Sunday December 17, 2017

Bithoor: This is where Nana Rao & Lakshmi Bai devised the plot of 1857 revolution



By Rituparna Chakrobarty

Nestling on the banks of Ganga, Kanpur has a special place in India’s freedom movement.  About 23 km from the main city, Bithoor, a small locality was home to Nana Rao Peshwa.

Peshwa was one of the eminent leaders in the revolution of 1857. He led the protests from Kanpur, a rebellion originally started  by Mangal Pandey on May 10,1857 in Meerut.

Bithoor played a vital role in the first freedom revolution. It witnessed the strategies which were laid by Nana Rao and the Empress of Jhansi Lakshmi Bai.

Nana Rao Fort

In Bithoor, Nana Rao Fort, had a close encounter with the revolt of 1857. Unfortunately, the memories of this rebellion are not preserved properly. The fort is depreciating day by day and if the situation prevails for a longer period, then it might be confined to photographs only.

It has a good flag hoisting platform which was built by the revolutionary Raghav Das. The stones which were used to build the platform are a live example of the meetings held between Tatya Tope, Azimullah Khan and Nana Rao Peshwa.

After a hard defeat of the rebels, the Britishers attacked the fort with 200 soldiers and dumped the dead bodies of women and children in the well. Later this well came to be known as the ‘Memorial Well’. The remaining sites of the fort convey the brutal reign of the British. The statues of Nana Rao Peshwa, Tatya Tope, Rani Lakhshmi Bai, Azimullah Khan have been carved in the park. The lack of attention by the authorities has resulted in deteriorating statues.

In the year 1968, the fort was declared as a heritage and archaeological site but the authorities did not provide it the required status. The fort’s land is a disputed area. As claimed by Surendra Pal Singh, ex- chairman of the town, that this piece of land is a part of their ancestral property, there is nothing that has been done towards its development. However the archaeological department wants to preserve this historic building.

Present Situation

At present the premises of the fort has morphed into a dense forest. The fencing wires are getting rusted. Almost 10 years ago, the Uttar Pradesh State Tourism and Regional Cultures declared this area as a tourist spot to memorize the gallantry of freedom fighters. For this, Nana Rao Memorial Park was established. But the work of development had to be stopped due to the court’s stay over the disputed land. Tourists wish to have a closer look of the well and the flag hoisting platform but the poor maintenance and now-weak infrastructure prevents them from going further. The park that has its relevance in history intact, is being looked after the Kanpur Nagar Nigam but much remains to be done to preserve it.

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Rani Laxmi Bai: A Woman to Remember – The Queen of Jhansi who Rewrote the History of India

Rani Laxmi Bai was born in 1828 in Varanasi as 'Manikarnika'

Rani Laxmi (Lakshmi) Bai of Jhansi
Rani Laxmi (Lakshmi) Bai of Jhansi
  • Rani Laxmi Bai was born in 1828 in Varanasi as Manikarnika
  • Rani Laxmi Bai got married to Gangadhar Rao, King of Jhansi, when she was just seven years old
  • Her marriage was short lived and hence became Rani of Jhansi when she was just 18 years old

Over the years, several battles took place, led by heroes- irrespective of their gender, has changed the shape of India’s history. One such hero was Jhansi of Rani, who was brave and ferocious in every sense of the term. Born to a Maratha family in Varanasi, Rani Laxmi Bai was one of the most leading personalities of the first war of India’s independence, which started in 1857. This year, 2017 marked her 159th death anniversary on June 18. Very few women marked their name in History of India’s struggle of independence and Rani of Jhansi, was one of them.

Rani Laxmi Bai (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Rani Laxmi Bai (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Rani Laxmi Bai enjoyed more freedom than any other women of that era as her father used to work in the Peshwa Court of Bithoor. She not only practiced self defense, archery, horse riding, but also formed an army of women in the court. Rani Lakshmi Bai was born in 1828, in Varanasi as ‘Manikarnika’, however, her date of birth remains disputed.

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Rani Laxmi Bai got married to Gangadhar Rao, King of Jhansi, when she was just 7 years old. Her marriage was short-lived and therefore, at the age of 18, she became Rani of Jhansi. Soon after, the Britishers took advantage of her lack of experience and seized Jhansi from her. They asked her to leave the fort as the ruler and offered her Rs. 60,000 as pension. But Laxmi Bai was so determined to defend Jhansi that she denied them and form an army of their own. The army not only included men but also women.

Army of Rani laxmi Bai (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Army of Rani Laxmi Bai. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Rani not only defended Jhansi from Britishers but also from neighboring states. In September to October 1857, she fought with King of Orchha and Datia.

British appointed Sir Hugh Rose to capture Jhansi. In 1858, Britishers tried to enter Jhansi. They looted common people and killed many people, including Women and children. Hence, Laxmi Bai decided to fight against Britishers along with the army. The war continued for about two weeks. Women were not only equipped with arms but were also supplying food to the people in need. But when Britishers attacked Jhansi on March 31, they were able to enter Jhansi.

Fort of Jhansi in 1857 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Fort of Jhansi in 1857. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

After Britishers were able to capture Jhansi, Laxmi Bai tied her adopted son Damodar Rao on her back and start fighting with two swords, left Jhansi to ask Peshwas to support her against the Britishers. Peshwa decided to help her by sending his army. When Kalpi was attacked by Britishers, Laxmi Bai came in front and fought. Her attack set-back the British Army.

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On June 18, Britishers captured Gwalior from all four sides. Rani decided to fight the enemies instead of surrendering herself to the Britishers. She started fighting, but fell down from her horse during the war and started bleeding. As she dressed like an army man, nobody was able to recognise her. Then her faithful servants took her to nearby Gangadas Mutt and gave her ‘Gangajal’.

Her last wish was that she should not be touched by any Britisher and hence was burnt by a hermit and she died at an early age of 29.

-This report was compiled by a staff-writer at NewsGram. 



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Unsung hero of 1857 revolt: Begum Hazrat Mahal



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!