By: Nishitha Mohandas
We read, see and analyse history in different angles. So is the case of India's First War of Independence or The Revolt of 1857. For Indians it is the First War of Indian Independence but for British it is a Sepoy Mutiny.
However, the First War of Independence happened because of a brave son of India, Mangal Pandey. It was this man who woke-up the Indian masses from sleep to fight for the nation, which was ailing under the British. Mangal Pandhey was the torch-bearer.
The rising was, literally, triggered by a gun, the Pattern 1853 Enfield rifled musket. To load the new rifle, soldiers had to bite the cartridge, open and pour the gunpowder into the rifle's muzzle, then stuff the cartridge case, which was coated with some kind of grease to make it waterproof, into the musket as wadding, before loading it with a ball.
A rumour spread that the cartridges were greased with lard (pork fat) which was regarded as unclean by Muslims, or tallow (beef fat), regarded as sacred to Hindus. At that time it was believed that a high-caste Hindu who ate cows' flesh would lose caste, with dreadful consequences both in the present life and the next. Slowly discontent was rising which ultimately lead to the revolt.
On March 29, 1857 at the Barrackpore (now Barrackpur) near Calcutta, Mangal Pandey attacked and injured his British sergeant on the parade ground and wounded an Adjutant with a sword after failing to shoot at him. The officer in charge General Hearsay ordered a Jamadaar of the troops, a man called Ishwaria Pandey to arrest Mangal. But he refused. The whole regiment drew back from restraining or arresting Mangal.
Failing to incite the spirit of nationalism in his comardes Mangal tried to end his life. He turned the gun against himself and used his foot to try to pull the trigger to shoot himself. But Mangal failed and was captured. He was court-martialed on April 6 and was hanged at Barrackpore on April 8, 1857.
His execution was actually scheduled for April 18. But was carried out ten days earlier. Because the Britishers feared the possibility of a massive revolt. As a collective punishment for his act, the entire regiment was also dismissed. This was the end of the first warrior of Indian Independence.
Mangal Pandey who is also known as Shaheed (Martyr) Mangal Pandey was born in a village of Nagwa in Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh. There are some controversy related to his place of birth. One account claims that Mangal was born in a Bhumihar Brahmin family of Surhupur village of Faizabad.
As per the records he joined the British East India Company in 1849 at the age of 22. Mangal was a part of the 5th Company of the 34th BNI regiment. Little is known of his life before the momentous war of Independence but he has been declared a martyr since. On March 29, 1857 Mangal Pandey reaped the seed for a struggle which gave India her freedom and us Indians independence.
The Government of India commemorated Mangal Pandey by issuing a postage stamp bearing his image on October 5, 1984. A film based on his life and times titled Mangal Pandey: The Rising starring Indian actor, Aamir Khan directed by Ketan Mehta was released in August 2005.
The life of Mangal Pandey was also the subject of a stage play titled The Roti Rebellion, which was written and directed by Supriya Karunakaran. The play was organized by Sparsh, a theatre group and presented in June 2005.