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Posted at: May 12, 2018, 12:50 AM; last updated: May 12, 2018, 12:50 AM (IST)

1857 uprising sparked at Ambala, engulfed entire state

1857 uprising sparked at Ambala, engulfed entire state
The 1857 uprising memorial at Nasibpur village in Mahendragarh district.

Atul Yadav

The uprising of 1857 is one of the most important events in the public memory of Indians in general and the people of Punjab Province comprising Haryana in particular. 

In South East Punjab (modern day Haryana), it was the manifestation of their popular discontent against the British rule leading to the grass-roots mobilisation of common people and it sustained for a longer period.

On May 10, 1857, (Sunday) around nine hours before the outbreak of the uprising at Meerut, 60th Native Infantry openly revolted at Ambala. The Sepoys left their lines as a man seized arms from the regimental area and arrested their European officers. But to their great surprise, the next moment they found themselves surrounded by a superior number of European forces. Under the circumstances, the Sepoys could not proceed further with their plan. 

On hearing the news of the happenings at Ambala, Meerut and Delhi, people of Haryana also rose up and opposed the British authorities. It was a good opportunity for them to take revenge from the British as well as moneylenders. Almost entire Haryana witnessed the revolt. Gurgaon, Rohtak, Hisar and Karnal districts and people living in the states of Jhajjar, Ballabgarh, Farrukhnagar, Pataudi, Bahadurgarh, Dujana and Loharu also joined the revolt by the end of May 1857 but Ambala district joined a bit later. The states of Jind, Kalsia and Buria and also 11 small ‘jagirs’, however, remained calm and unaffected throughout owing to strict measures taken by feudal chieftains.

From Delhi, the fire of the revolt spread to Gurgaon district. When around 300 Sepoys marched to Gurgaon from Delhi they found great support from the local populace. W. Ford, Collector-Magistrate of Gurgaon, tried to check the ‘rebels’ at Bijwasan, a village near Gurgaon, on May 12 but failed. He again failed to repulse the ‘rebels’ when they attacked the district administration. ‘Rebels’ occupied the district headquarters and seized money from the treasury and destroyed the houses of the Europeans and their supporters. The files and other records of moneylenders were burnt and prisoners were released from the district jail.

In Mewat, the sturdy and warlike Mewatis came in large numbers under the leadership of a Meo peasant, Sadruddin of Pinangwan village, and formed a 'dhar'. The Meos were up at once and plundered Tauru, Sohna, Ferozepur, Punhana, Pinangwan and Nuh. With the help of Sarot Jats of Hodal and Pathans of Seoli, the loyalists (the Rawats and Rajputs) despite having government support were completely routed. A powerful group of rebels led by Thakur Shiv Nath Singh, a former minister of Jaipur, attacked Major W. Eden, the political agent of Jaipur state, who had to return to Jaipur at once, leaving Mewat.

In Ahirwal, people waged a gallant struggle under the leadership of Rao Tula Ram and his cousin Rao Gopal Dev. The Raos along with 400 to 500 followers went to the tehsil headquarters at Rewari and deposed the tehsildar and the thanedar. They seized money from the treasury and took government buildings in their control. The British forces faced heavy casualties in the battle of Nasibpur, near Narnaul, and Col. Gerarad was killed. Ahirs and Mewatis combined their forces. In areas close to Rewari, Mewatis, sometimes coming from Dausa and Bharatpur (Rajasthan), enrolled as fighters, were satisfied with the nominal pay Rao Tula Ram could offer in times of great distress. At Palwal, Mirza Gafur Ali and Harsukh Rai, both small tradesmen, led people against the British. At Faridabad, Dhanna Singh Rajput assumed the leadership. Nawab Ahmed Ali led people of Farrukhnagar. 

Ranghars of Rohtak rose up under the leadership of Bisarat Ali and Babar Khan, peasant leaders from Kharkhoda, and finished off all symbols of the British rule from their locality. They received help from Tafazzal Hussain of Delhi. They not only destroyed official records, papers and documents but also burnt records and plundered wealthy people. They also burned offices, public buildings and the Judges Court. They forced their way into the district jail to set free prisoners. Tafazzal Hussain attacked the town of Sampla and burnt all buildings in which the Europeans lived. The Customs bungalows at Meham, Madina and Mandothi were also burnt and money seized from the district treasury. 

In Hisar district, people revolted against the British under Muhammed Azim in Hisar and under Hukam Chand, a middle-aged Jain businessman, his young nephew Faquir Chand and a Muslim friend Meena Beg, in Hansi. In Hisar, after the murder of the Collector the jail convicts were released and the houses of the Europeans were set on fire while two women, Mrs Jeffery and Mrs Smith, and their children were cruelly murdered by their servants. Deputy Commissioner of Hisar Wedderburn was killed. Mrs Barwell and Mrs Wedderburn, with their children were massacred by the mutinous troops while David Thompson, tehsildar of Hisar, was murdered by his peons. In all, 23 Europeans and Christians were murdered.  

Tehsildar Ahmad Nabi Khan of Hisar and a few mounted personnel were dispatched to restore civil power at Hansi. The revolutionaries of Jamalpur attacked Tosham tehsil and killed tehsildar Nand Lal, thanedar Piyare Lal and kanungo Khazan Singh. General Van Courtland burnt Hajimpur village near Hansi, which was a stronghold of the revolutionaries. Afterwards Mangla village was attacked and burnt. Jamalpur village, which was defended by the Ranghars and the Delhi troops and Muhammad Azim, was also captured and burnt.   

Villagers of Panipat district refused to pay land revenue and joined hands with the revolutionaries of Rohtak and marched to Delhi. They returned after 22 days and threatened to attack the Collector’s camp, while 19 other large villages mostly in Bhalsi and Korana ‘Zails’ (group of villages) rioted, burnt some government buildings, committed robberies and murders, and refused to pay land revenue. The Gujjars did not remain behind and plundered the countryside. All these villages were fined and punished in various ways. In the city of Panipat, an open rebellion took place where Bu Ali Shah Qualandar led the movement and attacked the Collector’s camp but was prevented by some Jind troops. Many revolutionaries were caught and hanged. 

At Thanesar, where Jats and Dalits had burned down government buildings, two Walliullahite Maulvis assumed leadership. Declaring Zafar’s rule they enrolled Gujjars as soldiers and levied a 10 per cent livelihood tax on all big shopkeepers.  People at Ladwa, Pehowa, Kaithal and Pundari also raised their voice against the British rule. 

The British first attacked Ballah village and then bombarded and burnt Jalmana village. In 1858, numerous village forts built in the times of the Sikhs, were dismantled. Bankers of Jagadhari displayed a spirit of patriotism during the revolt period. 

(The writer is Associate Professor of History, Govt PG College, Ambala Cantt)

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