10th May 1857 has gained an unswerving status in Indian history. The open challenge of the first freedom fight and actual action started on the same day. The first sparks of the freedom fight were ignited at Meerut near Delhi on this day for two reasons, ‘Swa-Dharma’ and ‘Swa-rajya’. The sparks turned into a wild fire within no time. Due to this flame, the British Empire could not rule this country even for a100 years. In 1947 i.e. in 90 years, Hindustani revolutionaries and the people drove the British away.
Days become numbered for the British !
A day dawns in the life of a Nation in such a manner that before one realizes anything, a number of things take place. Such day naturally gains unswerving status in history. 10th May 1857 is one such fateful day in the history of Hindustan. These 24 hours accomplished something extraordinary which was the sounding of an intense call for the first fight for freedom.
Whatever happened on this day was sudden although not unexpected. But for this, we will have to peep a little into our history. In the year 1600, East India Company was set up to develop trade between England and Hindustan. This company soon established itself in Hindustan with its Head Office in Kolkata. After the battle of Placy in the year 1757, the Company took over almost the whole of Hindustan by hook or by crook. Few Englishmen started thinking about celebrating a century of their victory with great pomp and show on the 23rd June 1857.
On the other hand, many natives of Hindustan were planning about how to eliminate the British rather than let them celebrate the century of victory at Placy. Around the same time, the ‘chapati’ agitation picked up in Agra and Avadh. These ‘chapatis’ used to reach the dining tables of the British and they used to get scared. They issued orders to investigate the matter of ‘chapatis’; but could not obtain reliable information till the end. What did these ‘chapatis’ contain?
Holy sacrament (Prasad) of Goddess
The British had brought the second Bajiraoto Bithur near Kanpur, after dethroning him and then offering him a pension. Nanasaheb was his adopted son. Nansaheb Peshave used to visit the ‘mutt’ of Dasbuva. He used to tell Buva in confidence, about his misery of subjection. One day, Buva gave Nanasaheb a ‘chapati’ roasted on the small fire in his ‘mutt’ and a flower offered to the Goddess as holy sacrament and said to him with blessings, “Whichever part of land you are able to take such ‘chapatis’ and flowers, that part will be under your control. You will regain the throne with your valor.”
Thereafter, the sacrament of ‘chapatis’ started reaching nearby villages in Kanpur, Lucknow area within one night. Wherever the sacrament used to reach, people from that place used to make similar ‘prasad’ and send it across to the next village. Circulation of red lotus flowers also started on large scale. The receiver and giver of the flowers used to say together, “Everything will become red in a few days.”
Religious repression by few British men
The East India Company was still quite unflustered. It completely relied on its 2,38,000 soldiers. Nobody in Hindustan had the strength to fight with such power. In this army of the company, there were only 38,000 European soldiers and the rest were our Hindustani soldiers. The Englishmen knew, with experience, that they have to just keep the Hindustani soldiers under control; but for the last few years, the Hindustani soldiers had become quite reticent. The common citizens had by then realized that hidden under the excuse of the statesmen not having a successor, these small states were being taken over by the British and that ‘swarajya’ was in danger. The Hindustani soldiers had also realized that they were made to give up their ‘Swa-Dharma’ owing to their serving the British.
The Company was using ‘Brown base’, a type of guns for its army until then; but it started importing guns made in the ‘Enfield’ factory in England. Later, even in Hindustan, production of guns was started at ‘Damdam’ and ‘Ambala’. In these guns, the covering of the cartridge used to be coated with fat so that they fitted tightly in the gun. This fat used to be mainly of pigs or cows. The coating had to be removed with one’s teeth before loading the cartridge in the gun. While doing this, little fat used to come in contact with the tongue. The Hindustani soldiers, therefore, were sure that such guns were purposely manufactured by the Christian Company Government to convert them.
Which was the divine principle of revolution?
All these were of course were superficial reasons. Here, one should not forget that while expounding on the roots of any revolutionary war, there are always a few external outer reasons and a few main reasons and it is the skill of the historians to classify such reasons. Swatantryaveer Savarkar obtained secret papers, during his stay in England, based on which the true history of the revolution of 1857 could be brought to light. In his book titled ‘Freedom fight of 1857’, he writes, “It is not possible to construct a building of revolution on the basis of some trivial and momentary cause without the solid base of inspiring, soul stirring principles. Depending upon the sacredness and subsequent defilement of these root principles, the nature of action and form of the persons involved in the revolution are ascertained. In the revolution of 1857, the divine principles were ‘Swa-Dharma and Swa-Rajya’. ”
It would be an insult of all those thousands of people who took part in the freedom fight, if we say that the main reasons for the freedom fight were cartridges coated with the fat of cows and pigs or some small state being taken over. The reasons which are still taught in schools and colleges are superficial. In the book on the freedom fight first published in Holland in the year 1909, Savarkar says, “If the revolution of 1857 took place only because of the cartridges, why did Nanasaheb, the king of Delhi, the Queen of Jhansi or Khan Bahadur Khan of Rohilkhand join this revolution? They did not serve in the British army nor were they ordered to remove the coating of the cartridges sitting at home. If the 57 revolution was only or mainly due to the fat used for coating cartridges, it would have immediately subsided when the British Governor General in Hindustan issued an order to not use such cartridges. Despite the Government allowing the soldiers to make their own cartridges with hand, the soldiers neither implemented the order nor did they leave their jobs from the viewpoint of getting rid of all the problems. Not just the army men but so also thousands of people who were in no way connected to the military, kings, statesmen etc. sacrificed their life in the battle. The points raised by Savarkar in this book have not yet been refuted by any historian so far.
When was the resolve for the freedom fight made?
If a review of history, in general, is taken, the revolutionary fight started on 10th May 1857. But when was the resolve for such a war made? Savarkar has discussed this question in his book. While discussing this issue, the 25-years old Savarkar has written an unparalleled deliberation; he says, “When was the resolve for the war that started in 1857 under the auspices of Deities of ‘Swa-Dharma’ and ‘Swa-Rajya’ actually made? According to the British historians, the resolve of war was made during the regime of Lord Dalhousie. But such a notion is completely illusory. The moment the British put their foot down on the banks of Hindustan, the resolve was made. Poor Dalhousie! What did he do that was so bad? The very first time the sinful thoughts of bondage for Hindustan’s natural freedom and Christianity in place of ‘Swa-Dharma’ came to the mind of the English traders, the revolutionary awareness was created in the heart of this land of Hindustan. The reason behind revolutionary war in 1857 is not the ‘good governance’ or ‘bad governance’ of the British but is just their ‘governance’. Good or bad is a secondary matter but the main question was ‘governance’. This country is protected on the North side by Himalaya and by the ‘Sea-Deity’ on the South. That such a naturally strong and nature loving country of Hindustan should have the unnatural governance of the British was the main question being solved against the backdrop of the war of 1857. This is the Truth, the roots of the forthcoming battles for Independence were sown at that time only.”
Burning of Meerut
On 8th April 1857, Mangal Pande was taken to his Heavenly abode. His sacrifice created havoc right upto Ambala. The Company’s large military camp was also at Ambala in Punjab like it was at Barrakpur in Bengal. There was a distance of 1000 miles between these two camps. The English officers thought that the bravery and rage exhibited by Mangal Pande on 29th March would take a lot of time to reach Ambala; but the reality was different. Hindustani soldiers started attacking the houses of the British officers even at Ambala. Every night, the houses of outsiders and traitors started getting burnt. This job was done so fast and with so much of secrecy that one would have felt that the ‘Fire-God (Agninarayan)’ had become a member of the secret committee. There were prizes of thousands of rupees declared for those who would disclose the names of persons setting fire; but to no avail !
In between Barrakpur in the East and Ambala in the West, there was Meerut. The military station at Meerut had to keep vigilance on Delhi. 11th and 20th battalion of army was kept at Meerut considering its importance. There was also a cavalry squad at Meerut. It was decided to conduct an experiment on 6th May to see whether the soldiers really have complaints about the new cartridges. On the previous night, the soldiers had taken an oath that they would not touch the cartridges coated with fat. On 6th May, the troopers were given the cartridges during their parade. All i.e. 85 out of 85 soldiers refused even to touch the cartridges. The Military Court sentenced them to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment.
On 9th May, in the morning, all the 85 devout were made to stand under the vigil of the European Company and artillery for execution of the punishment. 1700 soldiers were specifically brought from outside just to witness that scene. Savarkar says, “Those 85 patriots were asked to remove their clothes; their weapons were removed. Their clothes were thrown away and they were shackled with big iron fetters. All the newly brought in Hindu soldiers were trembling with anger to see how their brethren who had once held swords in their hands, were now being humiliatingly shackled. But looking at the Britishers artillery pointing at them, the swords carried by them remained inside sheathes. Later, the 85 brave soldiers were informed about their punishment of 10 years rigorous imprisonment. Bending with the heavy shackles on their hands and feet, they started towards the jail.”
The soldiers enraged to be a witness to the insult of their fellow countrymen returned to their barracks. When some of them went to the market, they came across women who started insulting them by saying, “Your elders are sent to jail and you are enjoying here. We condemn your living in such a manner.” How could the already furious soldiers bear the insult? Great were those mothers and sisters who motivated the soldiers to take revenge on the oppression meted out to their compatriots.
Freedom fight begins
On that very night, the soldiers decided to take revenge of the British. The soldiers could not hold back although the day of the revolt was decided as 31st May. It was 10th May. The natives did not go to the ‘Saheb’s’ house to work. People started gathering at Meerut with whatever weapons they could lay their hands on. It was 5.00 o’clock in the evening. The Church bell started ringing. That day however the bell was going to be a death bell for the British as the soldiers roared at the same time ‘Maro phirangi ko (Kill the foreigners)’! Many troopers went to the jail to break the shackles of their fellow soldiers who were imprisoned on the previous day. One patriotic blacksmith came forward and he quickly cut their shackles into pieces. Now, everyone started attacking any Englishman they came across. This sudden attack frightened the Englishmen. They could not even think of retaliation. Meerut was freed on the same night and the attackers started towards Delhi. The freedom-fighters showed astuteness to take over Delhi and with such a small spark; they converted the incident into a national revolt. The courage and shrewdness shown by the freedom-fighters has no equal in history !
The beginning of the freedom-fight has now completed about 150 years. The conditions prevailing 150 years back in India remain the same even today. All the hard earned money of the people and gold etc. used to be sent to England by ships at that time; now, the same money earned through various scams like the purchase of weapons etc., is sent to Switzerland. ‘Swa-Dharma is even more in danger compared to those times. The present rulers are happy to degrade both ‘Swa-Dharma’ and ‘Swa-Rajya’. To overcome such a situation, only the remembrance of all revolutionaries, who suffered so much for the upliftment of ‘Swa-Dharma’ and ‘Swa-Rajya’, would inspire the people to take the path of revolt once again.
Inspiring letter dedicated to Martyrs of 1857 written by Swatantryaveer Savarkar
This is a dedication to the Martyrs of 1857 which was written by Savarkar on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Indian War of Independence 1857. It was then published under the title 'Oh Martyrs' and circulated on the 10 May 1908 at the time of the Golden Jubilee ceremony which was celebrated in England on a grand scale.
The battle of freedom once begunAnd handed down from sire to sonThough often lost is ever won!!
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