Bharat Ek Khoj


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1857 Part-1
(Episode 42)

Nehru notes that, after nearly 100 years of British rule, the Bengal peasantry was devastated by famine and crushed by new economic burdens, while the new intelligentsia looked to the West and hoped for progress coming through English liberalism, as also in Western and Southern India. But in the upper provinces, the people generally suffered from the rapacity and ignorance of the officials of the East India Company. Absolute power over vast numbers of people had turned their heads and they suffered no check or hindrance.

The scene opens with two Brahmins preparing to leave for the capital to meet Ahalyabai Holkar, Malwa, in anticipation of her benevolence. While availing of the Brahmins frugal hospitality, the Indian Sipahi group music apprises them of the many changes wrought by the British, who wield the trader's balance in one hand and the martial sword in the other and about the ouster of Indian lords taking place in Orissa, Bihar and Tanjore. The drama shows the queen of Jhansi beging capitulated to Majao Elise of the British against pension and abode in the Gawalior fort.

The music narrates the agony in Bengal and then the breaking point how cartridges of the new rifle are being greased with a tallow, probably containing both Pigs and Cows fat and how these cartages need to be bitten open with the teeth, thus defiling faith of both Hindus and Muslims. The dramatic event of the Sepoy, Mughal pandey articulating the protest, being gunned down in full view of others and becoming the first martyr proves the last straw.

At Meerut, a particularly insensitive British command court-marshal 85 troops for refusing to use suspect cartridges and then publicly humiliates them in front of the entire garrison. Next day, their comrades-in- arms rise to free them, brake into the armoury and begin massacring the local Euripon community. After some initial hesitation about Lucknow or Kanpur, the mutineers head for Delhi and seek out the higher authorities of the Mughal emperor Bahudar Shah Zafar. Already 82 years old and having neither subjects nor troops, the effete king first hesitates, but finally endorses the insurgents cause. With the Mughal co-option, the regimental mutiny acquires the character of political revolt whose legitimacy as a right full representative of the old order, is no doubt superior to the challenged British regime.

As the events of 1857 unmistakably show, the old order was begin restored: Bahadur Shah was appointing a government council; Oudh had erupted; Kanpur had fallen; and Agra, Allahbad, Varanasi, and Gwalior seethed with dissent. The symbolic feudal head in Delhi was a good enough rallying point for one and all.