Skip to main content

1857 War of Independence... when Hindu-Muslim separatism, hatred wasn't an issue

"The Sepoy Revolt at Meerut", Illustrated London News, 1857 
By Shamsul Islam*
Large sections of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs unitedly challenged the greatest imperialist power, Britain, during India’s First War of Independence which began on May 10, 1857; the day being Sunday. This extraordinary unity, naturally, unnerved the firangees and made them realize that if their rule was to continue in India, it could happen only when Hindus and Muslims, the largest two religious communities were divided on communal lines.
Urgent steps were taken to create enmity between these two. This was the reason, that immediately after crushing militarily this liberation war the then minister of Indian affairs Lord Wood, sitting in London, confessed: "We have maintained our power in India by playing off one part against the other and we must continue to do so. Do all we can, therefore, to prevent all having a common feeling."
In order to put this strategy in operation, the White rulers in league with their Indian stooges came out with the two-nation theory implying that Hindus and Muslims belonged to two separate nations. The birth of the two-nation theory was no accident, in fact, it was specifically created to help the British rulers in creating communal divide and fragmentize the Indian society on the basis of religions as unity of Hindus and Muslims could prove to be the death knell of their rule.
One truth, never to be missed, about this struggle is that it was jointly led by leaders like Nana Sahib, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Maulvi Ahmed Shah, Tantya Tope, Khan Bahadur Khan, Rani Laxmibai, Hazrat Mahal, Azimullah Khan and Ferozshah, a galaxy of revolutionaries who belonged to different religions. It was a liberation struggle in which Maulvis, Pandits, granthis, zamindars, peasants, traders, lawyers, servants, women, students and people from different castes, creeds and regions rose in revolt against the dehumanized rule of the East India Company and laid their lives.
On the 163rd anniversary of War of Independence we need to tell the present flag bearers of Hindu-Muslim brand of communal politics that the revolutionary army which declared the Mughal King Bahadur Shah Zafar, a Muslim, India’s Independent ruler on May 11, 1857 comprised of more than seventy percent Hindu soldiers, all armed. These were Nana Sahib, Tantya Tope and Laxmibai, all Hindus, played vital role in making Zafar, Badshah; the King once again.
Laxmi Bai, Bahadurshah Zafar 
The contemporary documents of the period which are available even today are replete with instances, not confined to one particular area, in which Hindus and Muslims could be seen making supreme sacrifices unitedly. The War of Independence categorically presented one fundamental truth that Hindu-Muslim separatism or hatred between these two communities was not at all an issue.

Ayodhya

After independence Ayodhya emerged as a place which caused rise of immense hatred between sections of Hindus and Muslims. Babri Masjid-Ram Janmbhoomi dispute played significant role in creating an environment of violence and mistrust between the two largest religious communities of India. But in 1857, it was the same Ayodhya where Maulvis and Mahants and common Hindu-Muslims stood united against the British rule and kissed the hangman’s noose together.
Maulana Ameer Ali was a famous Maulvi of Ayodhya and when Ayodhya’s well-known Hanuman Garhi’s (Hanuman Temple) priest Baba Ramcharan Das took lead in organizing the armed resistance to the British rule, Maulana also joined the revolutionary army. In one battle with the British and their stooges, both of them were captured and hanged together on a tamarind tree at the Kuber Teela (now in Faizabad Jail) in Ayodhya.
This region also produced two more great friends, belonging to different religions who made life hell for the British sponsored armies. Achchhan Khan and Shambhu Prasad Shukla lead the army of Raja Devibaksh Singh in the district of Faizabad. 
Both of them were able to defeat the Firangee army in many battles. It was due to the treachery again that they were captured. In order to desist anyone from such companionships between Hindus and Muslims both these friends were publicly inflicted prolonged torture and their heads were cruelly filed off.
The joint heritage of Ayodhya was erased by British rulers and their henchmen turning the communal unity upside down
It is not difficult to understand that why the same Ayodhya where blood of both Hindus and Muslims flowed for liberating the motherland in 1857 later became a permanent source of friction between the two communities. The joint heritage of Ayodhya needed to be erased if the British rule was to survive. It was meticulously done by the British rulers and their henchmen turning the heritage of communal unity at Ayodhya upside down.

Rajasthan

Kota state (now in Rajasthan) was ruled by a Maharao subservient to the British. The leading courtier, Lala Jaidayal Bhatnagar, a great literary figure when found that Maharao was collaborating with the British he joined hands with the army chief, Mehrab Khan and established a rebel government in the state. When Kota was captured by the British forces with the help of stooge neighbouring princes, they together continued fighting in the region till 1859. Betrayed by an informer both were hanged at Kota on September 17, 1860.

Haryana

Hansi town (now in Haryana) presents another heart-warming example of how Muslims and Jains fearlessly challenged the foreign rule and did not hesitate in sacrificing their lives together. In this town lived two close friends, Hukumchand Jain and Muneer Beg. They were known as literary giants and love for mathematics. 
The revolutionary government of Bahadurshah Zafar chose them as advisors and appointed them as commanders in the region of west of Delhi. They led many successful military campaigns in the area but due to the treachery of Native rulers of Patiala, Nabha, Kapurthala, Kashmir and Pataudi were defeated in a crucial battle and captured.
Lucknow, July 30, 1857
The British highly perturbed by this kind of unity decided to kill them in a most sickening manner. After hanging them on the same tree in Hansi on January 19, 1858, Hukumchand Jain was buried and Muneer Beg was cremated against the custom of their respective religions. The obvious purpose was to make fun of the unity of these two revolutionaries belonging to two different religions and show hatred towards their comradeship.
Another unspeakable crime committed by the British was that when 13 year old nephew of Hukamchand Jain protested to this treatment he too was hanged, although there was no sentence passed against him.

Central India

We all are familiar with Rani Laxmi Bai's heroic resistance to the British rule and her death fighting the British forces at Gwalior. She was able to put up such a great resistance with her Muslim commanders; Ghulam Ghouse Khan (chief of artillery), Khuda Bakhsh (chief of infantry) both of whom were martyred defending Jhansi fort on June 4, 1858. Even her personal bodyguard was a young Muslim lady, Munzar who laid down her life with Rani on June 18, 1858 at Kotah-ki-Sarai battle in Gwalior.
Malwa region in the then Central Province (now Madhya Pradesh) was another war theatre where big and crucial battles were fought against the British. The joint command of Tatia Tope, Rao Saheb, Laxmi Bai, Ferozshah and Moulvi Fazal Haq, was able to mobilize a huge rebel army of 70-80 thousand fighters. This army won innumerable battles against the British.
However, in a crucial battle at Ranod when due to the treachery of stooge princes the revolutionary army led by Tatia Tope, Ferozeshah and Moulvi was encircled, Moulvi Fazal Haq stood as a rock in the way of advancing British troops. He and his 480 companions laid down their lives on December 17, 1858, but were able to save the main force which included Tatia Tope, Rao Saheb and Ferozshah. Thus saved by the supreme sacrifice by Moulvi Fazl Haq and his comrades, Tatia Tope continued to wage war till the beginning of 1859.

Rohilkhand

The present-day Bareilly, Shahjahanpur, Badaun and Bijnor was the area which was a strong hold of revolutionaries from the very beginning. Immediately after the announcement of an independent Indian government at Delhi on May 11, 1857, Khan Bahadur Khan was appointed as the viceroy of Mughal emperor there. Khan soon after assuming charge appointed a committee of eight members consisting both Hindus and Muslims to conduct the affairs of the state, his deputy being Khushi Ram. 
This government forbade cow-slaughter in deference to the sentiments of local Hindus. Khan and Khushi Ram led troops defeated the British and their stooges in many battles but were defeated in a crucial battle at Bareilly. Both of them were hanged with hundreds of their followers outside old Kotwali on March 20, 1860.

Delhi

The revolutionary army was led by a joint command consisting of Mohammed Bakht Khan, Singhari Lal, Ghaus Mohammad and Hira Singh. The contemporary British documents show that despite all their attempts to create communal divide in the ranks of revolutionary army and residents of Delhi, the Indians stood as one. In order not to let the British spies succeed in creating communal conflict amongst Delhites, General Bakht Khan, C-in-C of the revolutionary army prohibited cow slaughter.
Kashmiri Gate, September 14, 1857
What kind of communal amity existed in Delhi under siege can be further known by the fact that when a huge canon of Shahjahan’s times which was lying unused was taken out, repaired and made useable, before firing the first canon, in the presence of Bahadur Shah Zafar and other army officials, Hindu priests performed Aarti, garlanded it and blessed it with Vedic hymns.

British narratives

William Russell, a war correspondent was sent by "The Times", London to cover the ‘Mutiny.’ In one of his reports dated, March 2, 1858, while underlining the unity among the ranks of rebel army he wrote:
"All the great chiefs of Oudh, Mussalman and Hindu, are there, and have sworn to fight for their young king, Birjeis Kuddr [sic], to the last. Their cavalry is numerous, the city is filled with people, the works are continually strengthened. All Oudh is in the hands of the enemy, and we only hold the ground we cover with our bayonets."
Another senior British officer, Thomas Lowe admitted:
"The infanticide Rajput, the bigoted Brahmin, the fanatic Mussalman, and the luxury loving, fat-paunched ambitious Maharattah [sic], they all joined together in the cause; the cow-killer and the cow-worshipper, the pig-hater and the pig-eater, the crier of Allah is God and Mohommed [sic] his prophet and the mumbler of the mysteries of Brahma."
Throughout the War of Independence every hook and corner of the country was replete with such instances of fearless fighters, supreme sacrifices and strong bond of unity amongst people belonging to different religions. Such glorious instances of unbreakable Hindu-Muslim unity did really happen 162 years back. It can be verified even today by a simple perusal of the contemporary British archives, personal collections, diaries and narrations.
Given these realities of history, it is not difficult to understand why a divide between Hindus and Muslims was necessitated, who were instrumental in accomplishing it and who benefited out of this divide. The survival of the British Empire in India depended on the successful execution of this strategy of divide and rule.
The flag-bearers of the politics of two-nations in the past and communal politics today are the ones who helped the British to execute this evil design. We should never ignore the fact that communalism was a ploy of the British who feared the end of their Empire in India if Hindus and Muslims continually stood united. On the eve of 163rd anniversary of the great rebellion, we must rise to take pledge of never betraying the shared heritage and shared martyrdoms of the First Indian War of Independence.
---
Formerly with the Delhi University, click here for some of Prof Islam's writings and video interviews/debates. Twitter: @shamsforjustice, blog: http://shamsforpeace.blogspot.com/

Comments

TRENDING

North Gujarat gram panchayat bars villagers from dealing with Muslim hawkers, traders

By Our Representative  A gram panchayat in North Gujarat has barred its residents not to buy anything from Muslim traders and hawkers. An order of the Waghasan group gram panchayat of Tharad taluka of Banaskantha district dated June 30 states that the decision has been taken in the wake of beheading of a Hindu tailor after he posted a derogatory writeup on Prophet Mohammad in Udaipur. The gram panchayat resolution says, anyone seen buying or selling any commodity from a Muslim hawker or trader would be fined Rs 5,100. Bringing this to light, Mujahid Nafees, convener, Minority Coordination Committee, in a letter to Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel, says, the state government should take legal action against the panchayat chief who has signed the “unjust” order. The letter says, the act of the sarpanch and other signatories is a violation of rule of law of the state and threat to peace, pointing out, the move is in violation of Article 15 of the Constitution, which says that none

Unlike Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India: Ukrainian scholar tells 'Indian friends'

Counterview Desk In an open letter to "dear Indian friends", Anastasia Piliavsky, born in Odessa, Ukraine, studied at Boston and Oxford Universities (on a Rhodes Scholarship), and now teaches at King’s College, London, has said that she faces "deep moral dilemma", personally and professionally, over the "astonishingly unified Indian response to the war in Ukraine." Based on her interaction with a "number of thoughtful and caring Indian friends", in this letter, she says, she is "reeling at the ubiquitous silence at, justifications of or outright support for Putin’s terror, which now prevails in India, at the ubiquitous #IStandWithPutin and #istandwithrussia hashtags." She insists, India must understand, "Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India. Soviet leaders, beginning with (the Ukrainian) Nikita Khrushchev – who declared hindi rusi bhai bhai – built up deep political and cultural exchange with India." Text : I

Technocratic globalism, tyranny? Health Ministry warned: bill to 'enslave' Indians

Sandeep Pandey, Tushar Gandhi By Rosamma Thomas*  Union of Concerned Citizens, a group comprising Magsaysay Award winner Prof Sandeep Pandey, human rights activist Tushar Gandhi, former judge of the Bombay High Court BG Kolse Patil, pediatrician Dr Jacob Puliyel and several renowned Indian citizens have written to the Union Health Minister cautioning him against tabling the draft Public Health Bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. “The Public Health (Prevention, Control And Management Of Epidemics, Bio-Terrorism And Disasters) Bill, 2017 and a Prospective Bill of 2022 as discussed in news articles, is straightforwardly violative of Fundamental Rights of the citizens of India and therefore, Ultra Vires of the Indian Constitution. It contravenes several International Treaties and Conventions including the Nuremberg Treaty of 1947 which was enacted to ensure that no country would repeat such inhuman medical atrocities on fellow human beings”, the 12-page letter reads. “Strangely, t

Teesta treaty? Modi sends ball to Mamata's court amidst Hasina's mango diplomacy

By Samina Akhter*  Most Bangladeshi and India media reports say that the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has received 600 kg of mangoes from Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as part of her "mango-hilsa diplomacy." Hasina also delivered mangoes to President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi this month, according to the Bangladesh Deputy High Commission in India. In all, 1,200 kg of Amrapali mangoes were delivered to the residences of the President and the Prime Minister of India. According to a Bangladesh's deputy high commission official in Kolkata, a few more chief ministers in the eastern region will likely receive similar gifts. Last year, not only President Kovind and Prime Minister Modi, but also the chief ministers of West Bengal, Tripura, and Assam also received mangoes from Prime Minister Hasina. Hasina delivered mangoes from Rajshahi, including kinds like Golapkhas and Amrapali, as it is the peak season for the delectable fruit in

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Protesters demand release of Teesta Setalvad, Sreekumar, seek review of SC order

By Our Representative  Protests broke out across India on June 27 following Teesta Setalvad’s arrest demanding her immediate release. Sabrang India , a site run by Setalvad, claimed she was “arrested on trumped-up charges after the Supreme Court dismissed the petition moved by Zakia Jafri demanding an investigation into the larger conspiracy behind the 2002 Gujarat violence.” The protesters also demanded release of former DGP Gujarat police RB Sreekumar, also arrested simultaneously. The protests were preceded by over 2,200 people from across the globe signing a statement demanding their immediate release. Leading signatories such as People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) general secretary V Suresh, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) convenor Medha Patkar, former Naval chief Admiral Ramdas. “The state has used the observations made in the judgment to falsely and vindictively prosecute those who had struggled for justice even in the face of state callousness and complicit

Electoral bonds scheme 'compromises' voluntary nature PM relief fund donations

By Rosamma Thomas*  The Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) is meant to collect voluntary donations from the general public, either individuals or organizations, to enable assistance to people in times of natural disaster, or for expensive medical treatment. That fundamental voluntary character of the fund, however, has changed in recent years.  The gazette notification of January 2018 announcing the Electoral Bond scheme states, in Clause 12 (2): “The amount of bonds not encashed within the validity period of fifteen days shall be deposited by the authorized bank to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund”. The Union government has, thus, through notification, directed funds to be deposited into what was meant to be purely voluntary. Commodore Lokesh Batra, who has been campaigning for transparency in government functioning, holds that once a gazette notification has been issued directing that funds be deposited into the PMNRF, the character of the whole fund has changed,

Cops 'refuse to register' complaint after BSF shot landless worker off Bangla border

By Our Representative  Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), and national convener, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI), in a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), referring to the incident of “firing and execution” of a poor Muslim youth, has alleged that the 26 year old was was shot at “without giving any warning” one and half kilometers inside the Indian territory from Bangladesh border by an on- duty Border Security Force (BSF) personnel. Stating that the person, Ruhul Mondal, belonged to an Other Backward Class (OBC), and hailed from Ramnarayan Para village under Sagarpara police station in Murshidabad district, West Bengal, Roy in his representation said, the BSF person who shot at him is “attached with Singpara Border Outpost, 141 Battalion”, underlining, the BSF has now floated “self defense theory” to cover up its operation. According to the BSF officials, the incident took place in the jute fields in

'Highly abnormal': AltNews journo's arrest suggests 'deterioration in media freedom'

By Bharat Dogra*  Leading media organizations have come out in strong support of recently arrested journalist Mohammed Zubair. These organizations include, among others, the Editors Guild of India, the Press Club of India, the Delhi Union of Journalists and DIGIPUB, a platform for several important digital media organizations. All these organizations have condemned the recent arrest of the noted journalist and demanded his immediate release. While leading human rights organizations and political parties have also made somewhat similar statements, the strong support of media organizations is particularly important as the effort of the authorities has been to try to present the arrested journalist as someone who has been indulging in irresponsible journalism.  In such a situation the support of those media organizations who are familiar with his work and who are most capable of judging the quality of his work is very important. In this context it is important that some media organization

Majoritarian silence helping Hindutva forces 'handover' national resources to corporates

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The majority of Indian citizens are witnessing the persecution and everyday violence against their fellow citizens who are Muslims and religious minorities. The growing assaults on reason, science, secularism, Indian democracy and constitution are going to be landmarks in Indian history of diminishing democracy and citizenship rights. It is clear that Hindutva ideology is directly promoting sectarian politics of hate which is dangerous for the unity and integrity of India, peace and prosperity of Indians. The majoritarian silence helps in empowering Hindutva and their electoral dividends. From witnessing the persecution in the sidelines to the active participation and cheering loud or silence accelerates violence against our neighbours and our fellow citizens. How and why do majority of Indians stay silent and contribute to the persecution of their fellow citizens who are Muslims and religious minorities? The question baffles me as an Indian because I have gr