Published On 15 Aug, 2021
Nation First, Always First: Snippets From Revolts Against The British Empire Pre-1857
dharmapuri arvind

Today, on 15th of August 2021, as we celebrate the 75 years of our freedom, we can’t help but reminisce about the intricate path to India as we enjoy today- the largest democracy. In these 75 years we have come a long way politically, socially and economically. As the subculture of political schooling developed after independence, the switch of possibilities turned effectively to get justice and the right of access to opportunities for all 130 crore country people irrespective of region, caste, religion, status, gender. All this started with the revolts by natives against the foreign rulers, the refusal to accept exploitation of our resources, oppression and assaults on people and the fight to conserve our identity, our rights and beliefs.

Even before the famous Revolt of 1857, known as ‘the first war of independence’, many minor and major rebellions took place all over the country which several of us are not aware of.  Understanding our ancestry, culture, roots and heritage is an important part of carving out our future and our country’s future; to evaluate, imagine and measure the course that can lead us there. We believe, regardless of who we are, one must not forget from where it started and who took the initial courageous steps which led to the freedom we are thankful for. Team AD brings to you lesser known revolts that took place before the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, with an aim to understand, explore and take pride in our history and our roots:

The freedom fighters in Hyderabad had to fight against two authorities- The British and the Nizams of Asaf Jahi dynasty. The Nizams were the faithful ally of the British. They prevented any sort of negative action against them. Between 1815 and 1857, diverse uprisings against the foreign rule led to attack on British residency in Hyderabad by Turrebaz Khan and Moulvi Alauddin. Turrebaz Khan was shot dead and hung from a lamp post in the city. Later Nalwadi Venkatappa Naik, Raja of Surpur samsthan too revolted against the British. He was the one who brought unity among all South Indian rulers. Historians believe that he was one of the few kings in ancient India who fought with only one intention- ousting the British from the country. After the collapse of the Vijayanagar Empire, the Rajas of Surapur Samsthanas continued all religious ceremonies and rituals of the revered Tirupati temple.

Telangana, maybe the youngest state of India but it came a long way to its freedom. The Jai-Hind slogan is also said to be attributed to Hyderabad. Hyderabadi Zain-ul-Abdin Hasan, a staunch Gandhian and son of a collector, was Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s secretary and interpreter. INA- Indian National Army wanted a salutation to greet each other collectively. Suggested by Hasan was ‘Jai Hindustan Ki’, later shortened to ‘Jai Hind’.

In Anandmath, classic novel by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee reminds us of collaboration of peasants, sanyasis and displaced zamindars during the Bengal famine of 1770, called the Sanyasi Rebellion. The company was not able to suppress sporadic clashes with migrating ascetics. Manjum Shah, Ganesh Giri, Bhavani Pathak and Devi Choudhurani were some of the notable leaders here. Devi Choudhrani’s commitment recognizes the role women played in the early resistance to Britain.

Velu Nachiyar, Queen of the Kingdom of Ramnad, Tamil Nadu, fought against the imperialists in 1780. She was the first Indian queen ruler to fight and triumph against the British. She was called Viramangai, Brave Woman. When her husband and King Mutuvaduganathaperia Udayatevar were killed by the British army, she took part in the battle. She regained the kingdom after leading an all-female army with her Dalit commander-in-chief Kuyili. Kuyili gallantly volunteered to carry out the first suicide-bomber mission in history to blow up british arsenal.

On October 3, 1780, the first sepoy mutiny took place much before 1857. The uprising was triggered by Britain’s abuse of sepoys and patriotic vehemence by the Circars battalions of the Coast Infantry along the Coromandel Coast, now Visakhapatnam. Armed troops killed Lt. Crisps, Cadets Kingsford Venner and Robert Rutherford, the paymaster.

In Vellore, Tamil Nadu in 1806 the one-day mutiny, mainly confined to  the Vellore fort, saw local troops kill close to 130 British officers and soldiers, while losing close to 100 mutineers. The Indian soldiers were particularly angry at the decision of the British East India Company to change the dress code of Indian soldiers, wanting to do away with religious symbols of both hindu and muslim soldiers. Since it touched on matters of identity, Indian soldiers planned the armed rebellion which we now call as Vellore mutiny.

In the city of Barakpur thirty years before the events of 1857, the Burmese kingdom started expanding in Manipur and Assam and started threatening the British territory in Bengal. The 26th, 62nd and the 47th Regiments of the Bengal Army, were ordered to take up the expedition to Arakan via the Cachar hills of Manipur. The Bengal regiment was composed mostly of Brahmins; each soldier took his own utensils which meant more luggage and the use of more cattle. General Paget refused to provide enough cattle. It was the feeling of attack on being their real-self and compromising beliefs, and in protest, the 47th Regiment refused to advance to Burma on the designated November day, 1824. General Paget reached Barrackpore with two British battalions, an artillery company, and some bodyguards of the Governor General and opened fire on the 47th regiment of the Bengal army without warning. More than a hundred people died almost immediately. Many people drowned while trying to escape through the nearby Ganges River. The whole group was detained that day, 41 of them were sentenced to death and the regiment disbanded.

Moreover, contemporary to the famous Salt Satyagraha, many years before, the local Surat population attacked the British’s step to raise salt duty from 50 paise to one rupee. In the face of the mass movement, the government abolished the additional salt tax. In 1848, the government was also forced to abolish the introduction of Bengal’s standard weights and measures for residents to curb boycott and passive resistance by the local people.

The dissent against enslavement, brutality and injustice, the intention of free India, the yearning for motherland and fellow citizens, started with the aspirations of local people in manners history cannot account for. Be it the tribals and Paiks of Odisha in the Paika Rebellion, Waghera Uprising by Waghera chiefs of Okha Mandal, Diwan Velu Thampi’s Revolt in Travancore, or the infamous Poligar’s Revolt against the company over taxation, every brave soul’s contribution is etched on threads of our tricolour fluttering tall and high.

While we talk about the past, our eyes must be set on the future. India has a young population and holds promise of becoming the global center of excellence. Changing directions, focusing on training and rebuilding young people’s skills and ensuring their productivity is helping us take leaps in India’s future prospects. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American philosopher in “Independence” told us that people become truly independent when they believe in themselves and create individualism. We have the freedom as well as opportunity to contribute to our country’s progress in our own individual manner. Freedom and the ability to create one’s own world stem from being self-reliant. Our past emboldens us. Our eminent freedom fighters and valiant martyrs summon us to fulfill our own individual dreams for Future India; for individual dreams will collectively lead to prosperous, self-reliant India. Like PM Shri Narendra Modi Ji said, “Let us all be determined to play our role in this nation’s mahayagna.”

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