Tuesday February 19, 2019

Unsung hero of 1857 revolt: Begum Hazrat Mahal

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By Harshmeet Singh

India’s struggle for freedom was a long and painful process. While most history books term ‘India’s freedom struggle’ as an era which began after Congress came into being in 1885, the significance of the epic battle of 1857 can’t be undermined either. Several experts have given different names to the 1857 battle. While some call it ‘India’s first war for Independence’ and ‘an uprising’, some call it a ‘sepoy mutiny’ and ‘an unorganized rebellion destined to fail’. While the jury will always be out on the after effects and nature of the 1857 battle, the fact remains that it gave India its first ever war heroes, most of who have been confined to a small paragraph in school history books. One of those unsung heroes of the 1857 battle was the erstwhile begum of Awadh, Begum Hazrat Mahal.

Along with Rani of Jhansi, she remains one of the first women war heroes of India. After her husband, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was exiled to Calcutta, Begum took over the realm of Awadh and exhibited her knack for leadership. Her first major achievement was taking back the control of Lucknow from the British with the help of her accomplices including Nana Saheb, Sarafad-daulah and Raja Jai Lal. In 1856, the British had taken control of the Awadh and forcefully exiled the King (Begum’s husband) to Calcutta. Seeing the demeaning treatment offered to their Nawab, the local population and the Awadh army initiated a rebellion against the British. Keeping an eye on the situation, the Begum consulted Nana Saheb and decided to attack the British, with the entire Awadh army at her command. The surprise attack forced the British to back down and accept defeat. With Lucknow under her control, she proclaimed her son, Prince Birjis Qadr as the King of Awadh.

The British, stunned by the actions of the Awadh army under the Begum, took refuge in The Residency. Built between 1780 and 1800 in the heart of Lucknow, The Residency was the residence of the British officer who lived in Awadh and represented the company’s views. The resources at Residency allowed the British to beef up their forces and attack the Awadh forces again. The Residency thus became the site of the epic ‘Siege of Lucknow’ – the battle between the British and the Awadh forces. The battle in Lucknow was perhaps the most hard fought of all regional battles in the 1857 revolt.

Although her son’s rule at the throne was short-lived as the British forces re-captured most parts of Awadh, the Begum didn’t agree to surrender. She was particularly critical of the British about their claim of allowing freedom of worship to others. In one of her proclamations about the British, she said – “To eat pigs and drink wine, to bite greased cartridges and to mix pig’s fat with sweetmeats, to destroy Hindu and Mussalman temples on pretense of making roads, to build churches, to send clergymen into the streets to preach the Christian religion, to institute English schools, and pay people a monthly stipend for learning the English sciences, while the places of worship of Hindus and Mussalmans are to this day entirely neglected; with all this, how can people believe that religion will not be interfered with?”

After the British successfully struck down the revolt, Queen Victoria issued a proclamation to the Indian people, which read –

“We hereby announce to the Native Princes of India that all treaties, engagements made with them by or under the authority of the Honorable East India Company are by us accepted, and will be scrupulously maintained, and We look for a like observance on their part. We desire no extensions of Our present territorial possessions ; and while We will permit no aggression upon Our dominions or Our Rights to be attempted with impunity, We shall sanction no encroachment on those of others, We shall respect the rights, dignity, and honor of Native Princes as Our own ; and we desire that they—as well as our own subjects—should enjoy prosperity, and that social advancement, which can only be secured by internal peace and good government. We hold ourselves bound to the Natives of Our Indian territories by the same obligations of duty, which bind us to all Our other subjects, and those obligations by the Blessing of God, we shall faithfully and conscientiously fulfil.”

In response, the Begum issued a counter proclamation in her son’s name and asked, “If the Queen has assumed the government, why does Her Majesty not restore our country to us when our people wish it?”

With the British recovering from early jolts and crushing the rebellion, Begum had to seek asylum in Nepal under the patronage of Prime Minister Jang Bahadur. Her last days were spent in Kathmandu, where she was buried at the local Jama Masjid after her death in 1879.

In 1962, Lucknow’s Victoria Park was renamed as ‘Begum Hazrat Mahal Park’, to honour her contribution towards India’s freedom struggle. But during BJP’s rule in UP in 1992, the park was renamed again as ‘Urmila Vatika’, highlighting Government’s disregard towards the valiant queen. The Indian Government, in 1984, came out with a commemorative stamp in her honour.

Begum Hazrat Mahal’s grave in Nepal is in a deplorable condition. Governments of both the countries have turned a blind eye towards the grave of the lady who proved 150 years ago that women are second to none!

 

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Society Can’t Accept Negative Traits in Heroes, Says Nawazuddin Siddiqui

" I love doing challenging roles. With each film, I want to try something new. I hate doing roles in my comfort zone... I want to be a versatile actor. Now I look up to more new, different and challenging roles," he added

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Nawazuddin Plans To Start Farming NExt Month With His Brother. Flickr
Nawazuddin Plans To Start Farming NExt Month With His Brother. Flickr

Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui has been praised for his portrayal of Bal Thackeray in “Thackeray”, but the movie, based on late Shiv Sena supremo who had a controversial political career, has been slammed by some critics for being biased. The critically acclaimed actor says Indian audiences do not like to see the protagonist in shades of grey and that if only the negative side of the protagonist is reflected on the big screen, this will severly impact the box office.

Addressing the critical reviews of the film, Nawazuddin told IANS in a telephonic interview: “For the past 40-50 years, we have been continuously presenting our heroes in a good light. The audience does not like to see the protagonist with grey shades. If I portray the only negative side of the protagonist, then it will not run at the box office.”

“Our society is not ready to see the negative traits in the heroes. My previous films ‘Manto’ and ‘Raman Raghav 2.0’ did not perform well. I tried my best to present the characters in those films without any polishing, but with lukewarm responses… I realised that our audience is not ready to see our heroes with negative characteristics.”

Keeping aside the critical reviews of “Thackeray”, Nawazuddin Siddiqui is “overwhelmed” to get his first biggest opening movie to date as a solo lead. The film registered over Rs 6 crore on Day 1 of its release (January 25).

“I am overwhelmed with the responses and love which I am receiving from people. I am thankful to all of them. With ‘Thackeray’, I got my first biggest opening as the solo lead role. I am honoured and blessed that I got an opportunity to play Balasahebji on screen.”

But the 44-year-old also said he does not like “giving much attention to box office collections”.

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Majority of society in a time warp: Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Flickr

“Honestly speaking, I don’t pay much heed to a film’s collection and numbers. But it is a weird place, many people judge films on the basis of the collection, no matter what the content is.

“So many films have been made in our industry in which actors have performed well, but the film did not do well in terms of collections…and then they got declared as flops. And there are also so many films in which actors didn’t perform well but the film turned out to be the biggest hit just because it collected a good amount at the box office…weird. So, in such scenarios I also can’t totally overlook the box office collection of the films.”

Talking about the film’s success, Nawazuddin Siddiqui said that “Thackeray” has motivated him to keep doing “challenging roles” in future projects.

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“It feels good that when your work is appreciated and now ‘Thackeray’ is doing so well, it is inspiring me to keep pushing my limits and do more challenging roles on screen.

“I love doing challenging roles. With each film, I want to try something new. I hate doing roles in my comfort zone… I want to be a versatile actor. Now I look up to more new, different and challenging roles,” he added. (IANS)