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“The Indian Revolt of 1857: Punjab and Its Venues”
BY: Ihsan H. Nadiem

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The intensity and level with which the revolution started and went on in some parts of India – especially the northwest, east and the centre – 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 over-reacted 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-enthusiast in dealing with situations at different places in Punjab lest things would go 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-favouring 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 day-by-day, 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; and fourthly, all the Sikhs, Punjabees 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 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-man’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 North-Western 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 North-Western 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 re-conquered”.

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 pre-emptive measure 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 the 9th of June. 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 30th July 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 storm 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 Ferozpur, immediately on getting the news of the action at Lahore on the 14th May, 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 fled. 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 Ferozpur. However, on the 19th August 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 15th May. The Natives though also remained there, yet were disarmed on the 9th of July. 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 court-martial, 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 the 13th May, reached here it created considerable unrest, and the guns were removed to the British Infantry barracks. On the night of the 20th May 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-west provinces, but outside of Punjab.

Some of the parties of the revolutionaries, who had marched towards Rohtak on 22nd of May, were supported by the natives from the English army when they reached there on 24th May. 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 the 18th May, 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 the 23rd of May 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 the 14th September 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 the 14th December, 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. The Jhajjar troops did nothing to protect the English officers in Delhi rather they had fought against them when they were also being paid by the Nawab, with money sent from Jhajjar. Still other charges of sending sums of money to the so-called rebels at Delhi and compelling the traders of Jhajjar to subscribe to a forced loan for the king were also thought to be stood proved as also the one that a prince of the Delhi house had been received and entertained at Jhajjar; and that the Nawab had been in treasonable correspondence with the king of Delhi. It all went on to conclude that the Nawab failed in what was his clear duty, and that he abetted and assisted the ‘rebels’. He was, of course, found guilty by the Commission and was sentenced to be hanged, and all his property to be confiscated. His execution took place on the 23rd December before the Red Fort of Delhi.

The story of Hissar and Hansi was not different where also had gone the revolting parties from Delhi towards the end of May. After getting freed the prisoners from the jail they took over the control under Prince Muhammad Azim Beg after successful operation. The Prince proceeded to Hansi after a few days to take part in the operation against the English being waged there. However, in the following months the English restarted their action after getting help from the rulers of the local Punjabi states and were finally successful in uprooting them. Among other examples of the scare that had gripped the English can be cited some of the districts having army regiments and other force-personnel, which were hastily either disarmed through tactful means or immediately dispatched to other places even without waiting for the proper replacements. Their own records show that after sending the whole force of troops to Peshawar and Jhelum, the station at Bannu was guarded by a small number in a battery with the help of local inhabitants till they got Sikh Infantry from Dera Ismail Khan, also pointing their faith on the Sikhs. Although there was no plot against the English force, as also confessed by them later in their record in clear words as “the plot could not be brought home to them, though there is little doubt it had been laid”. Similarly they only perceived a plan of a ‘mutiny’ here: “It was feasible,” says their report “and would have temporarily lost us the lower Punjab”. It also came out to be a farce. Their record tells that “but this dreaded junction did not take place. The news proved to be an exaggeration”. However, there were just 30 sipahis from the 9th Irregular Cavalry, who revolted. But, it is interesting to note, none of them was from Punjab. They were annihilated most ruthlessly but not without getting the English commander, Thomson who was the Assistant Commissioner of Layyah, seriously wounded.

Most of the notables of the Attock district had already sided with the British during the Sikh Wars, more than a decade before the movement of the freedom lovers got the full momentum. During the Second Sikh War the English knew that “on the loyalty of the tribes of the district depended the security of communications between the scattered British officers and the possession of the ferries of the Indus. These important duties were performed with conspicuous success and loyalty” as availability of such ‘loyals’ to the English masters was not wanting. “Fateh Khan of Kot and Malik Allahyar of Pindigheb both raised bodies of horse and foot to keep open the communications, and the former on several occasions engaged parties of the rebels with success”. It seems that some of the persons of the district were rather keen to serve the whites. “In Attock Tahsil Karam Khan, Khattar, of Wah, raised a force of horse and foot which Nicholson employed in holding the Margalla pass, and his son, Muhammad Hayat Khan, joined Nicholson at Nera with a few recruits, and remained with that officer till the close of the war. Firoz Din of Shamsabad served with Nicholson at Ramnagar, Maragalla, Pind Dadan Khan and elsewhere, and the Gondal family also did good service in the provisioning of Attock fort”. The loyalties remained intact during a local insurrection in 1853 and then throughout the period of Great Revolt, which had jolted the Islanders at other places.

The British had never taken Jhelum division as strategically important as compared to those states lying beyond Sutlej, nor they treated it politically valuable as those of Lahore and Peshawar divisions. However, their preserving its peace and tranquillity was taken to be a matter of imperative importance in the wake of revolution, which had upset them in most parts of India. They were fully aware of the potential of the large number of warlike tribes who were dwelling in its valleys, hills and plains. They worked out on a clever plan and ‘the object was happily accomplished by the entertainment in British service of many of their martial spirits, who chafed at inaction, and would probably have fretted us had not a legitimate object been given them whereon to spend their strength’. The Deputy Commissioner had a sigh of relief on the departure of those recruited from the countryside. But the English were still apprehensive about their safety as there was no European force in Jhelum. They thus worked on the plan of weakening the strength of the native force by sending different contingents to different destinations under some pretext but actually to reduce their number at the station to a manageable strength. Most of these contingents were disarmed when they reached their new stations. This move left only 500 men at Jhelum. Ironically such an arrangement also did not help the colonial masters. For enforcing their safety, a force of Europeans and guns had been sent rapidly down from Rawalpindi early on the morning of the 7th July. As it moved towards the parade ground it was joined on its way by the Sikhs of the 14th. The native force left at the station when saw this movement from a distance they opened fire on their officers and fled to their lines. They defended themselves there but only to flee to the countryside but not without causing fatalities to the British. The European force was exhausted due to the heat and strong Sun of July and could not pursue the revolutionaries immediately. These men when pressed by the pursuers, fled to the independent country of Kashmir only to be handed back to the English. According to the historians only about 44 would have survived and remained at large while the rest were either killed, drowned or executed. As usual, the notables of the tribes and the division, who sided with the British and helped them with unequivocal loyalty, were duly rewarded in the Regular Settlement of Brandreth after the revolt had been quelled.

The southern Punjab mainly remained calm but the now over-cautious British were in no mood to take anything for granted. Even when there was no reason of distress they took such measures as to combat an imperative unrest. The district of Khangarh remained as calm as ever but the European community remained restless only because of the proximity of Multan where the revolt had some effect. Taking the precautions against any eventuality the Deputy Commissioner ‘fortified the jail, the courthouse and the chief and district treasuries, armed all Europeans and vigilantly guarded all the ferries, which were not closed’. Perhaps to the good fortune of the Europeans, the villagers – simple folk as they are – willingly served them in setting up vigilance posts along the river Chenab. To further their efforts against any eventuality they also organised intelligence department to work between Khangarh, Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan and Muzaffargarh.

The conditions at Multan also seemed to be normal but the British were so scared that they found it necessary to make arrangements for refuge in case of any disturbance. The Qila Kuhna, or the old fort, which had been in a ruinous condition since it had been battered and dismantled by the British army in 1849, was re-put in a position of defence, stored with provisions, and garrisoned by some men of police battalion. Completion of these arrangements would have taken some days, and, according to the British ‘the temper of the native troops could not be trusted from hour to hour’, it was thought necessary to keep an alternate arrangement in place till such time as the Fort would be ready to serve. This substitute was found in the vessel of Lieutenant Etheridge of the Indian Navy, who happened to be at Multan at that time. He was requested to detain the steamer until the fort should have become defensible.

Still there were no apparent signals of any kind of scheme of rising of the native force against the masters except that some of them were restless because of their lesser contacts with their families and wanted to keep the money with them instead of the coffers of the government. Taking a suggestion from this natural unrest the British embarked on aggressive execution of the pre-emptive measures, which badly backfired. On the orders of the Chief Commissioner they were to be disarmed. The task was completed before the morning of June 10th by disarming of the 62nd and 69th Native Infantry. There were only 48 artillerymen of the European troops while all the others were natives in addition to one regiment, the 1st Irregular Cavalry, which was composed of Hindustanis, other than Punjabis, as the British would reckon. The colonial masters were so much frightened of any outbreak of any untoward situation that they would act in the most ruthless way even on the slightest of the suspicion or suggestion. ‘The chief native officer of the regiment and 10 men were blown from guns by sentence of court-martial for sedition and intended mutiny’ – they had boasted of their intent!

The only serious local outbreak that occurred in Multan was not before June 1858. The 62nd and 69th Native Infantry Regiments, though disarmed, were kept in cantonment for some months before orders were issued for their disbandment. The record of the English betrays of their fright. “In order to prevent the assembly of large bodies of disaffected persons at one spot, it was decided that the disbandment should be carried out gradually in daily bands of 20 men. This order gave rise to the belief that it was the intention of Government either to massacre them in small bodies or to arrange for their seizure on the way to their homes in Hindustan and for their subsequent transportation. The feelings of alarm thus engendered were fostered by mischief-makers and toward the end of August 1858, rumours were current that the disbanded regiments intended to mutiny. No adequate measures were taken to allay their fears and the precautions against an outbreak appear to have been insufficient. On August 31st practically the whole of both regiments mutinied while on parade; they made attacks on the European Artillery and their old lines; murdered the Adjutant of the Bombay Fusiliers and four European Artillerymen; and then broke away in various directions. The Commissioner, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton, had previously made excellent arrangements for the protection of the city and the civil lines and few of the mutineers broke through the cordon he had drawn”.

Of about twelve hundred who rose against the usurpers, some three hundred were killed in cantonments. Out of the rest, some 400 fled southwards, but unlike the helping country people as had happened in the central India or Northwestern Provinces, here in Punjab they were chased by locals, the followers of the Makhdum of Sher Shah and peasants. Some of them drowned in the river, while others were rounded up and handed over to the foreign power – certainly for execution. The other party, which had fled northward, met the same fate at the hands of the tehsildar of Serai Sidhu aided by police and, again ironically, by a large body of Langrials, Hirajs, Sargannas, Traggars and other clans headed by no other than their chiefs. Ghulam Mustafa Khan, Khakwani, should also be among those who won laurels as he also pursued them with a body of mounted police. On the first encounter at Karampur on the Diwanwah Canal, the freedom fighters made the chasers lick their wounds with ‘several killed and wounded, among the latter being Bahawal the chief of the Langrial clan’. However, with the arrival of the reinforcements the brave revolutionaries were overpowered and annihilated as according to the report ‘no quarter was given and no prisoners were taken’. Why Punjab did not stood up against the usurping power like their countrymen from the central and the northwestern parts is amply evidenced from the report of the British on the Multan events: “The most gratifying features of an incident, that might perhaps have been avoided, had more care been taken to allay the fears of the disbanded sepoys, were the thorough and prompt arrangements of the civil authorities, and the active loyalty of the local tribes and their chiefs. The mutiny was confined practically to the Hindustani Regiments. The 11th Punjabi Regiment, which had only recently been raised, gave assistance of very great value in the defence of the cantonments and the dispersal of the rebels”.

In the case of the Gujrat district, the British were again under the same spell of ‘once bitten twice shy’. They were afraid of the 35th Native Infantry, which was present there and ‘imagined’ to be mutinous. They were, therefore, moved from here to join their headquarters at Sialkot, later on to be joined with General Nicholson’s moveable column where they were disarmed at Phillaur.

In Kangra district there was no rising in freedom fighting as such. In the state of Kulu, however, the contender to the chieftainship, whom the British thought to be intriguing others for the rebellion, was arrested and hanged.

The story in and around Karnal was no different than some other places in Punjab where the rajas or the sardars were all out to help the white masters. The following account would give the clear idea of their conduct in this War of Independence. “Directly the news of the outbreak (of the revolution at Delhi) reached Jind, the Raja collected his troops and proceeded by forced marches to Karnal, which he reached on the 18th of May. He restored order in the town and its vicinity, marched down the Grand Trunk Road in advance of the British columns, turned his forces on Panipat, recovered Simbhalka which had been seized by the rebels, and kept the road open between Karnal and Delhi. The Maharaja of Patiala was no less prompt. He held Karnal, Thanesar and Ambala in our behalf, and kept the road open from Karnal to Philaur. The Chauhans of the Nardak behaved well. They raised a regiment of cavalry, and they also supplied a body of 250 chaukidars (watchmen) for the protection of the city and civil lines where our ordnance magazine was established. The Mandal Nawab of Karnal, Ahmad Ali Khan, from the very first placed himself and his resources unreservedly at our disposal. For these services his quit-rent of Rs. 5,000 a year was released to him and his heirs made in perpetuity; and he was presented with Khillat of Rs.10,000 in darbar”.

The main problem of the British here was the movement of some of the ‘disaffectionate’ people to Delhi, apparently to take part in the action and a general breakdown of the law and order situation as a result of the engagement of most of the administration mainly in the besiegement of Delhi. Such persons, including the erring lambardars were later on punished. Fearing any future recurrence of the events of the 1857, the numerous village forts, which had been built in the times of the Sikhs, were dismantled in 1858.

The Hoshiarpur district of Punjab mainly remained calm and unaffected by the uprising at other places in the country. However, scared of any movement embedding itself any moment the English had made elaborate arrangements. How much dependable they had thought the locals of the district that about 800 men of the Ahluwalia Rajauri, Madi and Tiwana troops – along with police – guarded the station. Only on the suspicion of hatching a conspiracy the alleged ringleaders of the prisoners were executed. The recapture of Delhi by the British was celebrated by illuminating the town.

After the freedom fighters from Meeruth had entered Delhi, some freedom fighters belonging to the 3rd Light Cavalry came over from Delhi to attack the headquarters of the Gurgaon district. The European Collector put up some resistance but was compelled to flee, which he did with other white fellows. In their wanderings, numbers got increased with joining of other Europeans on the way, till they reached Delhi on the 13th of October. They were hospitably entertained only at Mohena by Mir Hidayat Ali, Risaldar of the 4th Bengal Irregular Cavalry. In return of the special favour in the trying conditions he was subsequently rewarded by a grant of the village as jagir.

Except for Mewat, where Meos plundered and fought and overpowered Khanzadas, there was no incident directly linked with the revolt. But the local feuds, murders, looting etc. were caused because of the breakdown in law and order situation during the period of the uprising. This resulted in the transfer of the district with the rest of the Delhi territory from the North-west Provinces to Punjab in the beginning of 1858.

In Punjab proper, Ludhiana also did not put up much trouble for the British during the period of the revolt. Maulana Abdul Qadir, a religious scholar, had been advocating for the uprising giving sermons on the fruits of freedom but the colonial masters were too smart to let such a thing happen. It happened almost twice that the situation for revolt arose but all the arms with the natives, including the civilians, had been seized thus averting any possibility of a catastrophic situation for the British. The Maulana marched to Delhi and participated in the action there till the Europeans regained its control. He came back but for obvious reasons had to stay in hiding for the rest of his life.

In Hissar district the effects of the revolt were quite sizeable as compared to some other regions of Punjab. The army was mainly stationed at Hissar, Hansi and Sirsa and, though pre-emptive steps had been taken by the Europeans, these were the places, which suffered the most. Although the colonial officers responsible for the district were not apprehending any such uprising yet when it came in the wake of the revolt at Meeruth and subsequent capture of Delhi, at Hansi only two Europeans were able to flee while the rest of them, totalling 11 in number, were all massacred when it broke out on the 29th of May. The freedom fighters from these places established contacts with Hissar where they got the desired results in the uprising of the natives. Here they killed 12 persons of the European community while some 13 others were able to flee, mostly with the help and assistance of the ‘loyal’ natives, who were to be rewarded later.

Some 17 Europeans from Sirsa ran for life but though had some rough time on the way, were mostly helped by the natives till they shut themselves in the mud-fort at the village of Rori. Here too, they had been getting their provisions of flour and water through the native faqir. The State of Patiala came to their rescue here too. According to their records ‘the party was thus enabled to hold out until the arrival of some Patiala troops, who escorted them to a place of safety in Patiala territory. They were hospitably treated by the Patiala authorities until the restoration of order enabled them to return to Sirsa’

In June, the levee of Sikhs raised at Ferozepur in early May, came to the rescue of the white-masters in the district of Hissar. After having quite a few outings fought in different villages with this force, and some others from Bikaner and Patiala, they were finally able to bring the area under their control once again. They had been burning to ashes the whole villages, which had earlier put up resistance to them and were not thought to be ‘loyal’ to the English. About the persons, let us see in their own words: - ‘After order had been restored 133 persons were hanged in the Hissar District for the part, which they had taken in the revolt, and 3 others were sentenced to transportation for life, of whom 2 were subsequently pardoned. The proprietary rights in seven villages were forfeited, among them being Mangali and Jamalpur, while fines were levied on as many more. At the same time many mafi grants and pecuniary rewards were given to those who had rendered conspicuous service’.

Along with Phillaur and Hoshiarpur, Jullunder also did not escape the uprising of the natives against the foreign masters. In Jullunder cantonment, the bungalow of the colonel was torched while the whole of the native force revolted against the white authority. They killed their commander and in unison reached Ludhiana to proceed to Delhi to take part in the biggest action there.

In the face of the general uprising against the writ of the Europeans after the Meeruth revolt, the main concern of the authorities at Ambala was to keep the Grand Trunk Road open and safe for movement, especially, of the forces, ammunition and treasures. This was easily done, thanks to the feudal chiefs who kept their loyalty to the foreign usurpers. They remember them by recording: “These eminent services afforded by the Cis-Sutlej Chiefs are thus casually noticed as part of the history of the late campaign. I feel under the deepest obligations to them, and the Governor-General, in the Gazette announcing the fall of Delhi, has declared that they shall not be without their reward”. Those native feudal who provided all sorts of help and their forces made clear the way for the British up to 20 miles of Delhi on one side and Meeruth on the other included the Maharaja of Patiala, Raja of Nabha, Raja of Jind and Kotla Nawab.

The relative calm in this region may be gauged from the fact that innumerable bullock-cart trains had been moving with treasures to still safer places without any incident of looting, arson or loss of any part of the valuables and the money.

The Gurdaspur district mainly did not give much trouble to the white masters though they, scared as they were especially from the presence of the civilian workers from outside Punjab (Hindustani, as they termed them) working on the Bari Doab Canal, took pre-emptive measures. They made the arrangements of keeping them under watch by establishing espionage services and sending to other places those persons on whom fell some suspicion. The military action conducted by the British was mainly against those freedom fighters, or fugitives with their families, who happened to cross the river into the district.

At Shahpur district (now Sargodha) headquarters the uprising also remained to the extent of the Treasury guards, who were reported to be ‘Hindustani’. The Punjabis and Pathans forming parts of the employees of the British rather ‘counterpoised’ them – in the words of the English.

On 4th June, Rawalpindi came under the grip of fear of uprising. The British were very upset with the rumours coming from all sides pointing towards a massive action against them. As a consequence of the same the whites started fleeing to take refuge at other places. But when nothing happened the Europeans came up and rounded up the native force and ordered them for disarming for which they were not ready and thus started running away. They were fired at by the Europeans and those who had fled, were later arrested, but all of them were disarmed.

When the uprising began in other districts there was a general fear among the Europeans about the safety of the area, treasures and their personnel stationed at Murree. So they sent the Sikh troops, mostly loyal throughout the troubled period, from Hazara district to guard duty at that Hill Station. To make up the deficiency in this district ‘the levies were enrolled by quotas from the chiefs and principal maliks, and were the representatives of so many clans; they brought their own arms, and were all accustomed to hill warfare’. They were put mainly on the duty of guarding the crossings at the Indus where they were helpful in the apprehending of the fugitive freedom fighters from other districts.

In Mardan district, the revolting members of the force were chased by police into Swat from where they are said to have gone to Kashmir, though most of them perishing on the way. Two of the dissenting sipahis were court-martialed and blown up by guns by the Gurkhas, who were later sent to Delhi to reinforce the white masters in their effort to recapture it. Among the fugitives who headed for Swat some 150 were killed on chase by the sowars of the British army, and as many numbers were taken prisoners. The English were astonished as against their experience at Peshawar; here the people favoured the dissenting members of the forces rather than opposing them.

Peshawar did not give much trouble to the English occupiers of the area but they were scared of any movement or action the like of which were seen in the northern and central India. Although there were tribal hostilities in the neighbourhood of Peshawar, not necessarily against the British, who were comparatively safe from any of their feuds highway robberies or harbouring escaped criminals. However, they harboured a natural fear from the native troops in their service.

The news of the uprising of the native force against their white masters at Meeruth reached Peshawar around midnight on 11th May 1857. They immediately decided to disarm the native troops, which was done the very next morning very covertly. During the following night, 250 of the affected sipahis deserted but all of them were seized, ironically, with the help of the natives who sided with the foreign overlords. To make an example of the consequent action against any troops defying the white masters, the leader of the deserting freedom fighters, Subedar-Major of the affected regiment from the 51st Native Infantry, was hanged before the whole garrison on parade. The ruthless action with which the British treated any future desertion may well be gauged from the fact that at Peshawar alone no less than 532 military executions took place throughout the unrest. Of these, 20 were hanged, 44 blown from the guns and 450 shot from musketry. This was done in spite of the situation that never reached any alarming level. They themselves confess this in their own words, “during the Mutiny, after the sepoy regiment had been disarmed, Peshawar was a source of strength rather than of danger.” The proof of ‘obedient’ nature of the locals and the tribals around it lies in the fact that they raised from them a sizeable force, which was later on ‘sent to Hindustan for general service, where they behaved with credit.’ The British put it in these words, “they absorbed all the idlers and adventurers of the Peshawar valley, and made the campaign against the Hindustani mutineers a highly popular service.”

*Excerpted from the book “Punjab and the Indian Revolt of 1857” by Ihsan H. Nadiem.