Professor Kapil Kumar
For centuries Indians, no matter how many differences among them, have united against any threat from outsiders or invaders. When English East India Company adopted its expansionist policies in India, 1757 onwards, it faced stiff resistance from Indians wherever it tried to subjugate the Indians. As soon as Nawab was defeated in Bengal and British took control Sanyasi-Fakir of the province rose up in rebellion against the foreign rule. It is a similar story of resistance and ruthless suppression in north-east, south, north-west or east.
During the summers of 1857 India, in unison, rose up against the exploitative Company rule. On 10th May, 1857 Indian sepoys of English East India Company Army revolted against the foreign masters. A call was given to march on to Delhi where the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar lived. Indian sepoys in Delhi and from Ambala too joined them. Bahadur Shah Zafar was proclaimed the sovereign of whole of India and leader of war against the foreign British rule. The royal throne which was locked in a basement since 1842 was brought back to Diwan-e-Aam. Across the subcontinent rich, poor, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, sepoys, peasants, artisans, landlords, rulers, etc joined the war against the foreign rule under the leadership of Bahadur Shah Zafar. Tantiya Tope, Azimullah, Lakshmibai, Hazrat Mahal, Avantibai, Kunwar Singh, Ahmadullah and many others showed the valour during this war.
Right from the Plassey in 1757 British India were able to control India through a policy of divide and rule, and with the help of greedy traitors. Their war plans for 1857 were no different.
It was August 1857. English army was camping at ridge, now near the North campus of Delhi University, waiting for the right moment to launch an armed offensive on Delhi. One of the many traitors English had inside Delhi one Gauri Shankar wrote to them that Eid-ul-Adha (Bakra-Eid) would lie on 2nd August. On this day if a few Muslims slaughtered cow it would infuriate Hindu population of the city resulting in a war like situation between Hindus and Muslims within the city. In all probability Muslims planning to slaughter cows were also paid agents of the British because cow slaughter was already banned by Bahadur Shah Zafar. So it was planned that on 2nd August cows will be slaughtered on Eid to fan communal tensions in Delhi. As soon as Hindus and Muslims started fighting the British army would attack the city.
The British army started waiting for the news of Hindu-Muslim riots in Delhi. Till afternoon there was no news instead a joint Hindu-Muslim army attacked them at ridge killing a few English soldiers and officers. Later through Gauri Shankar the English came to discover that Bahadur Shah Zafar had ordered Kotwal of Delhi to gather all the cows in the city in his Kotwali only to know that Kotwali could not accommodate all the cows of the city. So Zafar issued another order (farman) that no animal will be sacrificed on this eid. Muslims didn’t object to this order as the love for freedom was more than anything else. Bahadur Shah Zafar himself composed a poem on this event :
Lashkar : Ahd-e-Ilahi aaj sara qatl ho
Gorkhe gore se ta gujjar ansari qatl ho
Aaj ka din Id-e-qurban tab hi janenge hum
Ai zafar tahe tegh jab qatil tumhara qatl ho
(O God ! May the whole army of the enemy be killed today
May the Englishmen along with their allies – Gorkhas, Gujjars & others be killed
We shall recognise this day as the Id day only when today
O Zafar ! your murderers (Englishmen) will be killed)
Thus Zafar equated the sacrifice of enemy forces as the best sacrifice for the Eid.
In words of Kieth Young an army officer stationed at the ridge that day, “instead of fighting amongst themselves they all joined together to make a vigorous attack to destroy us and utterly sweep us from the face of the earth.”
Another British army officer Forrest notes down, “The Jama Masjid rang with the prayers of the faithful ; and Brahman priests stimulated the fanaticism of the followers of Vishnu.” He further points out, “Again and again the Hindu-Muslim assailants rallied and rushed upon the breastworks.”
This particular order stresses upon the secular nature of Indian society and also the war of 1857 before British started started pitting Indians against each other in the name of narrow identities.
(Professor Kapil Kumar is director CFSDS, IGNOU. He also headed the museums as chief historian which came up at Red Fort commemorating 1857, Subhas Chandra Bose, Jallianwala Bagh Massacre & Freedom Fighters.)