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150 th anniversary of 1857 – India’s first war of independence

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150 th anniversary of 1857 – India’s first war of independence

Post by Chalukya on Wed Jun 06, 2012 6:54 pm

150 th anniversary of 1857 – India’s first war of independence

Posted on May 25th, 2007 by Neeraj Nanda By Neeraj Nanda

Melbourne:India and the world are celebrating the 150th anniversary of 1857 – India’s first war of independence. The British colonialists called it a mutiny. The revolt by sections of the British India Army supported by many local rulers in 1857 was a historical start that culminated into India’s independence (despite the tragic partition) in August 1947. The present generation may not know that thousands sacrificed their lives in 1857. Thousands were hanged by the British in revenge and punishment. The events of 1857 are a trail of blood and heroism of the Indian people against the East India Company (the rulers then) and its colonial rule. Hindus and Muslims rallied together and proclaimed Bahadur Shah Zafar as the king of India. This was too much for the British rulers and the rest is history. Any one who supported the freedom fighters (rebels) was declared an enemy and seen as waging a war against the British Empire. It is a strange coincidence that at present another empire building attempt in one part of the world is facing stiff resistance.This is what “Pages from the history of India’s Freedom Struggle” have to say:“It also needs to be mentioned that many local rulers did not support the rebels and actively supported the British colonialists. But “For several months after the uprising that began in Meerut on May 10, 1857 - British rule ceased to exist in the northern plains of India. Muslim and Hindu rulers alike joined the rebelling soldiers and militant peasants, and other nationalist fighters. Among the most prominent leaders of the uprising were Nana Sahib, Tantia Tope, Bakht Khan, Azimullah Khan, Rani Laksmi Bai, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Kunwar Singh, Maulvi Ahmadullah, Bahadur Khan and Rao Tula Ram.”“Threatened by such a radical turn of events, the British rulers poured in immense resources in arms and men to suppress the struggle. Although the rebels fought back heroically - the betrayal by a number of rulers such as the Sikh princes, the Rajasthani princes and Maratha rulers like Scindia allowed the British to prevail. Lord Canning (then Governor General) noted that “If Scindia joins the rebels, I will pack off tomorrow”. Later he was to comment: ” The Princes acted as the breakwaters to the storm which otherwise would have swept us in one great wave”. Such was the crucial importance of the betrayal of the princes. The British were also helped by the conservatism of the trading communities who were unwilling to put up with the uncertainties of a long drawn out rebellion.”“But equally important was the superior weaponry and brutality of the British in defending their empire. British barbarity in suppressing the uprising was unprecedented. After the fall of Lucknow on May 8, 1858 Frederick Engels commented: “The fact is, there is no army in Europe or America with so much brutality as the British. Plundering, violence, massacre - things that everywhere else are strictly and completely banished - are a time honoured privilege, a vested right of the British soldier ..”. In Awadh alone 150,000 people were killed - of which 100,000 were civilians. The great Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib wrote from Delhi, ” In front of me, I see today rivers of blood”. He went on to describe how the victorious army went on a killing spree - killing every one in sight - looting peoples property as they advanced.”“Bahadur Shah’s three sons were publicly executed at “Khooni Darwaaza” in Delhi and Bahadur Shah himself was blinded and exiled to Rangoon where he died in 1862. Refusing to plead for mercy from the British, he courageously retorted: “The power of India will one day shake London if the glory of self-respect remains undimmed in the hearts of the rebels”. Thomas Lowe wrote: “To live in India now was like standing on the verge of a volcanic crater, the sides of which were fast crumbling away from our feet, while the boiling lava was ready to erupt and consume us.”And “The 1857 revolt which had forged an unshakable unity amongst Hindus and Muslims alike was an important milestone in our freedom struggle - providing hope and inspiration for future generations of freedom lovers. However, the aftermath of the 1857 revolt also brought about dramatic changes in colonial rule. After the defeat of the 1857 national revolt - the British embarked on a furious policy of “Divide and Rule”, fomenting religious hatred as never before. Resorting to rumors and falsehoods, they deliberately recast Indian history in highly communal colors and practised pernicious communal politics to divide the Indian masses. That legacy continues to plague the sub-continent today. However, if more people become aware of the colonial roots of this divisive communal gulf - it is possible that some of the damage done to Hindu-Muslim unity could be reversed. If Hindus and Muslims could rejoin and collaborate in the spirit of 1857, the sub-continent may yet be able to unshackle itself from its colonial past.”Well, while celebrating the glory of 1857 it finally needs to be mentioned that the Indian subcontinent (all countries) nations are under challenge from the forces of intolerance, communalism, religious fundamentalism, violence and socio-economic exploitation. The spirit of 1857 is not just organizing marches and functions but taking a pledge to fight and free ourselves from these forces. This will be the best homage to the martyrs of 1857.

Truth Behind 1857, part 1 Sunday 16th of July 2006 Bijla Singh

Whenever India’s independence is discussed, the mutiny of 1857 comes to mind. There are numerous misconceptions related to 1857. First of all the misconception preached by most newspapers, magazines and history books is that the battle of 1857 was the first war of independence. The second and most important misconception is that this “freedom movement” would not have failed if Sikhs had not betrayed their “country” resulting in the British rule over India for 90 more years. The majority of Indians, without considering the proper facts, have started to believe in these misconceptions. But their knowledge about this “freedom movement” is far from the actual truth. Only a fraction of the truth is being preached by the government. First War of Independence?

First let’s discuss the first point. Was 1857 the year of first war of independence? India had been under foreign rule for over 700 years. The first time anyone ever spoke out for freedom in India was Guru Nanak Dev Ji. King Babur attacked India, arrested Guru Nanak Dev Ji and tortured him in many ways because he spoke for freedom. Therefore, that was the beginning of the first freedom battle. Guru Arjan Dev Ji was seen as anti-Islamic by the Mughal government. He was arrested and tortured. He is the first martyr of the freedom movement in India. Guru Hargobind Ji spent many months in prison and fought four battles against Mughals. Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji had no personal issues with the government however he sacrificed himself for freedom of religion and justice. He saved the Hindu religion. Contribution of Guru Gobind Singh Ji to the freedom movement is a unique example that is found nowhere else in the history of the world. He instilled self-confidence, honor, dignity, pride and warrior traits in the people of India. Every Sikh fought against oppression and injustice. Baba Banda Singh along with other Sikhs established the first Sikh rule in Punjab and fought against the Mughal government and later on sacrificed himself for freedom. Even after his martyrdom, numerous battles were fought, sword fought sword, bullet fought bullet; the blood of thousands of Sikhs was spilled but this freedom group never stopped. Sikhs were cut into pieces, bricked alive, sawn in half, boiled alive, burnt alive, and crushed on spinning wheels but all this was for what? It was for freedom. It was a fight for a free life or death. Nawab Kapoor Singh, Sardar Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, Sardar Jassa Singh Ramgharia, Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, Sardar Hari Singh Nalua, Akali Phoola Singh, Sardar Shaam Singh, Bhai Maharaj Singh…..the list goes on. These true warriors never let foreign rulers sleep peacefully.Foreigner invaders like Ahmad Shah Abdali attacked India nine times butthe latter always faced resistance in Punjab. Not a single Hindu or Muslims king could stop him. It was Sikhs who fought him and freed many Hindu slave women and children. Up to the Satluj river, Punjab had become part of Afghanistan. Sikhs took it back and reattached it to India. Hundreds of years of foreign attacks were put to a stop forever by the Sikhs. At that time no Hindu army came forward to help Sikhs in the cause of freedom. Rather, they helped Muslims in every battle. It was the Sikhs who ended the long Mughal rule in India and established their own kingdom in northern India but due to the betrayal by Dogras, Sikh kingdom was annexed by the British in 1849.

Bhai Maharaj Singh was the first Sikh to go to every village and city to preach for freedom and start a freedom movement against the British rule. Before he could organize the army that consisted of mostly Sikhs, he was arrested. He was exiled from the country. He died in the jail a couple of years later. In 1850, more than 50 Sikh regiments protested against the British rule and tried to start another war but Charles Campier controlled the situation beforehand and another mutiny died before it could start. After that incident, Baba Ram Singh inspired hundreds of people to boycott British goods and material. This was the first peaceful freedom movement against the British. He appealed to the people, "Do not accept service from the government; do not send children to government schools; do not go to court of law but settle disputes by reference to panchayats (village council); do not use foreign goods; and do not use government postal services." No one outside of Punjab took part in this movement. Baba Ram Singh was arrested and his companions were blown up by the canons. Gandhi’s movement was not anything new. Rather it was everything that Baba Ram Singh had started more than 70 years before him.

After all these struggles how can one still call 1857 mutiny to be the “first freedom movement?” Clearly, Sikhs were the first community to start the freedom movement in India during Mughal and the British Empire.

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