THE GREAT REVOLT
If you have ever gone to Delhi, you might have noticed that the grey stone wall surrounding the old city has been badly damaged. At some places it has been completely knocked down. This has also happened to many buildings in Lucknow. This damage was done a hundred years ago, when there was a great uprising against the British. It started with some Indian soldiers, but soon princes and landlords also joined in. Many leaders of the revolt were killed fighting bravely, and have become national heroes. But there were many more who did not take part in this attempt to drive out the foreigners.
There were several reasons for this revolt. Indians were getting more and more dissatisfied with the greedy ways of the officers of the East India Company. The Company gave only small jobs to Indians; all the bigger offices were reserved for the British. Naturally, the Indians did not like this. It hurt their self-respect that they could not hold high offices or run their own affairs. They also knew that the rule of the British meant that more and more wealth went out of the land.
The ruling families of India had lost all their power to the British. But since they were not used to being treated roughly, as the British often treated them, many turned against the British. The way in which Lord Dalhousie took over many kingdoms made them angry. Then there were the common folk who were unhappy because they had lost their livelihood. Indian weavers and spinners found that suddenly nobody wanted the cloth they made. The machines in England produced cheaper cloth and India was flooded with mill-cloth and many other machine-made things from England, which our people were forced to buy.
You have already read of the zamindari system that was making the lives of the poor peasants miserable.
To add to all this, the British did not try to learn the ways and customs of the Indians. One of the most thoughtless things they did was to introduce in the army a new kind of cartridge, a portion of which had to be bitten off with one's teeth before it could be fired. It was believed that these cartridges were smeared with grease made from the fat of cows and pigs. This made both the Hindu and the Muslim soldiers very angry.
The revolt started with the sepoys at Meerut. One day some of them refused to obey the orders of their British officers and fired on them. The army was full of hatred already, and rebellion spread like fire.
Bahadur Shah, the powerless Mughal emperor of Delhi, was made the leader of the revolt, though he was very old and had always been fonder of poetry than of war. The fighting took place mostly in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. People in other parts of India largely kept aloof. There still was not enough spirit of nationalism to make all Indians bound themselves together against a foreign enemy.
THE RANI OF JHANSI
Some very brave men and women took part in this struggle. Among the most famous of them was Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. Dressed in men's clothes, she led her soldiers to war against the English. Even her enemies admired her courage and daring. Her last battle was the bravest. She fought valiantly and although beaten, she refused to surrender and fell in the field of battle, as a soldier should, fight the enemy to the last.
Tantia Tope was another hero of this uprising. He was a military leader of great skill. Instead of fighting in the open he made surprise attacks on the British forces at different places. He came to the help of Rani Lakshmibai, but too late to save her from defeat and death. In the end, he was captured and sentenced to be hanged. The brave fighter was not at all afraid to die. He went firmly up the steps of the scaffold and put the noose round his neck with his own hands.
Nana Sahib, a friend of Tantia Tope, led the revolt against the British at Kanpur. More than four hundred Englishmen with a number of women and children defended themselves against Nana Sahib's angry men but finally had to surrender.
THE DELHI STORY
A day after the revolt broke out at Meerut, the Indian rebels galloped to Delhi and took it from the British. They occupied the palace, and proclaimed that Bahadur Shah, the aged Mughal, had again become emperor of Hindustan.
It was very important for the British to get Delhi back because it was the centre of activity for the rebels, and also because it had been the capital for so long. A month after its loss, the British fought a battle and took up a position on the famous Ridge which overlooks the whole city. From here they went forward, blew up Kashmiri Gate, and captured the city and the palace after fighting hard for six days. Nicholson, the leader of the British force, died of a wound. The city was sacked by British soldiers and hundreds of people were killed with bayonets.
THE FATE OF BAHADUR SHAH
Bahadur Shah, who had fled to Humayun's Tomb, was arrested. His two sons, whom he surrendered as prisoners of war, were later shot down for no good reason. Bahadur Shah was exiled to Burma, where he spent his last years in misery. Here he wrote some very moving poems in Urdu which have become famous. His pen-name was Zafar. He died in Rangoon, a sad and broken man of eighty-seven.
BEGUM HAZRAT MAHAL
The young Begum of Oudh, Hazrat Mahal, was a very brave woman. She ruled on behalf of her infant son who was to ascend the throne of Oudh when he came of age. She took very active part in the defence of Lucknow against the British. Although she was a queen, used to the veil and a life of luxury, she appeared on the battlefield herself to encourage her troops. Begum Hazrat Mahal held out against the British with all her strength as long as she could. Ultimately, she was driven to Nepal where she took refuge.
TWO OTHER FIGHTERS
In these troubled times a man named Liakat Ali rose to be a leader in the city of Allahabad. He was a humbleman who had been born a weaver. He became a schoolmaster. He was so greatly respected that people joined him when he rose against the British. He was as kind as he was courageous, and even in the midst of fighting, he did his best to keep law and order. He became well known as the Maulvi of Allahabad.
Another man who was a brave fighter against the British was Ahmadullah Shah, the Maulvi of Faizabad. A large number of people loyally followed him. He was defeated in a fierce battle at Shahjahanpur. He tried to take refuge in a fortress on the border of Oudh, but the Raja of the fort closed his gates against him. Then the Maulvi charged on an elephant. He made an easy target and was shot down The Raja claimed fifty thousand rupees as a reward for the Maulvi's head from the British.
Kunwar Singh, another hero of the uprising, was an old Rajput ruler of a small State in Bihar which the British Governor-General tried to take away from him. Many stories are told about Kunwar Singh. Once when he was crossing the Ganga, he was hit by a British bullet on the wrist. It was a deep wound, and his followers were afraid it would get worse and infect his whole arm. Kunwar Singh unsheathed his sword. With one stroke he cut off the injured arm and threw it into the river. Then he smiled and said: This is my last offering to the motherland. At this time Kunwar Singh was eighty years old.
COMPANY RULE ENDS
Fighting went on for more than a year. The Indians fought for a good cause but not all of them joined in the fight and those who did, fought at different times and different places. In the end they had to give in.
British authority was established once again, and Indias first fight for freedom was lost. Many British generals, like Nicholson and Havelock, became heroes of England. Although they won a victory, the British also learnt a lesson. It was this. They could no longer think only of making money in India. If they wanted to stay in India and govern it, they would have to do it with more wisdom and foresight.
At this time, Queen Victoria was ruling in England. After the Great RevoIt it was decided that India should be ruled by her government and not by the East India Company. The Governor-GeneraI became the Viceroy, or one who acts for the King or the Queen. Many benefits were promised to the people in a proclamation made in the name of Queen Victoria, at a durbar held in Allahabad. One of the promises was that the people wouId be allowed to follow their own religions as they liked.