India’s struggle to freedom is a significant chapter in the nation’s history and holds a value greater than any significant event of the past. The Ministry of Tourism as part of its ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ webinar series to commemorate and honour nation’s most significant day has lined up a series of five webinars that collectively touch upon themes encompassing the freedom movement, places significant to it and pioneers who had a notable participation in helping India secure its independence.
The Ministry of Tourism organized a webinar titled “Memoirs of 1857 -A Prelude to Independence “on 8.8.2020. This is first in this series of ‘Independence Day’ themed webinars and the 45th among overall Dekho Apna Desh webinars. Dekho Apna Desh Webinar Series is an effort to showcase India’s rich diversity under Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat and it is continuously spreading spirit of Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat through virtual platform.
The webinar was presented by Nidhi Bansal, CEO, India City Walks & India with locals and.Soumi Roy, Researcher and Story Teller and moderated by Rupinder Brar, Additional Director General, Ministry of Tourism. The Webinar took a virtual tour of the saga of our independence and the first war of India’s independence fought in 1857 and the string of events kept following till we attained complete independence in 1947. The presenters highlighted the monuments and buildings that bore the brunt of the revolt or came up as a result of it. From Delhi, Kanpur, Meerut, to many other cities across the country, the presentation showed the viewers story of valour, sacrifice and bravery.
The presenters touched upon the reasons that sparked the revolt like pathetic socio economic conditions, problems of land and revenue administration, destruction of economy, low position of Indians in administration, Doctrine of Lapse, ill-treatment of Bahadur Shah Zafar, Annexation of Oudh, biased Police and Judiciary, and discrimination with Indian sepoys.
In March 1857, Gilbert Hadow, an army surgeon in the employment of East India Company, wrote the following lines describing a strange movement afoot in 1857, in a letter to his sister in Britain. “There is a most mysterious affair going on throughout the whole of India at present. No one seems to know the meaning of it. It is not known where it originated, by whom or for what purpose, whether it is supposed to be connected to any religious ceremony or whether it has to do with some secret society. The Indian papers are full of surmises as to what it means. It is called the Chapati movement.” The entire chapati ‘movement’ left the British Empire shaken to the core. The British controlled India with a relatively small number of men (100,000 in all), subjugating a huge population of 250 million, so they were well aware of just how inadequate these numbers would be in the event of a serious rebellion.
The speaker spoke about the role of Mangal Pandey- An Indian soldier in the British army, one of the key figures behind Sepoy Mutiny or India’s First War of Independence in 1857. They narrated the incident of the afternoon of 29 March 1857, when Lieutenant Baugh, Adjutant of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry, then stationed at Barrackpore was informed that several men of his regiment were in an excited state. Further, it was reported that one of them, Mangal Pandey, was pacing in front of the regiment's guard room by the parade ground, armed with a loaded musket, calling upon the men to rebel and threatening to shoot the first European that he set eyes on. Due to his attack on two British soldiers, Mangal Pandey was hanged to death on April 8, 1857, at the age of 29.
The webinar captured the sequence of the revolt after the outbreak of the mutiny in Meerut and how the rebels quickly reached Delhi, whose 81-year-old Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was declared the Emperor of Hindustan. Soon, the rebels had captured large tracts of the North-Western Provinces and Awadh (Oudh).
The presenters brought to light some lesser known facts and personalities associated with the First War of Independence 1857 like Raja Nahar Singh, the king of Ballabgarh, Faridabad who guarded Delhi's borders from British forces and kept Delhi liberated for over 120 days. The other battles highlighted included:
· The Battle of Badli-ki-Serai fought early in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, or first war of Indian Independence.
· The Siege of Cawnpore
· The Bibigher massacre when the violent resistance to the British rule from Eastern part of India was soon coming towards the North
The East India Company establishing a base on the Delhi ridge and with the help from reinforcements, Kanpur was retaken by mid-July 1857, and Delhi by the end of September. However, it then took the remainder of 1857 and the better part of 1858 for the rebellion to be suppressed in Jhansi, Lucknow, and especially the Awadh countryside.
The Company established a base on the Delhi ridge to the north of the city and the Siege of Delhi began. The siege lasted roughly from 1 July to 21 September. For several weeks, it seemed likely that disease, exhaustion and continuous sorties by rebels from Delhi would force the Company forces to withdraw, but the outbreaks of rebellion in the Punjab were forestalled or suppressed, allowing the Punjab Movable Column of British, Sikh and Pakhtun soldiers under John Nicholson to reinforce the besiegers on the Ridge on 14 August.
An eagerly awaited heavy siege train joined the besieging force, and from 7 September, the siege guns battered breaches in the walls and silenced the rebels' artillery. An attempt to storm the city through the breaches and the Kashmiri Gate was launched on 14 September. The attackers gained a foothold within the city but suffered heavy casualties, including John Nicholson. After a week of street fighting, the British reached the Red Fort. The British exiled Bahadur Shah Zafar to Rangoon in British-controlled Burma (now in Myanmar), after convicting him on several charges.
The presenters listed various places and sites associated with the First War of Independence and how one can experience the popular trail of 1857 in the following places:-
a) Barrackpore- Known for cantonment area, Mangal Pandey Cenotaph and park.
b) Gwalior- Beautiful Gwalior Fort where Rani Laxmibai sought shelter while fighting the Britishers, Samadhisthal of Rani laxmibai.
c) Jhansi- Rani Laxmibai also known as Manikarnika was married to the Maharaja of Jhansi. Jhansi Fort, Jhansi Cantonment cemetery,
d) Lucknow- Residency complex, La Martiniere College, Tomb of General Havelock, Alambagh Palace/Kothi Alamara, Alambagh, Sikander Bagh and Palace, Dilkusha bagh and Palace.
e) Kanpur- All saints memorial church located in the cantonment area, Nana Rao Park (former site of Bibighar massacre), Sati Chaura ghat.
f) Agra- Agra Fort, Agra college library is one of the oldest libraries.
g) Meerut- St John’s Church, British Cemetry,Parade ground etc.
h) The seat of power- Delhi. There are two trails i) Kashmere Gate ii) The Northern Ridge trail
Northern Ridge trail- Vice Regal lodge built in 1902, Flagstaff power, Khooni Jheel, Hindu Rao House now converted into a hospital, Mutiny memorial.
Kashmere Gate Trail- Kashmere Gate, St. James Church, Nicholson Cemetry, British magazine, a fortified building use to store ammunition, Telegraph memorial, Khooni Darwaza.
Apart from these, there are many museums associated with the revolt of 1857 which can be witnessed showcasing the valour and struggles are Museum on 1857, Red fort, Azadi ke Diwane museum, Shahid Smark And Government Freedom Struggle Museum etc.
Brar in her concluding remarks spoke about Ministry of Tourism’s Incredible India Tourist facilitator certification programme which will also act as an enabler for transforming and encouraging the citizen with knowledge about destination, products and story trails. The saga of India’s freedom movement cannot be told without referring the notable contribution made by the Indian National Army (INA) led by Subash Chandra Bose. India’s military history is very fascinating and visits to some of the museums like Jaisalmer War Museum, Jaisalmer, Air force Museum, New Delhi, Indian War Memorial Museum, New Delhi, Naval Aviation Museum, Goa, Samudrika naval marine Museum, Andaman and Nicobar etc. These museums showcase the weapons, vehicles and aircraft used by the Indian military over the years. We salute all the valiant Indian Army personnel and recall with pride their indomitable spirit, valour and sacrifices in making India a safer place.