Punjab and Its Battle

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Punjab and Its Battle is open for . The scholarship allows level programm(s) in the field of taught at . The deadline of the scholarship is .

THE intensity and level with which the revolution started and went on in some parts of India — especially the northwest, east and the center — was not to be witnessed in most of the areas of Punjab. It almost remained oblivious of that thrust, which had put the whole of English army and the commands on the back foot. However, the British seemed so much bitten with ‘a movement unforeseen, undreamt of, sudden and swift in its action’ that they were scared to death and in most cases overreacted to the slightest of the rumour, or a chance, of anything that could brew to become a revolt of that scale. Punjab had only been run over in 1849, but Sir Charles Napier had seen the seeds of revolt in its army here just a year after that. It, therefore, seemed quite natural that the colonial power was extra cautious and over- enthusiastic in dealing with situations at different places in Punjab lest matters went out of hand.

Punjab was also boiling as much with the feelings of hatred or revenge for the English. However, its influential classes as also the Sikhs and Pathans, quite on the contrary, were helping with men, material and money the usurping forces in crushing the movement of freedom being actively run by both Hindus and Muslims in other parts. Its English part was especially very pronounced in subduing Delhi and heralding an end to the very symbol of Free India in the shape of the Mughal king.

While dilating on the relative inaction of Punjab in executing any mutiny of immense reckoning, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), Muslim educator, jurist, author and a contemporary historian, in his pamphlet ‘Causes of the Indian Revolt’ (published in 1859) enumerates a number of reasons for this lukewarm show of fervour — or rather anti-movement stance in many cases. He writes:

‘The Mohammedans there had been greatly oppressed by the Sikhs, and had received no injury at the hands of the British. When the British first took the country, oppression was rife. This was decreasing dayday, whilst the contrary was the case in Hindustan proper. The whole of Punjab, when first annexed, was disarmed and thus the weapons necessary for rebellion were not forthcoming. The Sikhs too, though not so wealthy as in former days, had still sufficient to live upon, chiefly from monies, which they had inherited. The poverty, which was rife in Hindustan, had not yet had time to become rife in Punjab. Besides these there were other cogent reasons why Punjab remained tranquil. Firstly, there was a powerful European army on the spot. Secondly, the wisdom shown by the officials in disarming the Sepoys at once. Thirdly, the number of the rivers and the shutting up of the ferries on them, which rendered the few who did rebel, powerless. Fourthly, all the Sikhs, Punjabis and Pathans, who might otherwise have tried their hand at rebellion, had already taken service or were being formed into corps and the desire for the plunder of Hindustan was strong on them. We thus find that the service, which the people of India took in the rebel army under such difficulty and changes, was easily obtained in Government service in Punjab. The circumstances of Punjab were quite different from those in Hindustan proper’.

Sir Syed might have his own limitations as he was not a dissenting subject of the British at the time when he wrote his ‘explanatory’ treatise almost a year after the great rising. Moreover, he had taken upon himself the task of defending the Muslims — squarely being accused — before the now all powerful masters. While he might have been right in his deductions, there also seemed other reasons which shaped the conduct of Punjab in this First War of Independence. For one, the Sikhs had never been kind to the Muslims during their rule over Punjab. The worst sufferers in history at their hands were the Muslim places of worship — mosques. Their other religious architecture like mausoleums and tombs were also not spared to be used — or misused — for other purposes never consistent with the purpose of their building. The Muslims here might, therefore, have felt it an act of deliverance from oppression when the British took over their country. By revolting against the deliverer, they might have invited the remnants of the old regime to cling to power once again, bringing in another period of misery for them. But, perhaps more important should have been the psyche and the attitude of the rajas — rulers — of the Punjabi states and the feudals and landlords of Punjab, who had not been affected by the Thomasonian reforms and were traditionally enjoying the same powerful clout and an authority over the population living within their respective landed territories. Like their forefathers, they were tuned to bow to the rising sun to continue reaping the harvest of their influence hence siding with the British at this juncture.

It is, however, surprising that the very Sikhs, who had given the British the toughest of the times of fighting at Multan, Chillianwala, Gujrat etc. not only resisted from siding with the freedom fighters against them but, on the other hand, helped the foreign masters against the same very natives endeavouring to throw off the white’s yoke. Some historians are of the view that such an attitude was partially due to their having believed in the prophecy that they would one day capture Delhi and rule the whole of India. Their state of this imaginative prediction was exploited by the British in the most intricate way. They impressed upon them that it would be done but only with the collaboration of the Islanders from the Atlantic. They also printed some bills to this effect and distributed them within their communities. Now doubly sure of the coming true of the forecast, the Sikhs were readily got used against the enemies of the white masters.

Another action on the part of the English that much influenced the Sikhs in desisting to take sides with the natives was the propaganda and subsequent printing and distribution of a notice. It purported that the first decree that was granted by the king, Bahadur Shah, after holding the command of the revolutionary forces was to order the indiscriminate killing of the Sikhs. The widespread news of the alleged order had the desired effect on the community, which went a long way in making them refrain from rising against the British power.

From these conclusions, however, it should not be inferred that the venom against the white usurpers present in other parts of India was not altogether found in Punjab. The sipahis were already influenced by the movement and were not behind their comrades at other places. However, with the conditions more conducive and favourable for the British, they were able not only to contain the activity of the natives but also came forward to crush any discontentment, disaffection or defiance with ruthless power even on the slightest of the doubt or suspicion.

Only days after the outburst at Meeruth, Robert Montgomery and Sir John Lawrence were rather shocked on the intelligence gathered through a Brahmin as to how widespread was the virus of outright revolt in the native personnel of the army throughout Punjab. The army at the Mian Mir, in Lahore, was to start the operation and take over the Fort, which would send signal to other places to start the action especially at places like Peshawar, Amritsar, Phillaur, Jullunder etc. To turn the air of revolution in their favour the Muslim Ulema — scholars — from Ludhiana and Brahmin Pandits from Thanesar were having rounds of different areas of Punjab to prepare the ground for the action.

On getting the information the British moved fast. According to their own account:

‘The important move, which gave us a foothold in North India when the empire seemed well nigh overwhelmed by the flood of mutiny which had burst forth so uncontrollably in the Northern Provinces, was the disarming of the troops at Meean Meer. The danger on the morning of May 13th was far greater than had been conceived. A plot had been laid for the simultaneous seizure of the fort and the outbreak of the troops in cantonments. To understand the importance of this move it must be borne in mind that the fort commands the city of Lahore; that it contains the treasury and the arsenal; that at Ferozepore, 50 miles distant, there is another arsenal, the largest in this part of India; and had these two fallen, the Northern Provinces and the Punjab must have been, for the time, irrevocably lost, the lives of all Europeans in these regions sacrificed, Delhi could not have been taken, and India must have been ab initio reconquered’.

This would very clearly show the British favouring part played by Punjab, so important in shaping the destiny of the whole India. Although there were no signs of any such discontentment on the face, the British took the premeasure and rounding up the native sipahis by the English force equipped with guns and cannons, disarmed the Indians. Two of the sipahis were later blown by the cannons on June 9th. It surely furthered the hatred of the natives towards the white masters. Even without proper armament now in their possession, the 49 Regiment seemed to be bent upon revolting on July 30th when there was a nasty dust storm going on in Lahore. Parkash Singh a sipahi of the Regiment came out with loud outburst meant to evoke his fellows to kill the English. He attacked the commanding officer, Major Spencer, with his sword and killed him on the spot. A panic struck the whole outfit due to the dust stone and they ran hatter scatter, though could not have been of any effect being without arms. However, they were followed by the English and some Sikhs to the Ravi. About 150 of them were killed and the rest, 397, rounded through treachery. Out of these 115 were sent to gallows the next day while the rest, after suffering the agony of black hole, perished.

At Ferozepur, immediately on getting the news of the action at Lahore on May 14th, necessary steps to entrench the garrison were taken and except an attack, which was repulsed by the Europeans, no other activity was witnessed. During the night the sipahis of the 45th Native Infantry, which was already known for its stance of rejecting the greased cartridges, burnt the church, the Roman Catholic chapel, the school building and some 17 residences of the officers. When the treasury was moved to the entrenchment, it was found that except for 133 of the men of the 45th Regiment — with most part of the 57th Regiment — had already tied. A Faqir — a mendicant, usually of religious nature in India thought to be collecting followers to rise against the colonialists, was taken into custody and executed. To impress upon the natives of their ruthless attitude with the dissenting elements even the highway robbers were executed. According to the English, the severity in their actions was responsible for maintaining peace in the district of Ferozepur. However, on August 19th some 142 men made rush on the horses and ponies and drove off to Delhi. Some 40 of them were seized and executed, while most of the others also caught and imprisoned to be hanged later.

In the Fazilka area of the district peace was mostly maintained but not without the help of the chiefs of the local clans as in most of the regions of Punjab. As a reward ‘some of these villages were conferred in proprietary right on the more prominent of the Bodlas and Wattus, whose zealous and effective aid had enabled Mr Oliver to maintain the peace at Fazilka, while revenue free grants were made to a number of them’.

Amritsar, predominantly a Sikh district, did not give much of headache to the British on its own. Although not much worried about the loyalty of the Khalsa, they were little apprehensive should they change their fidelity especially when there were only 70 European Artillerymen and the rest of the force consisting of a detachment of 59th Native Infantry. After the disarming of the native troops at Mian Mir, three officers went over to Amritsar and reported back the necessity of sending immediately half a company of European 81st Foot to strengthen the stronghold of Govindgarh, should any untoward incident happen there. It was done and the white force entered the fort on May 15th. The Natives though also remained there, yet were disarmed on July 9th. The European officers went to the countryside and made round the peasants and the common folk to act against any deserters. There was no disturbance within the district while on the contrary the fugitives from Lahore, who had run to the Ravi, were rounded up here and almost all of them annihilated. According to records some 150 men fell to the villagers and police while others had escaped to an island. Out of these 45 had died of fatigue and exhaustion and the rest captured and executed the next morning. ‘About 42 subsequently captured were sent back to Lahore, and there, by sentence of courtmartial, blown from guns in presence of the whole brigade’. And such were the ruthless ways with which the freedom fighters were dealt by the colonial masters. The fate of even those Sikhs belonging to the district but in service with their masters at Delhi was also not different when they scrambled home after the fall of that city.

Sialkot was perhaps the main station where the natives of the Company’s army revolted and gave a tough fight to the English. When the news of the disarming of the native troops at Mian Mir, on May 13th, reached here it created considerable unrest, and the guns were removed to the British Infantry barracks. On the night of May 20th orders were received to dispatch all the available British troops to join the flying column on way to Delhi. The station was thus left without the presence of all-European troops, except a few soldiers in hospital. The native forces left behind were two troops of the 9th Bengal Cavalry, chiefly Hindustani Muslims, and the whole of the 46th Native Infantry, also Hindustanis. These made no secret of their sympathy with the freedom fighters in the central and the North Western Provinces. They killed many of the English officers, but as the records and later writings would prove, they did not do any harm to the English ladies, or rather protected them from others if there were seen any elements getting out of control. The revolutionaries from here moved towards east, to Trimmu, and in spite of having just one cannon as opposed to several with the English, faced them courageously and went on fighting face to face till they met defeat at the hands of Captain Lawrence, who executed them before the cannons when the active fighting was over. Here too, it were not the Punjabi force — which consisted of the newly recruited Sikhs and heavily banked upon by the British — but the Hindustanis, as the white masters would term those from central or the North provinces, but outside of Punjab.

Some of the parties of the revolutionaries, who had marched towards Rohtak on May 22nd, were supported by the natives from the English army when they reached there on May 24th. They looted the treasury, burnt the houses of the English, who had already fled from the place, and declared the rule of the Nawab of Jhajjar over the area. The breakdown of law and order in the district necessitated pouring in more force to keep the area under control. Soldiers, who were on leave, were called into the headquarters. The Nawab of Jhajjar was asked to dispatch some troops to Rohtak. The Nawab did not take any notice of this ‘order’ from the English. Later on when asked again, however, on May 18th, he sent a few horsemen instead of the cavalry and the guns. According to the English, ‘these, however, proved very unruly and worse than useless, for they inflamed the villagers as they came along. Then as day succeeded day, and it appeared that nothing was being done to re-assert British authority, the troublesome portions of the populace began to raise their heads, and the whole of the once warlike people became proudly stirred. On May 23rd an emissary of the Delhi King, by name of Tafazzal Husain, entered the district by Bahadurgarh with a small force’. He could not be stopped by the officers of the English and succeeded in collecting treasures and taking them back to Delhi.

The unrest, local feuds and infightings amongst different factions continued in the area affecting badly the writ of the ‘English Government’. It was not before the couple of weeks after the fall of Delhi on September 14th that the colonial masters could restore their control. When the full order was regained in these areas the state of Jhajjar was taken over by the English and the Nawab proceeded against. His trial took place in Delhi before a Military Commission presided over by General N. Chamberlain. It commenced on December 14th, and judgment was given on the 17th. The charges against him were as 1) he had aided and abetted rebels and others waging war against the British Government in places being at the time under martial law; 2) that he had furnished troops, money, food and shelter to the rebels; and 3) that he had entered into treasonable correspondence with them. Moreover, he had not fulfilled or followed the conditions of being loyal to the English and providing troops in hour of need.

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