REMEMBERING 1857 IN VILLAGES OF WESTERN UTTAR PRADESH –  Amit Pathak,   Amit Rai Jain,  K. K. Sharma.

This project was undertaken by the authors. Our guides and teachers have always been Dr. S. K. Mittal and Dr. K. K. Sharma. Mr. Manoj Kumar Gautam accompanied us on many of these trips and Mr. Sachin Kumar was our assistant.

Through the length and breadth of Western Uttar Pradesh lie village after village that participated in the Great Uprising of 1857. The whole region was boiling against colonial rule and the battles went on for more than a year before peace reigned again on these green fertile lands, leading finally to the demise of the East India Company. This story is written in the blood of thousands and thousands of simple peasants who took on the might of the greatest empire earth has ever known with the simplest of weapons – spears, swords and shields, the most powerful weapon in their possession being a matchlock. With these weapons they took on the might of the company and crown regiments which were armed with the first true rifle of the armed forces – the Enfield Rifle and military artillery. Most of these European infantry regiments were supported in their operations by crown cavalry regiments as well as corps of mounted volunteers.

Memories of those battles our present all through these lands even today. Some of these memories have been retained as stories of the great deeds of forefathers, some through fears like the fear of the Bar (Fig) tree.

The villages or parts of villages that fought against the colonialists did not simply suffer a loss of life and property. Through a system process, the colonial government pushed all those families which had participated in the Great Uprising of 1857 into perpetual poverty, a mixture of poverty and social deprivation from which they have not been able to come out till date.

The process undertaken for punishment was simple. The colonial administration auctioned off at negligible rates all the lands of those families which had participated in the uprising to those families which had helped them during the days when the battles were being fought. We all know that without land and cattle, any rural family is doomed. In many places whole villages which had participated in the uprising were branded as `bagi’ or rebel and registered in the local police station. It will surprise many to know that even today when we went to some of these villages people informed us that if a crime is committed in the surrounding areas, the first place the police would come to raid would be their village as it is registered as a bagi gaon in the local police records.

The sad story does not end here. These villages or those families which participated in the Great Uprising of 1857 are not recognized as freedom fighters. In all the villages that we have visited, though the memory of the uprising if fresh in most, no one ever – either a historian or academic – had visited any of these in the past 60 years. These people live with their suffering, a suffering imposed on them by the colonial masters for having fought for their homeland. The injuries of the colonialist can be justified somehow, but the neglect of the independent citizens of India cannot be justified at all.

The participants of this book compilation had started visiting these villages and the sites linked to the uprising in various parts of North Western Uttar Pradesh in 2007, the 150th anniversary of the uprising. We know and understand our limitations, but have adapted a simple process by which these families and villages can help themselves. The village or part of a village that has participated in the uprising is first identified through records of the uprising written in 1858. The team visits the relevant families and records their memory of the uprising as has been passed on from generation to generation. The information is then analysed and the details are documented as well as confirmed.

After the initial visit a program is held at that village on the date on which it was destroyed or if the exact date is not available, on some generally accepted date. The program is organised in coordination with local politicians and we have found in our experience that in these programs politicians forget their party differences.

Once a program has been organised in a village and the press has also publicised, the village and the relevant families become well known all over the area. This is what rural society in India is based on – respect. And this is what the village and the families get, respect and regard from all the people living in that region. We also donate a stone marker with the history of the uprising in the village written over it. This leads to the construction of a memorial in the village and thus begins a process of visits by politicians and other important members of society to this village. The village when it comes to the limelight automatically starts reaping the benefits. The best example of this success has been the first village where we had started the process – Busodh (page   ). This village was completely of poor labourers as all its lands had been auctioned off after the great uprising. Today this village has transformed completely. The children of this village are some of the best academic performers compared to the children of the surrounding villages. The highest percentage that a child gets in this village was last year 82% in science which was achieved by a girl. This is the only hope that we have and this is the best we can do to these villages. Give them their long lost honour and respect and fire the minds of their children by telling them that they are the children of brave freedom fighters who gave their lives for their motherlands.

On William’s Trail in 2007 – the 150th anniversary of the Great Uprising

Dr. Amit Pathak, Mr. Amit Rai Jain, Dr. K. K. Sharma.

It had been 150 years since those events took place around Baraut. We in Meerut had known that Shah Mull is a household name in this whole region. He is a legendary figure for the people, a hero for them.

The narration, within the `Mutiny Narratives’ of Meerut, which describes the episode of the attack on Baraut by the British retaliatory force under Williams, delineates a clearly demarcated route followed by this force in this attack between 16th and 18th July, 1857.

A thought crossed our minds that it would be really interesting to follow William’s trail and unravel as well as re-live that past in 2007, 150 years after those great battles. It also struck us that to have a proper study of the history of those events, it was essential to try and identify the sites where major events of those three eventful days occurred in 1857, and see what changes had taken place at those sites in 2007.

We did not just want to relive history, but also wanted to understand the way it has lived on within the minds of the residents of this region, and how it influenced their lives. The story of those brave farmers, fighting an organised force of the British army and dying for a great cause, had to be studied and brought to the world. It was a journey of study, and of reverence. The experience of being at the sites where the battles of 1857 were fought would in itself be extremely exhilarating.

The importance of the journey was enhanced when we came to know that no field study of this event had ever been undertaken in the past 150 years, even though this region is on the borders of the national capital, New Delhi.

Time flies, but time for me flew faster than the speed of light in 2007. Suddenly I found the year coming to a close and Mr. Amit Rai Jain as well as Dr. K.K. Sharma were frantic that this study should be undertaken in 2007 itself, the year of its occurrence would add more value to this journey.

The date of the tour was a Sunday. It was a beautiful warm winter day in the month of December, perfect time to travel to the outdoors in Northern India. The beautiful weather of that Sunday added to our high spirits, and the journey began from my residence where we had collected.

Route 1 – Going in reverse – Sardhana to Baraut via Harra

We started from Meerut cantonment and took the highway to Karnal, passing close to Sardhana but not entering it. In the car with me were Dr. K. K. Sharma, Mr. Manoj Kumar Gautam and our driver Sachin. A few kilometres from Kankar Khera, we turned left from the highway onto a narrow metalled road that connects Sardhana to village Harra. Important events of 1857 had occurred at Sardhana and around, but we left the study of these to a future tour.

On the way to Harra we found some old buildings along the roadside. We were informed by Dr. K. K. Sharma that this had been a very important road in history, being a direct link between Hastinapur and Panipat. Its importance even in the medieval and recent historical times was confirmed by the presence of many old sarais or rest houses that we found along this road.

We reached Harra and after passing through, we crossed the river Hindon by a bridge. A short distance further we reached the rivulet Krishni and crossed it too. The land around these rivers was now cultivated, crops reaching the banks of the rivers suggesting that their course was now relatively well-defined and flooding of the surrounding countryside was a rare occurrence in 2007 – 2008.

We reached Baraut and met our friends who were eagerly waiting for us with a sumptuous breakfast laid down in our welcome at Mr. Amit Rai Jain’s House. After this much needed morning refreshment we drove straight down to village Bijraul, Mr. Jain and Mr. Rakesh Chauhan come along with us.

Bijraul

The decedents of Baba Shah Mull were waiting for us at Bijraul. We met them and sat down in their house for some discussion on the subject of our journey. We were shown a room, just next to where we sat, where a large portrait of the Baba was present. On being asked how they had imagined his appearance, the people of the village told us about an interesting method that they devised. The oldest people of the village somehow always pointed out to one of the great – great grandsons of the Baba as having similar features to him. The appearance of this descendant of the Baba was taken to form the bases for this portrait.

The elders then led us through the village. We walked through its narrow but clean lanes to the area where the house of Baba Shah Mull once stood. On the way we saw a large old well, we could make out its antiquity from the size and appearance of bricks as well as the overall design of the well. It had stairs on the sides to walk up to its opening, we climbed these but found it to be dry. It was in the centre of the village and a feeling ran through our minds that Baba Shah Mull must have once drunk water from this very source.

We walked about ten steps further and were shown two new houses on either side of the village lane – to our right was the location of the house of Shah Mull, the land having been sold many years back and a new house having been constructed at this location. On the left was a girl’s school which stood on the land where once stood the `chaupal’ (village meeting ground) of Baba Shah Mull.

While walking back we entered an old house, which again we were told belonged to one of the distant relatives of the Baba. We went in and with just one step were suddenly transported back in time. The woodwork in the house was of a type that we had never ever seen before. The structure of the rooms etc reminded us of a bygone era. Probably Baba had this type of woodwork within his house! We went round the part of Bijraul which was once with the family of Baba Shah Mull and then sat in our cars to drive down to the `Khuni Barh’ or the `bloodstained Banyan tree’. From this tree, according to the residents of Bijraul, revolutionary villagers of their village were hanged in reprisal killings by the British in 1857. The original Khuni Barh had died down a few years ago, but one of its roots survived and this was pointed out to us.

Route 2

We started driving towards Baraut, in the direction of the fields where legend has it that Baba Shah Mull’s body was decapitated by the British. We wanted to ascertain whether the location prescribed to this event in the oral history of Baraut, and the description of site of battle between William’s force and the villagers given within the Mutiny Narratives, denote the same geographical location on the ground.

We drove down from the Delhi – Saharanpur Highway (page  ) onto a narrow village road going along a small canal. Baba’s descendents were accompanying us and Chaudhary Yash Pal Singh had taken great pains in scouting through this area a day before, he was acting as our guide.

Site of Battle

We were moving around the fields, about one kilometre inland from the Highway, near this small canal, asking people working in the fields for information about the site where Baba Shah Mull was beheaded – `jahan baba ki garden utari thi angrezon ne.’ In course of our search we reached a small bridge on this small village canal which was named after the Baba, called the `Lal khuni pull’ (Bridge of Red Blood), but on this bridge was inscribed its year of construction which was 1971. This surprised us no end as the location of the Baba’s battlefield in the collective memory of the villagers was manifesting through names on new structures as late as this.

Then a person came up and informed us that the site which we were searching for lay on the other side of this very canal. He also pointed it out to us that the mango orchard, which we were searching for as the location of the initiation of the battle, could be seen a short distance away on the other bank, our informer telling us that the orchard once extended upto this canal.

We took a long detour, reaching the main road before driving down again onto a dirt tract which took us to the village of Barka and then snaked through the fields lying on the other side of the small village canal. Finally, after this short drive, we reached a place which the people working in the fields around identified as the site of Baba’s beheading. The name of the place was Biha Ka Jungal.

When we started plotting this location on a rough geographical map, we found that this place was on the right side of the Eastern Yamuna Canal, the location of which, from where we stood, could be easily made out in the distance by a line of tall Eucalyptus trees.

This area was not part of the property of any individual and our friends, interested in ancient history, immediately started picking up artefacts including a large brick that appeared to date to the Kushan period (about 2000 years from the present). The others of the party, including me, had to remind them the real reason for our expedition. This made them take a time-jump of 1850 years and come back to 1857.

A person working in his field nearby informed us that the mango orchard we were searching for was close by and he guided us along a dirt tract for a short drive of about 500 meters to reach it. At present it was very small in its spread, but this person informed, as had been stated by the individual we had met earlier on the other side of the canal, that this orchard was once spread in a very large area and the land around is mentioned so even today in the revenue records. He also informed us about the presence of one or two wells that existed within the orchard and which are at present in disuse. Mr. Rakesh Chauhan, who is an agricultural scientist, immediately informed us that this must be an old orchard as it had trees only of `desi aam’ within it, a variety of mangoes that is rarely ever planted now. He also pointed out for us the outer margins of what must have been a water-body in the near past, at present being dry and used for agriculture. Our search for the ancient battlefield seemed to have been completed, 150 years after the cries of battle rang out on it.

Gurjar leader Gulab Singh

An interesting aspect of 1857 came to light during our interactions with the decedents of the families of Baraut which had taken part in the great upsurge. In this region unique lasting bonds have been created between those villages that fought together against the British colonialists. Chaudhary Yash Pal Singh told me the story of how his ancestor Baba Shah Mull, who was a Jat, had a Gurjar leader by the name of Gulab Singh as his comrade in arms. Both died fighting in 1857. The families that descended from them have continued to maintain this strong bond through generations. I was told about an instance, many years ago when a dispute regarding property cropped up within the family of Baba Shah Mull. The dispute became impossible to manage and a division within the family became imminent. The mediation of all the elders fell on deaf years. Then someone informed the elders of the village of Sri. Gulab Singh. The Gurjar elders of the village reached Bijrol and with their mere presence, within a matter of a few minutes, the dispute was forgotten and peace reigned within the family. No dispute has ever again risen within the descendents of Baba Shah Mull. This power of friendship woven during the battles of 1857 between two families and two villages tells us about the deep impact left by that great event and how it lives on in the lives of these martial people of Baraut.

Route 3

We then decided to drive back and follow the road that went along the Eastern Yamuna Canal. This was the road that had been taken by Williams to reach the site of the battle and the geography of the whole area went through our minds, the images flashing through of the British force moving forward on the road and the villagers beating drums all around, walking to the site of the battle.

On the way we were asking everyone the location of Busodh. We went on and on for a few kilometres and suddenly a village came up on our left with a medieval mosque shining out in its centre. We drove our vehicles into the village and without stooping to ask anyone, as if guided by an unknown force, drove through its narrow lanes straight to the door of the ancient mosque.

Busodh

It was time for the evening Namaz and the namazis were getting ready for the ritual. As we walked into the precincts of the Mosque, they all appeared surprised and bewildered to see a group of Hindus from the city as well as villages, appearing from their accent and dress to be of western UP itself, walking in calmly into the mosque, with reverence in their eyes.

We were respectfully told to wait till the Namaz was over and were made to sit in a small room of about 8 feet by 8 feet next to the sanctum called the Huzra. We waited in anticipation and then, as soon as the Namaz was over, the congregation walked in, Maulana Manzur Ahmed and few others coming into the room and many waiting outside. We told them that we had been following the trail of Williams when he led a British force in the first attack on the villagers of Baraut region. We also told them that we had read about their village in the records of the British administration of 1858 and had known about the sacrifice that they had undertaken in the War of Independence 1857.

We were astonished to know that no one had ever gone to their village to utter this historical fact in the past 150 years. No one had even talked to them about it and the idea of them having fought in 1857 against the British colonial force was lying lost, somewhere in the deep collective memory of the village, as if buried with the flow of time.

With our arrival this long lost memory started coming out in bits and pieces. The elders of the village were called and they started relating to us what their elders had told them. They started talking about a great Sufi who came to their village just after its destruction in 1857 and lived and died here. One old man narrated how this Sufi, who was a Mughal, would narrate to the children stories of British atrocities on their village. These stories seemed to have died with the old Mughal, but were suddenly getting a new life.

Out of the many stories one kept on being repeated – that of the villagers trying to run and hide in a village pond, putting pots on their heads to go inside the water for some time, but being shot through the pot as soon as they came up again, desperate for breath.

We were also told about how the British agents would come on elephants to extract lagan (tax) from the poor villagers who had lost everything in 1857. The elders told us that their fathers had told them how the villagers working in the fields would run; leaving their implements at the very place they were working, as soon as they heard the news of the arrival of the dreaded elephant.

They told us how the once prosperous village was now full of only labourers as all the land of this village was taken and distributed to the villages that helped the British imperialists in 1857 and also to some Europeans who acquired agricultural land in this area. Stories of suffering, pain and poverty, an award for having fought on the Indian side in 1857 ………stories and stories, hidden from time to resurface 150 years after the massacre and destruction of the village………and its suffering in the years that followed.

Route 4

We came out of Busodh slightly shaken. We seemed to have entered a time warp and directly experienced the effects of 1857 on the Indian countryside. We were also shaken by the memories of wanton killing and destruction that still lay buried within the minds of villagers forced into poverty for having the courage to stand up for their right to live in freedom.

We again turned left, travelling on the road along the Eastern Yamuna Canal to reach the village of Daulah, where this small road met the main road between Meerut and Baghpat. Our friends left us at that point and went towards Baraut, we four turned towards Meerut.

After a few kilometres we crossed the Hindon again over a large bridge, crossing which we could see the village of Daru Hera lying to our left. It was from here that Williams had crossed the river to enter Baraut on 17th July, 1857.

We reached Meerut at about 6 in the evening, tired but with a feeling of deep satisfaction within our souls. But it was not the end of the journey, it was just the beginning. In consultation with Mr. Amit Rai Jain and the village elders of the families whose ancestors had sacrificed their lives for freedom; a trip to commemorate the memory of the village warriors of 1857 of Baraut was being planned. The people of Busodh, especially the young boys among them, also became energised to work for the memory of the sacrifices of their elders.

A lot needs to be done to commemorate the sacrifices of our elders, they acting as beckons of light for the youth of today, giving them the much needed direction for their confused minds. It was a direction of brotherhood, a direction of sacrificing everything in the service of India and its people, of sacrificing for the common good of all mankind.

FOOTNOTE

Dr. K. K. Sharma’s ancestors were also killed by British retaliatory action in 1857, their story –

The village of Naru lies in the Mawana tehsil of Meerut district. Pandit Sadasukh was the ancestor of Dr. K. K. Sharma who participated in the revolt of 1857. In reprisal, he and all male members of his family were killed by British colonial forces.

The only surviving male member of the family was Ghasi Ram, he survived because he was congenitally blind. The family then, under Ghasi Ram, migrated to Daurala, tehsil Sardhana. There is a direct road linking Naru with Dauralaand the family must have thus migrated in that direction.

The family settled in Daurala where Ghasi Ram had two sons, Ram Gopal and Baldev. Baldev died in childhood and the rest of the present family descends from Ram Gopal who was born in 1860.

Sirsali, Dist. Baghpat, 2011

 

Dr. Amit Pathak, Mr. Amit Rai Jain, Dr. K. K. Sharma.

 

This is a village close to the famous village Bijraul of Baba Shah Mull. Half of this village which today is called `Bagi Patti‘(rebel part) joined the forces with Shah Mull during the battles that took place in Baraut and around. Even after the death of Shah Mull, this village continued to be one of the centers of revolutionary activity.

After the demise of the Uprising the families which participated were punished and all their lands were confiscated by the British administration. Even today most families of the Bagi Patti part of the village are in service and own relatively very less land which they could buy back from other landowners in subsequent years. Sadly as in all other villages linked to the Great Uprising, no government or non-government agency every visited this village since 1947.

In 2011 a program was organized within the compound of a temple in the Bagi Patti of this village in memory of the martyrs in which many political as well as non-political leaders participated. A stone marker was also inaugurated at this village on that day with the history of the uprising itched over it.

Ukulpura, Dist. Meerut, 2011

Dr. Amit Pathak.

The great sacrifice of Narpat Singh had gone unsung for nearly 150 years and his story was lost in time (chapter  ). A survey of the village of Ukhulpura was undertaken in 2011 by the author, Dr. K. K. Sharma, Maj. Himanshu and Dr. Manoj Kumar Gautam. It was found that Ukhulpura, which had taken up the lead in Sardhana region during the Great Uprising of 1857 was today a majhra or small associated village of the larger village of Rardhana. The descendents of Narpat Singh still lived here and they informed that all their property was confiscated by the British colonial authorities after 1857 and sold off to a merchant of Khatauli. It was only after the implementation of the Zamindari Act that some of their land had come back to them, for the intervening time they had lived in abject poverty. Part of the family had migrated to other places because of economic deprivation in the post-1857 period, a punishment that they received for fighting for India. Sadly, no person from the government or non-government agencies had ever visited Ukhulpura since independence.

The survey team was sad to know that the original haveli or bungalow of Narpat Singh had only recently been brought down for the construction of a new building. A well exists in the village which appeared to be quite old and of the period of the Uprising.

Subsequently, a program was organized in the village in memory of the revolutionaries on the 22nd of July, 2011 and a memorial stone with the history of the village inaugurated.