Wednesday December 19, 2018

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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15 Amazing Facts About The Revolutionary Bhagat Singh

Bhagat Singh is considered to be a legend. Many of his actions are well-known. Even after his death, his inspiring actions continued to stir the desire for freedom.

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Bhagat Singh belonged to Punjab and popularly referred as legendary revolutionary Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh. Wikimedia Commons
Bhagat Singh belonged to Punjab and popularly referred as legendary revolutionary Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh. Wikimedia Commons
  • Bhagat Singh was born on 28 September 1907
  • At a very early age, he got inclined towards socialism and socialist revolutions
  • Bhagat Singh was a very versatile theatre artist

Bhagat Singh stands out to be one of India’s greatest revolutionary freedom fighter who was given the death penalty by the British colonizers. Although he died at a very young age of 23 but his actions inspired the youth of the nation to fight for the nation’s freedom.

Bhagat Singh belonged to Punjab and popularly referred as legendary revolutionary Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh. He was born on 28 September 1907 in the village of Banga, Lyallpur district (now in Pakistan). Bhagat Singh is considered to be one of the most influential revolutionaries of the Indian independence movement. He inculcated the spirit of martyrdom since his childhood.

Due to the utter influence of Bhagat Singh, Britishers hanged him an hour ahead of the official time. Wikimedia Commons
Due to the utter influence of Bhagat Singh, Britishers hanged him an hour ahead of the official time. Wikimedia Commons

At a very early age, he got inclined towards socialism and socialist revolutions led by Lenin and soon he started to follow and read about them. The leaflet that he threw in the Central Assembly on 9 April 1929, he stated, “It is easy to kill individuals but you cannot kill the ideas. Great empires crumbled while the ideas survived.”

Also Read: 8 must-read works of Rabindranath Tagore

Take a look at the life of one of the most celebrated Indian freedom fighters.

  1. Bhagat Singh was a great actor in college and a theatre artist. He took part in several plays. The most notable plays he was part of were ‘Rana Pratap’, ‘Samrat Chandragupta’ and ‘Bharata-durdasha’.
  2. When the Jalianwala Bagh incident occurred, Bhagat Singh was in school. He immediately left the school and went straight to the place of the tragedy. He collected the mud of that place which was mixed with the blood of Indians and worshipped the bottle every day. At that time, he was just 12 years old.
  3. In his childhood, Bhagat Singh often talked and wanted to grow guns in the fields, so that he could fight the British and push them back.
  4. Being a kid, he never talked about toys or games. He used to speak about driving out Britishers from India.
  5. The bomb that Bhagat Singh and his associates threw in the Central Assembly, were made of low-grade explosives. They were thrown away from people in the corridors of the building and were only meant to startle and not harm anyone. The British investigation report and forensics details also confirmed this.
  6. Bhagat Singh coined the word “political prisoner” during his stay in prison in 1930. He demanded basic amenities for his comrades in the prison which were even given to British looters and goons in the jail.
  7. ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ was the very famous phrase of Bhagat Singh. It fueled the independence vision of the people and later on became the slogan of India’s armed freedom struggle.
  8. Due to the utter influence of Bhagat Singh, Britishers hanged him an hour ahead of the official time. He was then secretly cremated on the banks of the river Sutlej by jail authorities. However, on hearing the news of his execution, thousands of people gathered at the spot of his cremation and took out a procession with his ashes.
  9. When Bhagat Singh was imprisoned in Lahore Jail, he kept a diary with him in which he penned down his fervent thoughts about freedom and revolution.
  10. At the very young age of 14 years, Bhagat Singh took part in a protest against the killing of a large number of unarmed people at Gurudwara Nankana Sahib.
  11. Bhagat Singh debunked Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence. After the 1922 Chauri Chaura incident, he joined the Young Revolutionary Movement and began to advocate for the violent methods to overthrow the British Government in India.
  12. To avoid a forced marriage by his family, Bhagat Singh ran away to Kanpur and left a letter, which read, “My life has been dedicated to the noblest cause, that of the freedom of the country. Therefore, there is no rest or worldly desire that can lure me now.”
  13. When the British police became aware of Singh’s influence on youth, they immediately arrested him on the false pretext of having been involved in a bombing.
  14. After witnessing the Hindu-Muslim riots that broke out after Gandhi disbanded the Non-Cooperation Movement, he began to question religious ideologies of the society. After that point, Singh dropped his religious beliefs. He believed that the religion hinders the revolutionaries’ struggle for independence, and started studying the works of Bakunin, Lenin, Trotsky – all atheist revolutionaries. Later on, Bhagat Singh also wrote an essay titled ‘Why I am an Atheist’ in 1930 in Lahore Central Jail.
  15. Bhagat Singh wrote for Urdu and Punjabi newspapers which used to get published from Amritsar. He also contributed to the publishing of pamphlets by the Naujawan Bharat Sabha that excoriated the British. In his college time, Singh won an essay competition set by the Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. Bhagat Singh also published a series of articles on anarchism in Kirti and used many pseudonyms such as Balwant, Ranjit and Vidhrohi for publishing his writings.
    ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ was the very famous phrase of Bhagat Singh. Wikimedia Commons
    ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ was the very famous phrase of Bhagat Singh. Wikimedia Commons

     

    Also Read: 10 Facts You Need To Know About Homi Bhabha

    Bhagat Singh is considered to be a legend. Many of his actions are well-known. His execution ignited the feeling of unity in many people to take up the revolutionary path, playing an important role in India’s freedom struggle. On the other hand, many didn’t agree with his radical approach to attain freedom. Even after his death, his inspiring actions continued to stir the desire for freedom.

    Once Bhagat Singh said, “They may kill me, but they cannot kill my ideas. They can crush my body, but they will not be able to crush my spirit.