Around 162 years have passed since the first war of independence took place. While the British historians have left several accounts of excesses allegedly committed by Indians during this bloody struggle, they have carefully concealed some of the worst excesses committed in human history by the Englishmen during this era.
Noted historian RC Majumdar has recorded these in detail in his monumental work, “The Sepoy Mutiny….”. This historical account busted many myths around the war of 1857 that had been intentionally created and nurtured by the British and Marxist historians.
On May 10 this year i.e. on the 162nd anniversary of the beginning of the first war of independence against the British colonial rule, it is time to recall the sacrifices of those who suffered at the hands of the Englishmen. It also exposes the myth that the Englishmen were a civilized lot and they introduced modernity in India. No where in the world history, not even in the two world wars, such brutalities have been committed which were perpetrated in wake of 1857 by the British on hapless Indians.
Here is a brief account of the atrocities committed by the Englishmen based on Majumdar’s work:
On June 9, 1857, the Government of India caused Martial Law to be proclaimed in the Divisions of Varanasi (Banaras) and Allahabad. What followed is thus described by Kaye:
“Martial law had been proclaimed; those terrible acts passed by the Legislative Council in May and June were in full operation; and soldiers and civilians alike were holding Bloody Assize, or slaying natives without any Assize at all, regardless of the sex or age. Afterwards, the thirst for blood grew stronger still. It is on the records of our British Parliament, in papers sent home by the Governor-General of India in Council, that The aged, women, and children, are sacrificed, as well as those guilty of rebellion.” They were not deliberately hanged, but burnt to death in their villages—perhaps now and then accidentally shot. Englishmen did not hesitate to boast, or to record their boasting in writing, that they had ‘spared no one’ and that “peppering away at niggers” was very pleasant pastime, ‘‘enjoyed amazingly.” It has been stated in a book ( Travels of a Hindoo by Bholanath Chandra) patronised by high class authorities, that for three months eight dead carts daily went their rounds from sunrise to sunset to take down the corpses which hung at the cross-roads and market places,” and that “six thousand beings” had been thus summarily disposed of and launched into eternity .”
Photo Caption:”Blowing Mutinous Sepoys From the Guns, September 8th, 1857,” a steel engraving, London Printing and Publishing Co, 1858(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
But even before the Martial Law was passed the English soldiers took the law in their own hands Referring to their activities Kaye says: “Already our military officers were hunting down the criminals of all kinds, and hanging them up with as little compunction as though they had been pariah-dogs, or jackals, or vermin of a baser kind. One contemporary writer has recorded that, on the morning after the disarming parade, the first thing he saw from the Mint was a ‘row of gallowses/ A few days afterwards military courts or commissions were sitting daily, and sentencing old and young to be hanged with indiscriminate ferocity. ..On one occasion, some young boys, who, perhaps in mere sport, had flaunted rebel colours and gone about beating tom-toms, were tried and sentenced to death One of the officers composing the court, a man unsparing before an enemy under arms, but compassionate, as all brave men are, towards the weak and the helpless, went with tears in his eyes to the Commanding officer, imploring him to remit the sentence passed against these juvenile offenders, but with little effect on the side of mercy. And what was done with some show of formality either of military or of criminal law, was as nothing, I fear, weighed against what was done without any formality at ail. Volunteer hanging parties went out into the districts, and amateur executioners were not wanting to the occasion. One gentleman boasted of the numbers he had finished off quite ‘in an artistic manner/ with mango-trees for gibbets and elephants for drops, the victims of this wild justice being strung up as though for pastime, in ‘the form of a figure of eight.’
One of the volunteers in the fort of Allahabad writes thus of the events subsequent to arrival of Neill with his reinforcements. “When we could once get out of the fort, we were all over the places, cutting down all natives who showed any signs of opposition ; we enjoyed these trips very much. One trip I enjoyed amazingly ; we got on board a steamer with a gun, while the Sikhs and fusiliers marched up to the city. We steamed up throwing shots right and left, till we got up to the bad places, when we went on shore and peppered away with ourguns, my old double-barrel that I brought out, bringing down several niggers, so thirsty for vengeance was I. We fired the places right and left, and the flames shot up to the heavens as they spread, fanned by the breeze, showing that the day of vengeance had fallen on the treacherous villains. Every day we led expeditions to burn and destroy disaffected villages, and we had taken our revenge. I have been appointed the chief of a commission for the trial of all natives charged
with offences against Government and persons. Day by day, we have strung up eight or ten men. We have the power of life in our hands; and I assure you we spare not. A very summary trial is all that takesplace. The condemned culprit is placed under a tree, with a ropearound his neck, on the top of carriage, and when it is pulled away,off he swings.
The same scene was witnessed in the western part of India. AsGeneral Barnard was marching to Delhi towards the end of May, I857, “many cruel deeds were wrought on villagers suspected of complicity in the ill-usage of the fugitives from Delhi. Officers, as they went to sit on courts-martial, swore that they would hang their prisoners, guilty or innocent Prisoners, condemned to death after a hasty trial, were mocked at and tortured by ignorant privates before their execution, while educated officers looked on and approved.” “Old men who had done us no harm, and helpless women, with sucking infants at their breasts, felt the weight of our vengeance, no less than the vilest malefactors.”
‘The History of the Siege’ of Delhi by an officer who served there, on which the above account is based, also describes how, on the way from Amballa to Delhi, ‘hundreds of Indians were condemned to be hanged before a court-martial in a short time, and they were most brutally and inhumanly tortured, while scaffolds were being erected for them. The hair on their heads were pulled bunches by bunches, their bodies were pierced by bayonets and then they were made to do that, to avoid which they would think nothing of death or torture—cows’ flesh was forced by spears and bayonets in the mouth of the poor and harmless Hindu villagers. The following may be cited as an example of the manner in which punishment was meted out to the mutineers at Peshawar. The fifty fifth Regiment at Hoto-Mardan in the Panjab was suspected of treason, but had committed no overt act of mutiny. At the advance of an English force they fled towards the hills. Being pursued by Nicholson they turned back and fought bravely. But about 120 were killed and 150 captured.
Reference may be made in this connection to a series of letters which a young Lieutenant, Frederick Roberts, afterwards Field-Marshal Farl Roberts, the hero of the Afghan War, wrote to his father, mother, and sister in England during the Mutiny, in suppressing which he took a very active part. These letters, later published in the form of a book, throw a lurid light on the mentality of the English officers in India during those dark days.
We quote a few extracts without any comment:
“The death that seems to have the most effect is being blown from a gun. It is rather a horrible sight, but in these times we cannot be particular. Drum head Courts-Martial are the order of the day in every station, and had they begun this regime a little earlier, one half of the destruction and mutiny would have been saved. “The day before yesterday 40 belonging to one Regt. including native officers, etc, were blown away from guns in Peshawar, and this fate awaits many yet I trust.”
“In Peshawur, fortunately, firm fellows were at the head of affairs,,.. At Jullundhur they should, and deserve really to have been all murdered, I mean those in authority Brigadier Johnstone would not allow them to fire. Isn’t it horrible. Mother dear? Very nearly the whole of one regiment could have been blown to pieces, instead of which they got off and cut off several officers. None died, I believe, but many are badly wounded.”
Photo:”British civilization–how the English treat prisoners of war–blowing sepoys from guns in India, 1857,” from ‘Harper’s Weekly’, 1862; (Source:http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/1800_1899/1857revolt/executions/executions.html)
‘When a prisoner is brought in, I am the first to call out to have him hanged, knowing that unless the severest measures are adopted we shall have no end to our war, but it does make one melancholy to come across accidents such as I have related (three women watching the dead bodies of their husbands, none of them sepoys). They cannot be avoided I well know. Soldiers get into a town, and cannot be expected to distinguish between the guilty and innocent in the heat of the moment, yet such scenes make one wish that all was settled.’
It has been argued in some quarters that the excesses of the British soldiery were a reaction to the horrible tales of the massacre at Kanpur, for they were so much infuriated that they lost all sense of justice and humanity. But it is to be remembered that the atrocities described above were perpetrated before the alleged massacre at Kanpur.