Revolt and Revenge; a Double Tragedy
by V.S. "Amod" Saxena
Delivered to The Chicago Literary Club
February 17, 2003
The British called it the Sepoy's Mutiny. Indians called it their First War of Independence. Whatever the name, the uprising by the Indians and the soldiers of the East India Company was not an ordinary event. It was a widespread-armed revolt against a powerful and wealthy Company.
In 1857, the Sepoys broke discipline, took up arms and led a violent uprising against the English. The main cause given by the English historians is presence of greased cartridge in Enfield rifle. The Indians even today accuse the British of arrogance and a desire to rob them of their wealth, faith and political opinions. The event caused death, destruction and human tragedy of enormous proportions on both sides.
The English, with the recently chartered East India Company, arrived at the shores of India in 1600. At the time, the powerful Mughal ruled the country. Its empire was the largest land based empire in the world. It was rich and thriving. Within one hundred and fifty years, the administrative control of the country passed from the Mughal to the East India Company. In the process, the company became powerful and rich. It maintained a dominant military of several hundred thousand men to protect its holdings. By middle of the nineteenth century, the Company felt confident that in a country of 150 million people, it could protect its employees and political and financial interests.
The summer of 1857 changed all that.
In January of that year, small round Chapattis or flat Indian bread began to appear all over North India. Like a chain letter, the chapattis traveled in an area of about 200 miles around in a single day. The Indians sent messages hidden in each chapatti. This method of rapid communication competed directly with the telegraph, run by the Company. One of the messages buried in the chapattis read sub lal ho gaea hai meaning that all has become red. Red color signified the British rule as well as the symbol for blood. The English suspected that the messages carried warning of approaching disaster.
The morning of February 26, 1857 at Berhampore in Bengal, the 19th Native Infantry was on the parade ground for an exercise to fire the newly arrived Enfield rifles. The cartridges were blank and did not contain animal grease. When ordered to fire, the soldiers refused.
As a result, the officers arrested the soldiers and tried them for treason. They disbanded the regiment and sent them to prison for several years of hard labor. They also denied them pension and right to appeal their punishment. The disbanding of the soldiers from the regiment occurred in public. This did not go well with the soldiers and the public. Many soldiers had served the army for decades with valor and honor. Losing their benefits and worse their dignity angered the soldiers and the people of North India.
Mungal Pandey, proud and a sensitive man was a high caste Brahman. He served in the 34th Native Infantry. While participating in an exercise one day with loaded rifles, he suddenly broke away from his line. With out paying any attention he urged other soldiers to defy their superiors. He then pointed his gun at Lt. Baugh riding his horse. Pandey then fired his gun at his horse and brought it down. He then quickly struck the lieutenant with his sword. There were twenty Indian guards standing nearby. Only one of them came to help the officer, the rest just looked on in silence. This one soldier grabbed Mungal Pandey and held him down while the English officer escaped.
When another officer threatened to shoot the soldier with a revolver, Mungal Pandey turned the gun towards his own body and shot himself. Though wounded, he was immediately arrested. The evidence against Pandey revealed that he had acted alone and under the influence of marijuana and opium. However, he was found guilty of the treason and was hanged on April 8, 1857.
The sepoys were now getting restless and angry at the English. In spite of rampant rumors of the sepoys' discontent, the British refused to believe them. The bond of loyalty and affection that existed between the soldier and the officers seemed to be disappearing. Compounding this was a suspicion by most soldiers that the British were preparing to attack them and that they intended to disarm and dishonor them. There was reason to support the suspicion because the Company had requested a large reinforcement of troops from outside.
The soldiers were also upset about the punishment and disbanding of the 19th Native Infantry at Barrakpore. In fact, the 3rd cavalry did go to the jail where the soldier were kept and freed them. When the British officers arrived at the scene, the soldiers attacked them and killed one Colonel John Finnis. They then went on a shooting and killing rampage of several officers.
A large scale mutiny struck on May 10, 1857 at Meerut, a city about forty miles from Delhi. The soldiers continued to plan and communicate with each other while the English seemed demoralized and seemed incapable of dealing with the revolt.
The English tried to cool tempers and General Arson in Bengal made a public statement that greased cartridges would not be used anymore and instead balled ammunition shall be made up by each regiment for its use'.
The proclamation failed to calm the soldiers and an open rebellion continued. A cycle of violence and retribution between the soldiers and the British became a routine. Public executions of the sepoys became a common site.
On May 25, 1857 the Lieutenant Governor of North West Province tried to turn the tide by proclaiming; "Soldiers engaged in the late disturbances, who are desirous of going to their own homes, and who give up their arms at the nearest government civil or military post, and retire quietly, shall be permitted to do so unmolested. Many faithful soldiers have been driven into resistance to government only because they were in the ranks and could not escape from them, and because they really thought their feelings of religion and honour injured by the measures of government. This feeling was wholly a mistake; but it acted on men's minds. A proclamation of the governor general now issued is perfectly explicit, and will remove all doubts on these points. Every evil-minded instigator in the disturbance, and those guilty of heinous crimes against private persons, shall be punished. All those who appear in arms against the government after this notification is known shall be treated as an open enemy."
Company's Governor General Lord Canning did not like it. He demanded its immediate withdrawal. He felt that letting the soldiers go free would be tantamount to a pardon of murderers. The soldiers paid no attention to the controversy.
The mutiny now spread from the Afghanistan in the Northwest to the Burma border in east and from the Nepal border in the North to Nagpur in the south. This covered over fifty percent of area ruled by East India Company.
One of the most tragic incidents occurred in Cawnpore at the end of June. Cawnpore was an important and the largest garrison built by the British at the banks of River Ganges. General Hugh Massy Wheeler commanded the cantonment. It occupied the southern tip of the city. As a precaution, Wheeler had dug a wide ditch around the two large barracks. Ten nine-pounder cannons guarded the encampment. His English force was small in comparison to the Sepoys. He knew that if the Indians attacked, there would be no safety for his men and women. Nearest help was at Lucknow where his good friend Henry Lawrence was the Commanding Officer. Although only sixty miles away, it was cut off by an unfriendly population and resentful Indian soldiers.
Lucknow was also the capital of Oudh, a large territory ruled by a Mughal Nawab. The city was rich and well administered. Only a few years before, Wheeler himself had engineered a revolt against the Nawab resulting in an insurrection. The Company then reduced his power to a status of a puppet. It gave the Company rights to levy tax. This had angered the population and upset the Nawab. The news that Wheeler had requested reinforcement of more troops confirmed the fears of the sepoys and the people that British had ulterior motives on their
Wheeler spoke the local language and had adopted their customs. He had also married an Indian. He was thus confident that the Indians would attack his garrison.
He was wrong.
The attack came with vengeance on June 4, 1857. It was started by the 2nd Cavalry and soon followed by the three infantry divisions. There were a total of 3000 Indian soldiers to only 300 of the English. Wheelers two nine pounder guns were no match to nine twenty pounders of the rebels. The camp at the moment had about one thousand people mostly disabled men, women and children. Majority of them also included people of mixed blood who had come to the camp for protection. There were about one hundred and fifty sepoys who remained faithful to Wheeler. Continuous bombardment by the Sepoys disabled most of the carriages and destroyed the ammunitions inside the entrenchment. Wheeler wrote Lawrence: "British spirit alone remains but it can not last forever."
The camp was also running out of food and water. The wounded had problem being taken care of. The heat and flies made living conditions intolerable.
Governor Cannon had promised Wheeler a regiment of eight hundred British soldiers from Calcutta. It had not yet arrived and he had no idea when or if it would arrive. In his letter, he wrote; " The ladies, women and children have not a safe hole to lie down in and they all sleep in trenches for safety and coolness. The barracks are perforated are perforated in every direction, and cannot long give even the miserable shelter which they now do..."
With no help from his headquarter in Calcutta, Wheeler finally made a fateful decision and asked a prominent Indian citizen for his help in evacuating the camp to a safer place. The name of the Indian was Dhondu Pant. He was popularly known as Nana Sahib. He was influential and resourceful in the community. He was also on friendly terms with Wheeler and several other British.
However, Nana grudged the British for his own reasons. He was an adopted son of Bija Rao, a prominent Maratha ruler of a prominent state of Bithur. In 1851, the British dethroned the ruler by force and took over his state. They put him on a pension and when he died, they denied his adopted son Dhondu Pant an annuity which he claimed belonged to him. Nana lived near Cawnpore and resented the British for denying him his pension. He had fought long legal battle but lost his case in the Privy Council. Although on surface, he continued to entertain the English and was polite to them, he desired revenge against the British, if an opportunity arrived.
Nana agreed to help Wheeler evacuate the camp without any violence against its inhabitants. Nana also arranged several boats that would take the people down the river Ganges to Allahabad. It seemed a good and safe plan.
Nana thought that when the British were gone, the victorious sepoys would need a leader. He expected them to come to him for help. With their help and his own small army he could easily declare himself the ruler of the area. In his judgment, being a friend of the British was not in his best interest.
As expected, several regiments of the rebel army contacted Nana and asked him to join their rebellion. The Sepoys threatened to kill Nana if he declined to join them. This left Nana no choice but to agree to join them.
The evacuation of the camp proceeded peacefully. Nana's men arranged for the English to embark boats for their journey down the river to Allahabad. This area chosen by them was a small landing with steps leading to the river and was used by the people to bathe and pray in the holy Ganges. It was popularly known as Satichaura Ghat. The ghat was in a narrow ravine that led to the water edge where boats could be easily launched. The English were grateful to Nana for his kindness. The victims had suffered a great deal. They celebrated their good fortune as they embarked the boats.
The freedom did not last long.
As soon as they had boarded the boats, the sepoys suddenly appeared with their guns. They opened fire at the boats. Several men, women and children died in this shooting. Those few who had guns tried to return the fire but they were outnumbered and out gunned. A few escaped to tell their story but many died during the gunfire. Most boats caught fire and sank with passengers still on board. When a few attempted to escape by jumping off the boats, the Sepoys chased and shot them at close range. Those who reached the river bank were gunned down too. The river turned red with blood and was full of floating bodies.
General Wheeler was also killed in this violence.
About one hundred and twenty five women and children survived the bloodbath. Although, the British later accused Nana of betrayal and murder of innocent people, no evidence has ever been found to prove it. On hearing about the news of shooting Nana sent his own troops to bring the survivors to safety. He ordered his men to take the women and children to one of his houses called Bibighar, a house meant for women. It was large but not large enough for so many people.
Soon another group of about eighty English women and children joined victims of Satichaura bloodshed. The rebels had captured them in another town and had brought them to Nana Sahib as captives. There were now over two hundred women and children inside this house. Bibighar proved utterly small and crammed. It was barely furnished with a few pieces of furniture and a few bamboo mats for people to lie down. For the English women, the summer heat and high humidity made their life intolerable.
After the rebels defeated the Wheeler's regiment, Nana saw a chance he had been waiting for. He declared himself the Maharaja of Bithur, his ancestral title. He now had the title that the Company denied him for so long.
Little did he know that two strong English armies led by General Henry Havelock and General James Neill were moving towards Cawnpore to attack Nana's forces.
Back at the Bibighar, Nana's people had appointed a prostitute Hussaini Begum to take charge of the prisoner's daily activities. The Begum was harsh and stern. She put them to hard labor of grinding corn for chapattis. The meager ration included chapatti and dhal or thin lentil soup.
Hard labor and poor sanitary conditions at Bibighar soon began to take its toll. The death toll from cholera and dysentery rose at an alarming rate. The deaths at Bibighar and advancing troops towards Cawnpore alarmed Nana and his advisors. His spies reported that the British troops led by Havelock and Neill were committing grotesque and indiscriminate slaughter of several hundred villagers. The prisoners at Bibighar now posed a burden for Nana's advisors. They also offered an opportunity to take revenge for the murders of civilians by the advancing British troops. To do away with the prisoners would also ensure their silence as witness to the massacre at the Ghat.
Nana himself had not planned to harm the prisoners at Bibighar but his advisors and the rebel sepoys over ruled him. A few amongst Nana's advisors had already decided to kill the prisoners at Bibighar; " even one European remained alive he would continue to be a thorn in his flesh"; one advised Nana. The women of Nana's household, however, opposed the decision and went on hunger strike but failed to convince the men around him.
It is not certain who finally gave the orders but the fate of the prisoners was sealed. They must be killed before the advancing troops reached Cawnpore, they decided. As the evening wore off on the July 15, the sepoys entered Bibighar and tried to drag them out of the house. The women grasped the pillars of the verandah and refused to move. Unable to move them the Sepoys fired volleys of shots at them. Wounded but still adamant to move, the prisoners clung to each other. Finally, Sarvir Khan, a tall Pathan from Afghanistan walked in with four butchers. They were armed with long swords. They began to swing them wildly at the victims. After almost two hours, the sword-dance of the butchers stopped and the place became silent.
The sun had already set and it was dark now. The five attackers walked towards the exit, stepping on the dead bodies. The sweat of hard work of committing violence made their hands, arms and naked trunk glistened in the dim light of the burning lamps outside. They silently went home to their families after a job.
Next day early in the morning, thousands of local citizens gathered around Bibighar to view the carnage. They could see the bodies of the victims at a close range, piled one over the other in a heap at the far wall of the room.
The burial party now arrived to dispose off the bodies. Half buried in the heap were four women who were still alive. They found four women and some children still alive. As soon as the women saw the men they got up and ran towards a well outside in the court yard of Bibighar. All women one by one jumped in to the well to their death. A few children also followed them in to the well. Those who escaped were immediately killed.
The burial party now re-entered the house and began to clear the place of the dead. They found it hard to dispose off the bodies in a short time. They decided then to dump all the bodies in a large fifty feet deep well situated in the courtyard.
Thus the job of disposing the dead done, the burial party departed for their respective homes completely tired. Immediately, the crowed that had gathered at Bibighar began to disperse quietly.
The city now seemed to be in a state of heightened but quiet tension. Nana's spies, in the meanwhile, returned from their mission brought the news of a large British reinforcement near by. According to them, Generals Havelock was leading a large force and that General Neill was in the march. They also found out that the English troops had defeated rebel forces in Fatehpur, a city near Cawnpore. The fighting was fierce and that there were a large number of death and injury on both sides. The victors retaliated against the civilians by sacking villages, raping women, killing children and hanging hundreds of men. When the people of Cawnpore heard this, they feared similar retaliation against them. They quickly started a rapid evacuation of cities citizens.
Finally, Havelock's troops arrived. They had walked and fought their way without rest or sleep. They were tired and hungry. They found out about the deaths at the Satichaura Ghat and the murders at Bibighar. As soon as they arrived in the city, they threw down the rebel flag flying over the police station and installed the Union Jack. Sherer and Bews, the forward officers tried to calm the citizens and asked for assistance.
The people did not believe them. They had heard about the horrible atrocities inflicted on the innocent villagers.
When Shere told Havelock about the dead bodies in the well, he was very shocked. He was sitting quietly pondering over loss of his own men the day before in a fierce battle with the rebels. He ordered Shere to fill the well immediately with dirt to stop the stench so that the nature would take its course and give them a burial without further indignities.
A fierce fighting broke out between the rebel soldiers and the British troops. Finally, the English defeated the sepoys. When the English soldiers saw the well filled with dead bodies of women and children, they became and with rage and hatred. It did not matter that they had done their own share of atrocities on their way to Cawnpore. Now they were the victors and they found a justification for further revenge.
One soldier who came out of the massacre site vowed; "I have spared many a man in fight, but I will never spare another. I shall carry this with me in my holsters, and whenever I am inclined for mercy, the sight of it, and the recollection of this house, will be sufficient to incite me to revenge."
For the rebels and the civilians, the worst was yet to come. The atrocities against the Indian civilians had already begun even before the English reached Cawnpore.
At Fatehgarh, for example, when the English defeated the enemy, their officers ordered a mass scale killing the rebels and the citizens on the spot. General Neill had also organized Hanging parties'. The parties made daily rounds to seek out those that they believed had participated in the rebellion. This in practice meant whatever the English thought of their victim. No evidence was sought and none given before executing the victim. Even a slightest defiance by a person meant immediate death. A description by a soldier of the 78th Highlanders tells the story of one of such expedition:
"We shouted that he was a sepoy, and to seize him. He was taken and about twelve more. We came back to the carts on the road, and an old man came to us, and wanted to be paid for the village we had burned. We had a magistrate with us, who found he had been harbouring the villains and giving them arms and food. Five minutes settled it; the sepoy and the man that wanted the money were taken to the roadside, hanged to a branch of a tree We came to the village and set it in fire. The sun came out, and we got dry, but soon we got wet again with sweat. We came to a large village and it was full of people. We took about 200 of them out, and set fire to it. I saw an old man trying to trail out a bed .I saw the flames bursting out of a house , and, to my surprise, observed a little boy, about four years old, looking out at the door. I pointed the way out to the old man and told him if he did not go I would shoot him."
When the Highlanders moved to another village, they caught about 140 men, women and children. They selected sixty men from the group, forced them to build the gallows of wooden logs taken from the burning homes. They then chose ten men of the group hanged them without any evidence or trial. For others, they had reserved flogging and beating to teach them a lesson. The women and children; " all crying and lamenting what had been done Oh, if you seen the ten march round the grove, and seen them looking the same as if nothing was going to happen to them! There was one of them fell; the rope broke, and down he came. He rose up, looked all around; he was hung up again"; an account given by one of the soldiers.
At one of the villages, about two thousand villagers armed only with their lathis, wooden cane stood turned out in protest. They stood up to face the Highlanders. The British troops surrounded them and set their village on fire. The villagers were trapped with fire all around them. The villagers trying to escape were shot to death. One soldier describes the incident thus; " We took eighteen of them prisoners; they were all tied together, and we fired a volley at them and shot them on the spot".
General Neill had another plan also. On his marching map, he marked those villages that he chose for special treatment. The soldiers would loot, burn and kill the inhabitants of villages without mercy.
In his book, "Our Bones Are Scattered" Andrew Ward writes: "Neill appointed commissioners to oversee the retribution, including one particularly homicidal civilian who on June 28 boasted that we have the power of life and death in our hands, and I assure you we spare not.' Each day he had strung up eight and ten men' and after a summary trial' each prisoner was' placed under a tree with rope around his neck, on the top of a carriage; and when it is pulled away, off he swings "
Stringing and shooting the men in front of their family was a sport the troops enjoyed. Watching women stooping and begging for the lives of their men seemed to thrill the young soldiers and their officers.
The prisoners were made to stand under the hot summer sun for hours till they fainted. It was easy to flog them when they were half conscience, otherwise, they would squirm and make it hard to strike. Flogging invariably ended in killing of the victims.
The English wanted to break the faith of their Hindu and Moslem prisoners. The prisoners accused of evenly remotely participating in revolt had to crawl on their four limbs, lick the blood off the floor and forced to eat beef and pork before being executed. The beef eating was reserved for Hindus and pork meat for the Moslems before their execution.
Cannon-shows were announced to a whole village. Here, a prisoner would be tied to the mouth of cannon. The cannon would then be fired blowing the poor man to pieces. Small bits of flesh mixed with fresh blood exploding in the air made a spectacular show. The next prisoner was forced to pick the flesh pieces from the ground, clean the cannon before he was tied to the cannon mouth. In several cases, a victim would be flogged before being sewn alive in pigskin and be left in the sun to die of asphyxiation and heat. Such punishment was meant to demonstrate the military power of the British and to instill fear in the minds of the public.
The revenge killings went on for several weeks. The Indians now convinced themselves that it all proved their earlier suspicion that the English came to India not to trade but destroy their faith. According to Lawrence James: "The laws of evidence were suspended, age and sex ignored, and those who carried out the killings were proud of their deeds, which they justified as revenge for the atrocities at Meerut and Delhi."
Soldiers and officers writing to their families in England used phrases like; "Lots of blackguards are hanged every morning The more the merrier I am delighted to see that good folks at home hate the Pandies almost as much as we do You say Delhi ought to be thoroughly destroyed. We all say the same. Some 300 or 400 were shot yesterday There are several mosques in the city most beautiful to look at. But I should like to see them all destroyed. The rascally brutes desecrated our churches and graveyards and I do not think we ought to have any regard for their religion." " to my certain knowledge many soldiers of the English regiments got possession of jewellary and gold ornaments taken from the bodies of the slain city inhabitants, and I was shown by men of my regiment strings of pearl and gold mohur which had fallen into their hands That many of provate soldiers of my regiment succeeded in acquiring a great quantity of valuable plunder was fully demonstrted soon after our return to England."
Both Indians and the British troops participated in extensive looting, robbing and stealing as well as exhorting money and property from wealthier citizens. However, the English were more systematic and organized in their approach towards this.. According to one English soldier;
" . they shut him up in a dark celler and fired pistols over his head until he got into such a state of alarm that he told them where they could find Rs. 50,000 of his own and Rs. 40,000 of a friend of his The next day they got hold of another corpolent nigger, who however was upto the dodge of the pistols, and did not even care about knives being thrown all around him .so they loaded a pistol before his eyes, and sent the bullet through his turban, which he thought was getting beyond a joke, so he divulged the whereabouts of Rs. 40,000."
No end to the bloodshed of the Indians seemed in sight. Lawrence from Punjab finally wrote to General Penny, the Commander in Delhi;
"I wish I could induce you to interfere in this matter. I believe we shall lastingly, and , indeed, justly be abused for the way in which we have despoiled all classes without distinction I have even heard, though it seems incredible, that officers have gone about and murdered, natives in cold blood. You may depend upon it we cannot allow such acts to pass unnoticed. If we have no higher motives, the common dictates of policy should make us refrain from such outrages Unless we endevour to distinguish friend from foe, we shall unite all classes against us."
In spite of Lawrence's call for restrain, the killings, and looting continued for several more weeks. Hundreds of citizens were shot, hanged or killed by the sword while the English smoked their cigars'. On several occasions, the British soldiers bribed the executioners to keep the noose lose enough for the victims to go slowly towards their death. The English called slow dangling of the body on a rope, the "Pandies' hornpipe" thus describing a dying man's struggle on the rope that resembled a hornpipe. It reminded the English of a spirited fifteenth century folkdance accompanied by the hornpipe, popular in the nineteenth century Britain.
On November 1, 1858, the peace was declared by the Governor General of India. The British Government abolished the East India Company and took over the reigns of India's administration. The Queen's proclamation also declared that all rebels would be pardoned if they had not murdered any Europeans and that the religious tolerance would be respected.
One hundred and forty five years have passed since the revolt was suppressed. Indians have asked the question "What were the English doing in India in the first place and why did the Indians allow themselves to be treated in such a manner?" The answers are hard to come by. It seems certain that the causes of mutiny were several.
By 1850s, the Indians had become deeply dependent upon the East India Company for their security and economic wellbeing. It controlled the internal and external trade and affected its economy. The rapid decline of the Mughal Empire resulted in a power vacuum that the British were lucky enough to exploit.
Although the Mughal Empire created one of the strongest and most powerful kingdoms in the world, it remained a land based and isolated. This was in contrast with the British who had just defeated the Russians in Crimean War and had sowed the seeds of building an Empire that would control forty percent of the globe and all sea-lanes. They were the prime naval power.
The rulers of various Indian states never understood changes occurring outside their own world. Arguments, dissentions and divisions between them over succession, division of boundaries and control of weaker states by the stronger ones made them target of East India Company. The Company took advantage of the opportunity. Thus, the East India Company won the day by playing politics, deceit, chutzpah and sheer luck.
During the initial years of the Company's involvement in India, each ruler raised his own army to protect itself from external and internal attacks. Once the Company controlled the subcontinent, the need for multiple armies receded. The Company became the main employer. The competition in hiring the Sepoys disappeared. It became a monopoly in recruiting its military needs. It set the price, the pay, the benefits and conditions of service. The potential soldier and the Sepoy lost his bargaining power. Once this happened in favor of the Company, the soldiers became disenchanted and helpless. In this they were no different than the lettuce growers of California before Chavez organized them.
By 1850s, the English had over 300,000 strong Indian men in uniform. The Company had only 30,000 English soldiers but in command over the Indian soldiers,
In the beginning, the relationship between the Indians and the English was cordial and respectful. The English dressed and ate with the Indians. They learnt the local language and adopted local customs.
All this changed by the middle of the nineteenth century. Average Englishman became more educated and increased their standard of living the Indian standard of living declined. The Company opened special schools in England to train young men for the Company services. These young men were different culturally and were brash. At the same time the Company allowed young women to follow the men. Intermingling between the Indians and English began to be discouraged. The cordial and understanding relationship between the English officers and the Indian soldier declined. Sita Ram Pandey a Brahmin soldier of high cast describes these feelings:
"In those days the sahibs could speak our language much better than they do now, and they mixed more with us. Although officers today have to pass the language examination, and have to read books, they do not understand our language . The only language they learn is that of lower orders, which they pick up from their servants, and which is unsuitable to be used in polite conversation."
Most British officers hardly noticed an Indian face even though they were surrounded by them. When they did notice, it was to abuse them. These abuses included calling insulting names and swearing. One British resident in India once wrote:
" the sepoy is regarded as an inferior creature. He is sworn at. He is treated roughly. He is spoken as nigger'. He is addressed as suar' or pig, epithet most opprobrious to a respectable native, especially the Mussalman, and which cuts him to the quick. The old (officers) are less guilty But the younger men seem to regard it as an excellent joke, as an evidence of spirit and praiseworthy sense of superiority over the sepoy to treat him as an inferior animal."
Several dozen servants or "Khitmutgar" meaning "the one who serves" served an Englishman regardless of his position in his own society. An English household had the Khansaama', for his the kitchen a Mali' for his garden, an Ayah, to nurse his children and multitude of other servants to do things that an Englishman loathed to do him. He hardly raised a finger for all his comfort, little or large.
The English masters demanded complete loyalty from their servants. These servants were beaten and abused on the slightest mistake.
The treatment of Sepoy was not much different. By 1850's the relationship of the English officers and the sepoy was that of a ruler and the ruled. A common belief among the local population that the English had no respects or regards for the people's religion, culture or local customs created even more resentment.
Indians felt; "Who were the Feringhis or the foreigners to tell them how they wanted to live their lives?" For the Moslems it was even more insulting. For over eight centuries, they ruled the Indian subcontinent. They felt cheated and deprived.
The Company control of the country brought a horde of Christian Missionaries to India. Their mission was to "Civilize" the Godless. The Indians resented their presence. Just before the mutiny, the Company administration actively participated in conversion of local population to Christianity of those, they captured as prisoners and those who they employed. The Company freely distributed copies of the Bible as an inducement to the prisoners who were at its mercy. Even worse was a practice by the Company to require that all Moslem prisoners must shave off their beard. For a Moslem shaving, his beard is blasphemous.
In the hospitals the English doctors, nurses and administrators confined men, women and children in the same ward regardless of their feelings. According the Hibberrt, a Subedar named Hedayet Ali laments that "the intention of the British (was) to take away the dignity and honour of all."
The resentment stayed bottled up and in 1857; then it exploded. The grease in the cartridge provided the spark. The mutiny surprised and shocked the English and caught him unawares. To the Indian it was not a surprise. The massacre at Bibighar was a heinous crime, no doubt. It occurred because the sepoys and the people heard of the atrocities by the soldiers of the 78th Highlanders under Havelock and Neills on their way to Cawnpore. Both the English and the Indians lacked maturity and dispassion. They took their gloves off and proceeded to kill each other with no mercy-one in revolt and the other in revenge.
The discipline in the British army broke down completely after their victory at Cawnpore. Freely available liquor at Nana's warehouse acted as the fuel to the fire. The English soldiers got drunk and lost their sense of right and wrong. They went on a rampage, broke down the godowns, looted them, and drank liquor to their hearts content.
To this day, the English and Indians have their own version of the gory event. Both defend their points of view evoking strong emotions.
The British were very proud of their Indian dominion. They convinced themselves that Indians would be grateful of the English rule. There is a little story that has made rounds in social gatherings and told by P.J.O Taylor in his book A Star Shall Fall. It goes like this; "An English superior once asked an Indian subordinate was he not glad to be under the rule of Queen Victoria.' He seemed to have hesitated, but when pressed, asked to be excused a direct reply, but would the Sahib please listen to a little Indian tale?"
"This was the tale.
"There was once a washerman who owned a donkey. Every day he loaded up the beast with very heavy bundles of dirty clothing and drove him down to the edge of the river. There the donkey was hobbled and left to scratch a poor feed from the sparse dry grass on the river bank. The washerman meanwhile would join his fellows in the shallows and wash the clothing they had brought"
"One day a thief crept up and un-hobbled the donkey and led it away. Hours later the washerman discovered his loss, and with help of villagers tracked down the donkey: the thief fled and was caught. The washerman was very angry, and took out his displeasure on the donkey, saying you stupid animal, why did you not bray and call me? I would have come running atonce!' The donkey replied why should I be pleased either to stay with one master or go with another? Am I to be better treated and better fed with one rather than the other? The only improvement for me would be to have no master at all."
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12. The Last Empire: Photography in British India, 1855- 1911 Published by Aperture Inc., 1976.
13. Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan's History of the Bijnor Rebellion Published by Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University, Michigan. South Asia Series Occasional Paper No. 17.
14. Armies of the Raj, From the Great Mutiny to Independence: 1858-1947.
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17. We Fought Together for Freedom, Chapters from the Indian National Movement, edited by Ravi Dayal, Published by Oxford University Press, Delhi 1998.
18. Aankhon Dekha Ghadar (Eye witness to the revolt) by Vishnu Bhatt Godshe and translated by Amritlal Nagar from Maradhi to Hindi. Published by Rajpal and Sons, Kashmir Gate, Delhi, 1998