LEADERS OF 1857
Bahadur Shah Zafar
As the Indian rebellion of 1857 spread most rebelling Indian kings and the Indian regiments accepted Bahadur Shah Zafar as the Emperor of India under whom the smaller Indian kingdoms would unite until the British were defeated. Zafar was the least threatening and least ambitious of monarchs, and the legacy of the Mughal Empire was more acceptable a uniting force to most allied kings than the domination of any other Indian kingdom. When the victory of the British became certain, Zafar took refuge at Humayun’s Tomb and hid there. British forces surrounded the tomb and compelled his surrender. The next day British shot his sons and grandson at the Khooni Darwaza (the bloody gate) near Delhi Gate. After a show trial, Zafar himself was exiled to Rangoon, Burma in 1858 along with his wife Zeenat Mahal and some of the remaining members of the family. His departure as Emperor marked the end of more than three centuries of Mughal rule in India.
Bakht Khan was a subedar in the army of the East India Company, gaining forty years of experience in the Bengal horse artillery and seeing action in the First Anglo-Afghan War. When sepoys in Meerut revolted against the British in May 1857, Bakht Khan built up an army of Rohilla sepoys and then left for Delhi. By the time Khan arrived at Delhi on July 1, 1857, the city had already been taken by rebel forces and the Mughal ruler Bahadur Shah II had been proclaimed Emperor of India. The emperor’s eldest son, Mirza Mughal had been given the title of chief general, but this prince had no military experience. Bakht Khan’s superior abilities quickly became evident, and the emperor gave him actual authority and the title of Saheb-I-Alam Bahadur, or Lord Governor General. Khan was virtual commander of the sepoy forces. When Delhi was recaptured by British, Bakht Khan himself fled Delhi and joined rebel forces in Lucknow and Shahjahanpur. In 1859 he was mortally wounded and died.
Mangal Pandey joined the sepoy force of the British East India Company in the year 1849 at the age of 22. Pandey was part of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry and is primarily known for his involvement in an attack on his senior British officers on 29th March 1857 at Barrackpore. This incident marked an opening stage of Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 or the First War of Indian Independence. It is said that Pandey was a devout Hindu who practiced his religion diligently. He was sentenced to death by hanging along with another sepoy, Ishwari Prasad who assisted him during the incident.
At Kanpur, the revolt was led by Nana Sahib, the adopted son of exiled Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao II. Through his adoption, Nana Sahib was eligible for an annual pension of £80,000 from the East India Company. However, after the death of Baji Rao II, the Company stopped the pension on the grounds that Nana Sahib was not a natural born heir. Nana Sahib was highly offended, and sent his envoy, Azimullah Khan to England in 1853 to plead his case with the British Government. However, Azimullah Khan was unable to convince the British to resume the pension, and returned to India in 1855. Soon Nana Saheb expelled the British from Kanpur and proclaimed himself as the Peshwa. Two major incidents happened during his time was Satichaura Ghat massacre and Bibighar massacre. The british decided to surrender, in return for a safe passage to Allahabad, but all departing British were attacked by the rebel sepoys, and were either killed or captured near Satichaura Ghat on June 27,1857. The surviving British women and children, around 120 in number, were brutally killed in Bibighar on July 15, 1857. On the very next day, British recaptured Kanpur but Nana Sahib had already escaped. By 1859, Nana Sahib was reported to have fled to Nepal but his ultimate fate was never known.
Rani Lakshmibai (Manikarnika) was married to Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, the Maharaja of Jhansi in 1842, and became the queen of Jhansi. After their marriage, She gave birth to a son Damodar Rao in 1851. However, the child died when he was about four months old. After the death of their son, the Raja and Rani of Jhansi adopted Anand Rao, the son of Gangadhar Rao’s cousin. However, it is said that the Raja of Jhansi never recovered from his son’s death, and he died in 1853. Since Anand Rao was adopted, Lord Dalhousie annexed Jhansi, saying that the throne had “lapsed” and claimed the right to put Jhansi under his protection. In March 1854, she was given a pension of 60,000 rupees and ordered to leave the palace and the Jhansi fort. But she fought fiercely against the British troop which tried to siege Jhansi on 23 March 1858. Lakshmi Bai’s forces could not hold out and three days later the British were able to breach the city walls and capture the city. Lakshmi Bai escaped by jumping from the wall at night with her son and joined other rebel forces, including those of Tatya Tope. The Rani and Tatya Tope moved on to Gwalior, where the combined rebel forces defeated the army of the Maharaja of Gwalior after his armies deserted the rebel forces. They then occupied a strategic fort at Gwalior. However, on the 17th of June 1858, while battling against British near the Phool Bagh area of Gwalior, she died. Recently on July 21st, 2011, Rani Laxmibai was declared to be one of the “Top 10 Badass Wives” in the world by Time magazine, who supported their husbands.
Tatya Tope was Nana Sahib’s close associate and general. During the Siege of Cawnpore in 1857, Nana Sahib’s forces attacked the British entrenchment at Kanpur in June 1857. The low supplies of food, water and medicine added to the misery of the British Forces who decided to surrender in return for a safe passage to Allahabad. Nana Sahib agreed to this and made arrangements as best as he could. However, under ambiguous circumstances, the evacuation of the British from Cawnpore turned into a conflict at the Satichaura Ghat and the departing British were attacked and killed by the rebel sepoys. The surviving British women and children were moved to Bibighar “the House of the Ladies”, a villa-type house in Kanpur. Nana Sahib decided to use the captives for bargaining with the East India Company. When it became clear that the bargaining attempts had failed, an order was given to murder the women and children imprisoned at Bibighar, on July 15.The Company forces reached Cawnpore on July 16, and captured the city. Both Nana Sahib and Tatya Tope escaped from the city. While Nana Sahib fled to an unknown place, Tatya Tope continued the fight against the British. In November 1857, he gathered a large army, mainly consisting of the rebel soldiers from the Gwalior contingent, to recapture Cawnpore. But his forces were defeated by the Company forces in the Second Battle of Kanpur. Tatya Tope then joined Rani Lakshmibai. However he was defeated by General Napier’s British Indian troops after the betrayal of his trusted friend Man Singh. He was executed by the British Government in 1859.
Veer Kunwar Singh
Veer Kunwar Singh, the king of Jagdishpur, currently a part of Bhojpur district, Bihar, was one of the leaders of the Indian revolt of 1857. At the age of 80 years, he actively led a select band of armed soldiers against the British troops and recorded victories in many battles. The great warrior gave a good fight and harried British forces for nearly a year and remained invincible till the end.
Shah Mal lived in a large village in pargana Baraut in Uttar Pradesh. He mobilised the headmen and cultivators of chauraseedes, moving at night from village to village, urging people to rebel against the British. As in many other places, the revolt against the British turned into a general rebellion against all signs of oppression and injustice. Cultivators left their fields and plundered the houses of moneylenders and traders. Displaced proprietors took possession of the lands they had lost. Shah Mal’s men attacked government buildings, destroyed the bridge over the river, and dug up metalled roads – partly to prevent government forces from coming into the area, and partly because bridges and roads were seen as symbols of British rule. They sent supplies to the sepoys who had mutinied in Delhi and stopped all official communication between British headquarters and Meerut. Locally acknowledged as the Raja, Shah Mal took over the bungalow of an English officer, turned it into a “hall of justice”, settling disputes and dispensing judgments. He also set up an amazingly effective network of intelligence. For a period the people of the area felt that firangi raj was over, and their raj had come. Shah Mal was killed in battle in July 1857.
Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah
Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah was one of the many maulvis who played an important part in the revolt of 1857. Educated in Hyderabad, he became a preacher when young. In 1856, he was seen moving from village to village preaching jihad (religious war) against the British and urging people to rebel. When he reached Lucknow in 1856, he was stopped by the police from preaching in the city. Subsequently, in 1857, he was jailed in Faizabad. When released, he was elected by the mutinous 22nd Native Infantry as their leader. He fought in the famous Battle of Chinhat in which the British forces under Henry Lawrence were defeated. He came to be known for his courage and power. Many people in fact believed that he was invincible, had magical powers, and could not be killed by the British. It was this belief that partly formed the basis of his authority.