of India began on this day 161 years ago and the journey successfully ended on August 15, 1947. In this struggle of nine decades, thousands of freedom fighters, soldiers, maulvis, sadhus, and common citizens participated and offered supreme sacrifices at the altar of the Mother Bharat.
India had witnessed the state of slavery for over 1000 years the attempts to repeal the invasions from time to time notwithstanding. Rana Pratap, Shivaji, Chhatrasal Bundela, Guru Givind Singh and many others tried to take on the invading Mughals but in spite of their efforts the country remained under the Muslim rule and later under the British East India Company rule that was later passed on to British Crown after the 1857 War of Independence.
10th May is the watershed in the history of modern India. The British had introduced English Education, railway, post and telegraph system and similar modern scientific facilities. These communication systems helped them gain the control of the situation and defeat the revolutionary forces by physical elimination of all the leaders in direct battles, or sending many of them to the “Kaala Paani” in the most infamous Cellular Jail of Andaman Island or by publically hanging those who were caught during the battle or later. They perceived that these acts will terrorise the native people and they will not dare challenge the British rule in the future.
The 1857 revolution was a well-planned strategy. The leaders of the revolution had chalked out the strategy with minute details and it was planned that the attack would be carried out on May 31, 1857. But it was on May 10, that the spark of the revolution burst in Meerut with Mangal Pandey attacking the British Officer.
Meerut was supposed to be the safest place by the British. The Hindu soldiers were given the cartridges that had the coating of cow and pig fat. The soldiers refused to use those cartridges and instead attacked the British officers. All those 85 soldiers were subjected to court marshal and were sent to jail on May 9.
According to historical records the people attacked British officers and other British residents who were coming out of the Church on May 10th as they were gathered there for Sunday prayers. Most British army officers were killed in the people’s uprising and they were buried there in the St. John’s Cemetery in Meerut. Their relatives come and offer prayers at their graves in the cemetery even today. This is one of the largest cemeteries of north India spread over an area of 23 acres.
But we the citizens of independent India are forgetting the supreme sacrifices made by our own forefathers to free our motherland from the British slavery. We are so engrossed in our personal need and greed that we hardly think of those countless martyrs who sacrificed their present for our tomorrow.
The rebellion by the Indian soldiers of Meerut cantonment had given a historical turn to the Indian Independence Movement. Some of the European and their native students and followers prefer to label this as ‘Sepoy Mutiny” or ‘Gadar” but that was a mass uprising against the tyrannical British rule that relentlessly engaged in economic, social and religious exploitation of the Indian people. This was the first popular uprising that had no one single leader. It was fought under a collective leadership of Bahadurshah Zafar, Nanasaheb Peshwa, Jhanis Rani Laxmibai and Tantya Tope.
The entire credit to establish this popular uprising as First War of Independence goes invariably to Swantantrya Veer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who scanned through the documents of East India Company in the British archives and wrote his monumental thesis on the War of Independence on its 50th anniversary and organised a public program in London to commemorate this golden jubilee of the war of independence. His thesis later inspired many young revolutionaries to sacrifice their lives for the freedom of Mother Bharat.
However, this first public movement of Indian masses to throw away the shackles of slavery and free the motherland did not succeed for many reasons. We don’t intend to go into their details and this is not the occasion for such in-depth analysis either. We are more concerned here about the neglect of this event in independent India.
We remember Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose for his slogan “Dilli Chalo”. The slogan was first given by those soldiers of the 1857 War of Independence on May 10, 1857 and had unfurled the flag on the ramparts of the Red Fort on 11th May. We should not forget their sacrifice. That is why when Subhash Bose set foot on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, he renamed them as Shahid and Swaraj islands in memory of those countless freedom fighters of 1857 who breathed their last languishing behind the bars of Cellular Jail.
It was a revolution, a revolution for freedom that inspired millions others later to join the movement and achieve independence. We owe to those who sacrificed their present for our tomorrow.