Events at Meerut
On 6th May, 1857 A.D. when the new cartridges were issued to 90 Indian soldiers in Meerut, 85 of them refused to bite them with their teeth. These 85 soldiers were court-martialled and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. They were stripped of their uniforms in the presence of the entire Indian garrison. It was too much of a disgrace to be put up with and this incident sent a wave of indignation. On 10th May 1857, the Indian soldiers at Meerut broke into open revolt. They released their companions and murdered a few European officers. The sky was rent with deafening shouts of “Maro Firangee Ko”. On the night of 10th May the mutineers marched to Delhi and thousands of able-bodied civilians also joined them.
Events at Delhi
The revolutionaries from Meerut reached Delhi on 11th May, 1857 and the small British garrison at Delhi could not resist and consequently fell into their hands within 2 days. The Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II, joined the revolutionaries after initial vacillation and was proclaimed Emperor of India. The loss of Delhi lowered the prestige of the British in India. To retrieve their prestige they put everything at stake and Sir John Lawrence sent a strong British contingent commanded by John Nicholson. After a long siege of four months, the British were able to recover Delhi in September 1857 A.D. The Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II was captured by the British from the tomb of Humayun. Two of his sons and a grandson were shot in cold blood before his eyes. The emperor was deported to Rangoon where he died in the year 1862 A. D.
Events at Kanpur
At Kanpur the struggle for independence was led by Nana Sahib Dondu Pant, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II. The British Commander, Hugh Wheeler finding the odds heavy against him surrendered on June 20, 1857 A.D. A large number of Englishmen, women and children fell into the hands of Nana Sahib and he promised them a safe passage to Allahabad. But the news about the inhuman massacre of the Indians at the hands of General O’Neil at Allahabad and Benares infuriated the crowd which in vengeance killed all the Englishmen in their custody. However, later researches reveal that Nana Sahib had no hand in these killings. General Havelock captured Kanpur after defeating Nana Sahib in a hotly contested battle on June 17, 1857 A.D. In the meantime, Tantya Tope, the able General of Nana Sahib, was successful in winning over the troops at Shivajinagar and Morar by appealing to their sense of patriotism. With the concerted strength of these troops Nana Sahib and Tantya Tope recaptured Kanpur in November 1857 A.D. But they could not keep Kanpur under their charge for long because the English General Campbell appeared there with a large force. The British won a decisive victory against the forces of Nana Sahib in the battle which was fought from December 1 to 6, 1857. Nana Sahib fled towards Nepal, where he probably died, while Tantya Tope migrated to Kalpi.
Events at Lucknow
The tide of revolution touched its highest mark in Oudh. Not only the Hindu and Muslim Taluqdars but even the common people went all out to help the dispossessed Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah. As soon as the revolt broke out the people carried out a complete massacre of the Englishmen. The Chief Commissioner, Sir Henry Lawrence, sought refuge with 1000 English and 700 Indian soldiers inside the Residency. The revolutionaries besieged the Residency and killed most of the Englishmen, including Sir Henry Lawrence and the notorious English General O’Neil. At last, the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in India, General Collin Campbell, himself marched towards Lucknow, at the head of English and Gurkha soldiers. Lucknow fell into the hands of the British after a fierce battle in March 1858.
Events at Jhansi and Gwalior
The leader of the revolutionaries in Central India was Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi. General Sir Huge Rose attacked Jhansi in March 1858 but the brave Rani Laxmi Bai kept the British General unnerved for quite sometime. Her appeal to Tantya Tope for help brought Tantya Tope rushing to Jhansi, but not before her troops were severely defeated on the banks of the river Betwa. Laxmi Bai had to hold on to her fortress alone. The British resorted to deceit and treachery and bribed the guards to open the gates of the fortress. But the Britishers could not capture Rani Laxmi Bai who slipped out of the fort and reached Kalpi where she was joined by Tantya Tope, the brave General of Nana Sahib. Both fought many successful battles against the British. At last they had to leave Kalpi as well and they fell upon Gwalior with lightning speed and captured the fort of Jayaji Rao Scindia, a dependent ruler of the British company. A fierce battle was fought between the British and the revolutionaries under Rani Laxmi Bai and Tantya Tope from June 11 to June 1 8, 1 858 A. D. But the personal valour of Rani and Tantya Tope could not match the resources at the command of the British. The Rani fell fighting the British. Sir Huge Rose paid a tribute to the valour of Rani Laxmi Bai when he said “Laxmi Bai was the bravest and the best of military leaders of the rebels.” Tantya Tope was betrayed by the Gwalior Chief Man Singh and fell into the hands of the British. He was subsequently hanged on April 18, 1859.
Events in Bihar
In Bihar, the Revolt was led by Kunwar Singh, a zamindar of Jagdishpur. Though he was eighty years old, he played a prominent part in the revolt. He fought the British in Bihar and then joined Nana Sahib’s forces and took part in various encounters with the English in Oudh and Central India. He died on April 27, 1858, leaving behind a glorious record of valour and bravery.
Events at Faizabad
The Revolt at Faizabad was led by Maulvi Ahmadullah, a native of Madras. He aroused the Muslim community against the British rule and took part in various battles in Oudh and Rohilkhand. He was, however, treacherously killed.
Nature of the Revolt
Most of the European historians have dubbed the Revolt in 1 857 as a mere ‘Sepoy Mutiny’. They point out that it was a revolt of Indian soldiers who were offended at the use of greased cartridges. In their opinion, the discontented sepoys were incited by the landlords and the deposed native princes and the people of India were not directly involved in this rebellion. They further assert that it was not a national war of independence, in as much as the revolt was confined to a particular region and not to the whole of India; large areas like the Punjab, Sind and Rajputana remained unaffected. The nationalists in India, prominent amongst whom are Subhash Chandra Bose and Vir Savarkar, have hailed it as the First War of Indian Independence. It was admittedly a great and courageous effort by patriotic Indians to get rid of the foreign domination. It was a glorious landmark in our history in as much as Hindus and Muslims fought shoulder to shoulder to win back their lost independence. At places even women took swords and fought the aliens. One cannot but admire the patriotic spirit of boatmen of Lucknow who refused to carry British soldiers across the river. The sepoys and the people fought gallantly upto the very end. Though the revolt was unsuccessful, the spirit of the people remained unshaken. The revolt left an indelible impression on the minds of the Indian people and thus paved the way for the rise of a strong national movement. In the words of Dr. Majumdar, “it has been said that Julius Caesar when dead was more powerful than when he was alive. The same thing may be said about the Mutiny of 1857. Whatever might have been its original character, it soon became a symbol of challenge to the mighty British power in India. It remained a shining example before the nascent nationalism in India in its struggle for freedom from the British yoke.”