आज़ादी विशेषांक / Freedom Special

दिसंबर २०१२ / December 2012

The Role of Dalits in the 1857 Revolt: Badri Narayan

The Indian Mutiny has been a popular subject with historians, both British and Indian. While Indian historians have glorified it as a ‘War of Independence’ (Savarkar, 1946) in which people rose en masse, gave no quarter to the English and fought to the bitter end, British historians like Sir John William Kaye and Col. G.B. Malleson have been inclined to dismiss it as a ‘sepoy mutiny’ that was “wholly unpatriotic and selfish.. with no native leadership and no popular support.” 1 On the other hand, another British historian Thomas Lowe wrote that ” the infanticide Rajput, the bigoted Brahmin, the fanatic Mussalman, the luxury-loving, fat, paunched, ambitious Mahratta… had joined together in the cause; cow-killer and the cow -worshipper, the pig-hater and the pig-eater, the crier of Allah is One and Muhammed is His Prophet and the mumbler of the mysteries of Brahm, had revolted conjointly”(Lowe, 1860, p. 24). This description by a British historian proves beyond doubt that a mere mutiny of soldiers spread among large classes of the people in Northern and Central India, and converted it into a political insurrection (Dutt, 1950, p. 23). In short, the oft-voiced assertion of British historians that the rebellion of 1857 was no more than a ‘sepoy mutiny’ is not quite the truth. In fact, within a few weeks of the breaking out of the rebellion the British Empire in upper India had all but disappeared (Thornhill, 1884, p. 178).

Although the Indian historians are unanimous in asserting that the 1857 revolt was a popular uprising against the British, the role of different communities in the revolt is a matter of debate by historians and intellectuals. While few literatures,intellectuals and historians claim that it was confined to the local kings and feudal landlords scattered across various parts of northern India like Rani of Jhansi, Nana Sahib Peshwa, Tatya Tope, Kunwar Singh and so on, and the lower castes only functioned as their soldiers, guards, watchmen etc., another section of intellectuals feels that a revolt on such a large scale could not have been planned and carried out with the help of only few groups of people. It needed the active participation of all the people to make it a success. Since the Indian society comprises a large number of lower and backward castes, a revolt on such an immense scale could not have been planned and executed without their cooperation. This debate is being fuelled by the dalits who have started demanding a share in the development pie of the country that had earlier been divided among the elite upper classes by asserting their role in the nation building process and in the 1857 revolt through a number of dalit heroes of the revolt. A historical fact to support this claim is that the import of Europeans clothes and objects to India rendered traditional artisan communities like weavers, carpenters, ironsmiths, shoe smiths and so on, all of whom were lower castes, jobless and without any alternative sources of income except begging (Rawat, 2007: 22). Thus most of them actively joined in the revolt against the British as a protest against this social and economic injustice.  Dalit intellectuals and academicians believe that dalits of many castes played significant roles as leaders and commanders in the revolt. The mainstream academicians on the other hand opine that the dalits as a community have always been docile, inactive and a subjugated. So how could they have played an active role in the 1857 revolt? In this paper we will examine the role of dalits in the revolt by making a thorough study of archival historical accounts, the oral histories that have been carried down over generations, and the histories that are being written by the dalits for carving their own identities, in order to establish whether the dalits made significant contributions to the revolt as leaders and decision makers or functioned only as servants and soldiers who obeyed the orders of the upper castes.

Upward mobility of the dalits around the year 1857

If one examines the events that took place around 1857 one would find that dalits as a community had started the process of upward mobility by migrating to cities from their villages in search of jobs and carving a better future for themselves. In 1820, after the abolition of slavery, when the colonial countries like Britain, the Netherlands and Suriname needed a source of cheap and abundant labour for their sugarcane, cocoa, jute and other plantations in their colonies in the Caribbean countries, the system of indentured labour was introduced in India. Under this system, beginning from 1833 and ending in 1916, nearly 1.2 million people from the Bhojpur region of Bihar and UP migrated to far off countries like Suriname, Mauritius, Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago etc. to work in the colonial plantations. From the registers that were prepared by the Dutch officers that have been carefully preserved in the archives in Suriname and the Netherlands it can be seen that the maximum number of migrants belonged to lower castes like Chamar, Dusadh, Kori, Kahar and so on. Only 5% of the migrants were Brahmins and 15% were Thakurs (De Klerk, 1951: 104). The same trend was visible in the case of the other countries like Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad etc.2 From this we can infer that even at that time dalits and lower castes were not a subjugated community who spoke only in the voice of their masters under the feudal system. They were not prepared to remain confined to their land and villages but had the courage to venture out of their safe havens to unknown overseas destinations. Behind their wish to leave their roots lay the craving both to search for better economic options and to free themselves from the hierarchical feudal social system that oppressed and exploited the lower castes under the Brahminical code of conduct. 3 A strong desire had been aroused in them to explore economic options for earning their livelihood that was not restricted to merely working as labourers and servants of the local feudal landlords but enabled them to live with prestige and dignity. Thus the dalits gradually evolved into a risky and adventurous community who were ready to take on any challenge. The dalits who migrated to the Caribbean countries regularly remitted money to their family members who had been left behind, providing them a better future and better social security. This fact can be verified from the autobiography of Munshi Rahman Khan, an educated man who migrated to Suriname and wrote in vivid details about the life of the migrants in Suriname (Gautam 1995). From this it can be gleaned that the dalits who migrated overseas greatly facilitated the economic and associated social empowerment of dalits in India.

The famous Dutch historian Dirk H. Kolff in his  book ‘Naukri, Sipahi and Rajput’ has shown through his research into archival sources that around the 1857 revolt many dalits and backwards used to practice wrestling and learned fighting skills at wresting rings (akhara) along with the Thakurs. This was guided by the growing need for soldiers by the landlords, local kings and also by the British army. Kolff says, “Around 1630 a traveler named Peter Munde traveled from Agra to Patna. He found a large number of wrestling rings next to soldiers’ camps where wrestling was being practiced. Apart from them the entire Awadh and Bhojpur region was covered with akharas where men belonging to lower castes, middle castes and upper castes were building their bodies through wrestling. These men were preparing themselves for securing jobs as soldiers and constables with various kings, landlords and the Sultan of Delhi. Around 1814 the British army also contained many Indian soldiers who were known as Pahalwan Sahib.4

At that time the Indians who were working for the British as soldiers and constables were not only Purabias, Ujjainias and Bundelas but also belonged to low castes and semi-shepherd communities. Baheliya was one such community which had emerged as an important one in the fourteenth century during the reign of Muhammed bin Tughlak in Delhi.  Since they were mainly concentrated in the region lying between Chunar and Banaras on the bank of the Ganga they used to be recruited from there and many were also given the ownership of twenty seven villages each as gifts. William Crooke informs us in his book that people who were hired as security guards of Akbar included a large number of Baheliyas and their commander was known as Hazaari.5 In 1772 when the Mughals conceded to the British many of them joined the British army. Along with the Baheliyas the Pasis who numbered nearly 1.2 million at that time also built up a reputation of being a courageous, brave and valiant community. 6 Posing a challenge to the laws, rules and orders of the East India Company they worked as the stick wielders, watchmen and security guards of the landlords and local kings and made a name for themselves as a stalwart martial community. Sleeman, who was on a capturing spree in that region in 1857, described the heroic Pasis by saying that many of them had formed their own armies and had acquired a considerable amount of land and property by committing robberies, murders and working as mercenary soldiers for small kings. 7 The chivalry of the Pasis has also been described in the folk epic Alha-Udal.8 Before that, in 1678 in the Bundelkhand region the army of the king of Chhatrasaal included, in addition to higher castes like Rajputs, Brahmins and Baniyas, lower castes like Chhipi, Rangrej, lower Muslim castes and Ahirs on a large scale. In this manner the tradition of service, especially service as a soldier, had become established as a prestigious one at that time.8

Like the Rajputs, chivalry as a life skill gradually evolved as the quality of many dalit castes like Kori, Pasi, Mushahar etc. Even though it is difficult to pin point the exact time period when a particular folk lore came into existence but there are many folk songs and folk tales around brave dalit heroes like Chuharmal and Sahles of the Dusadhs, Dina-Bhadri of the Mushahars etc. from which we can infer that the desire for the quality of bravery was one of the collective values of many dalit castes. If that was the case then it is difficult to believe that the  all dalits had been exploited and oppressed by their masters, were the victims of cruelty and violence, which they accepted with docility as their due. It is true that the quality of bravery may not have existed for all the dalit castes but among most of them ideas of progress, courage and dissent against the oppressive social system must certainly have existed. It must be clarified here that the concepts of servant, service did not exist in the same form as they do today, although being gainfully employed had become popular and prestigious. Acquiring a job was also seen as one of ways of getting reprieve from working as a labourer in the fields of the local landlords, which was the only option for people in order to supplement their family income. The increasing desire among rural folks, especially those belonging to the dalit castes, to get jobs, and also the growing awareness about the difficulties associated with formal employment, was what led to the local belief ‘uttam kheti, madhyam baan, nirivadh chakri, bheekh nidaan’, to convert into an idiom.

Consciousness among dalits for acquiring education was also visible around 1857, as can be gauged from the writing of William Adams who made an in-depth study of the state of education in Bihar in 1837-38.9 From his study it is apparent that many vernacular schools were running in south Bihar. In addition to lower caste students the schools also had many teachers who belonged to the lower castes.10 In this same time period many ‘free schools’ were running in Kanpur which also had many lower caste students. It is obvious that the students who were acquiring education in this process must also have acquired a high level of awareness and consciousness, which must have fostered their increasing participation in contemporary social and political issues. In such a condition one can easily infer that the dalits did not function merely as servants of the upper caste feudal landlords during the 1857 revolt but participated equally in it.

Even if for a moment we accept that most of the soldiers in the Bengal army were Brahmins and Kshatriyas it is certain that the allied services like sweeping, polishing shoes, cooking and serving food, stitching clothes, washing clothes drum beating etc. which involved a large number of people, were carried out by the lower castes for whom most of these services were caste based professions. All these people were in service in the army. In fact Matadin Bhangi, who is acclaimed by the dalits as being the father of the 1857 revolt since he instigated Mangal Pandey to revolt against the British army officers by informing him about the presence of animal grease on the cartridges, was employed as a sweeper (Mehatar) in the Bengal army. 11

The first cantonment set up by the British was the Juhi cantonment in Kanpur. Close to it was a large amount of land which was owned by Rani Kunwari. Besides Rani Kunwari, the owners of the other portions of land were dalits. All of them lived in big houses and owned agricultural fields and villages. A temple called Saanwaldas Kuril’s temple still exists in Juhi and there is also a ghat (permanent river bank) near Jyora called Saanwaldas Ghat. Saanwaldas was one of the elite citizens of Kanpur who traveled in a carriage drawn by fourteen horses. He possessed many bungalows in the city at that time and many of them are still there in Kanpur. 12

Rereading of the 1857 Revolt: The presence of dalits in contemporary narratives

During the reign of the last Badshah, the Kotwal of the Paharganj police station in Delhi was an elite Muslim called Muinuddin Hasan. Muinuddin Hasan had saved the life of Sir Theophilus John Metcalfe when the revolt erupted and was a sympathizer of the British. On Sir Metcalfe’s insistence he wrote his own version of the events in the book ‘Khandge-Gadar’. The book, which was originally written in Urdu, has recently been translated into Hindi. The book throws immense light on the revolt from the viewpoint of a man who was deeply loyal to the British and who describes himself as an elite Muslim constable, profession ‘aristocracy’. In his narratives he has denounced all the revolutionaries using adjectives such as traitors, conspirators, cruel etc. while expressing his heartfelt sympathy for the British who, according to him, were the victims of the conspiracies of the revolutionaries. But if we reread the text and also read between the lines we will find ample proof of the contribution of dalits in the 1857 revolt. Although the author has used a number of derogatory adjectives for them but it is clear that they played an active role in the revolt.  In many places he has also used the word ‘chamar’ for the revolutionaries as a form of abuse. At one place he writes that when Nawab Mirza Sahib was being pressurized by the revolutionaries to contribute funds for the revolt he retorted,’ Now you chamars have come to a stage when you are asserting yourself over us’ (ab tum chamaron ka yah star ki hum par dhauns jamaate ho). 13 In his narrative he has very often expressed his disgust with the lower castes by addressing them as ‘chhoti jati‘ (smaller castes). However while describing the revolt in Allahabad or Prayag he says,’ A person named Maulvi Liaqat Ali lived in a mosque in the cantonment. He had many followers, many people were his devotees. He stitched a green flag and gave it the name muhammadi flag. He claimed it to be his kingdom and inspired all his followers for jehad (holy crusade).  He himself became a self-proclaimed khalifa (emperor). At his call, a large number of julahas, bhatiyaras, kunjras, teli, nai, kasambhi muftkhor and looters gathered together. All the British and Sikh soldiers were imprisoned in the fort. Allahabad and its adjoining regions came under the rule of the Maulvi. 14

From this narrative it is clear that a sizeable number of dalit castes joined forces with the Maulvi to protest against the British. Muinuddin Hasan further writes, ‘The Maulvi Sahib started his kutchery at Sultan-Khusrobagh. Every day he gave a discourse and the Julahas and Kunjra used to attack the fort to get it evacuated’.15

A little later Muinuddin Hasan writes that the revolutionary army scattered here and there after looting the treasury in Allahabad. Some went home; some went to Lucknow, while some went to Delhi. Maulvi Sahib now remained the khalifa of an army comprising of only Kunjras, Kasais, Julahas and Nais. Each of them was claiming to be a brave warrior (rustam). 16 If we invert Hasan’s account it appears that the bedrock of Maulvi Ali’s army was the dalit community. Even after the revolutionary army left Allahabad the people of these castes in the Maulvi’s army remained behind and fought resolutely as ‘rustams‘. 17

While mentioning the Akbarabad incident Hasan imparts with an information from which it appears that many men in the revolutionary army belonging to the lower castes where ensconced in commander-like positions. He writes, ‘ When a subedar belonging to the lower caste who was a commander of the army abused the rajputs (who were British sympathizers) and ordered them to lay down their arms, a youth named Panjhi whipped out his sword and swiped him so hard that the subedar’s head got chopped off and fell on the ground. At this all the subedar’s soldiers together fired at the rajputs and all forty of them died.’ 18

The same text can be read in many ways and different meanings can be culled out from them. As I mentioned in the beginning, Hasan perceived the lower castes in a very poor light. This can be inferred clearly at many places in his text. However at the same time it is obvious that the dalits had a very active presence in the 1857 revolt and made a significant contribution to it. Another narrative in the same vein is as follows,’ From Banda Nawab Ali Bahadur went to Kalpi to meet Laxmibai of Jhansi. Tatya Tope and Rao Bandarang had already reached there. All the leaders unanimously decided that Kalpi was not the appropriate place for fighting against the British, so they should head towards Gwalior. After an arduous battle the revolutionary leaders gained controlled over Gwalior. After gaining control Rao Sahib started recruiting men for their army. People from all castes like Dhuniya, Julaha, Teli, Tamoli, Chamar and so on unhesitantly joined as servants and soon the army was ready.19

This narrative too shows how the dalits were present in large numbers in the revolutionary army. At that time a soldier in the army was different from being a soldier of today since it entailed prestige and a good social position. From the next narrative of Muinuddin Hasan the loathing attitude of a sympathizer of the British towards the lower castes in the revolutionary army can be discerned. ‘On the twenty third day Maharaja Scindia arrived with the help of the British army. The newly formed army which was engaged in protest, fled on seeing the British army. Since ancient times they are used to eating without working for it. What shame is there for the chamars to run? 20

In spite of this degrading and insulting attitude Muinuddin gives a detailed account of the role of the dalits in the 1857 revolt. His account also informs that there were both British sympathizers and dissidents among the various castes like Kshatriyas and Muslims. Thus no caste was homogeneous in terms of its position towards the British.

Dalit Oral Memory and 1857: The Story of Gangu baba

In my book ‘Women Heroes and Dalit Assertion in North India’ 21 I had explicated at length how dalit women heroes of the 1857 revolt like Jhalkaribai, Udadevi etc. are being reincarnated in dalit oral memories,  dalit popular booklets, dalit collective histories and dalit politics. In this paper my attempt is to bring out how the dalits of today are inventing their own histories around the 1857 revolt in order to create their distinct identities and to define their own politics within the present socio political scenario. This often leads to the weaving of fantasies around these women heroes which sound hard to believe. But we should not have any trouble in accepting that there is some truth behind these myths, which can be recognized from Muinuddin Hasan’s account of the events that took place during the 1857 revolt. For example, the basis of all the narratives of the dalits around Jhalkaribai is ‘a look-alike friend of the Rani belonging to the Kori caste who fought shoulder to shoulder with her against the British in the revolt’. Now let us see Muinuddin Hasan’s description of the events that took place in Gwalior and Jhansi during the revolt. He writes, ‘ ….After that the queen’s friend and assistant took the boy whom the queen had adopted and left overnight for Bundelkhand along with the queen’s old aide Qutubuddin Khan Risaldar. It has been heard that the boy has now attained maturity and lives in a village in Bundelkhand. 22

Although we know that the colonial archive has been created guided by the needs of the colonizers, yet these narratives function as rays of light in the search for the role of dalits in the 1857 revolt. The narratives around dalit identity which the dalits are using to prove their role in the 1857 revolt are also based on the colonial archives that enlist the names of the people who were hanged for their role in the revolt, since the mainstream nationalist Indian history completely ignores the contribution of dalits in the revolt. For example Matadin Bhangi, a sweeper in the British army at Barrackpore, who is claimed by the dalits to have spearheaded the 1857 revolt since he was the first to make Mangal Pandey, the mainstream nationalist originator of the revolt, aware of the fact that the cartridges were greased with cow fat, has been overlooked by the official record of the revolt. 23 However that he was not a figment of the imagination of the dalits can be proved by the colonial archives that show that he was hanged to death for participating in the revolt. In the same vein there is another myth about a dalit hero of the 1857 revolt which is popular in the oral memories of the region adjoining Kanpur and Bithoor. This is the myth of Gangu Mehtar who is also known as Gangu Baba. The people of that region say that Gangu Baba was a Bhangi who worked as a drum beater (nagarchi) in the army of Nana Saheb. He was built extremely powerfully and was also a wrestler. He himself owned a wrestling ring where many youths practiced wrestling under his tutelage. During the 1857 revolt Gangu Baba fought against the British along with his students at a place near Satichaura and killed many of them. After the revolt was quelled he was arrested by the British and hanged to death. 24 The story of Gangu baba has transcended from the real world into the ethereal world and there is a popular story about him that is still circulated among the people in the region where he died which establish his supernatural qualities. According to them, after his death when some workers of the British were in the process of constructing a culvert on a drain very close to where he was hanged, his ghost used to materialize every night and smash the construction work that had been done in the day time. The British engineers were puzzled about the identity of the revolutionary Indian hero who had the courage to stand up to them even after the defeat of the Indians in the 1857 revolt. One night Gangu Baba appeared in the dreams of the engineer and told him that the culvert would be completed only after a small pond (chabutara) was constructed at the place where he died and the British had prayed at it. Following his instructions the British constructed a chabutara at the place where he died. It was only after this was done was the culvert successfully completed. 25 Babulal and Mohanlal, two residents of Sudarshannagar in Kanpur narrate in unison that nearly one and a half centuries ago a pond was constructed in Chunniganj, the site of Gangu Baba’s martyrdom, where people lay flowers and offer prayers. It is believed that if they do so before launching a new venture, it will be accomplished successfully. After the venture is successfully completed the devotees once again visit the site to express their gratitude by ringing a bell and offering sindoor. As the belief of the people grew a fair started being organized there, which has now become a regular feature of that region. At present the fair is held near the Bhangi basti in Kanpur. On 3 November 1972 the local people got together and installed a statue of Gangu Baba at that spot. Everyday incense sticks are lighted and flowers are placed with great respect at the feet of the revolutionary hero. 26

Gangu Baba’s story that is popular in the oral history of that region has now become an important part of dalit history that is being used by the educated section of the dalits for asserting their collective dalit identity. The story has been reinterpreted and recreated to fit it into their meta narratives describing the heroic qualities of dalits. Their narrative is as follows:

“Gangadin alias Gangu Pahalwan was a fair complexioned six footer with a wide chest and long arms. His ancestors lived in village Akbarpur, district Kanpur Dehat. Gangu was a highly skilled wrestler and he had set up a wrestling ring and a beautiful garden on a 110 acre land in the village Sattichaura. After the demise of Bajirao Peshwa, when the second Nana Sahib Peshwa became the king of that region, he expanded his army and soldiers from the lower castes were also recruited. Gangu Baba joined the army as a nagarchi.  He used to beat the drum when the soldiers did their march past each day and also practiced all the skills of a soldier along with the others. Later he was promoted to the post of a commander (subedar). Gangadin was one of the most loyal soldiers of Nana Saheb and fought steadfastly against the British shoulder to shoulder with him. Nana Saheb’s army in Bithoor also consisted of a number of soldiers belonging to the Giri castes of the Naga (naked saints who smear ash on their bodies) community. In their company Gangu took to spiritualism and started seeking the company of saints who followed the tenets of Sant Kabir and other nirgun (formless) saints. This also gave him the sobriquet of Gangu Giri.

“When Nana Sahib took control over the canon of Bithoor the name of Gangadin alias Gangu Pahalwan was the most prominent one among his body guards. In addition to fighting, Gangadin was also the Nagarchi who played the huge drums to herald the beginning of a battle. After the arrival of the British these drums were replaced by brass trumpets known as military bands, which were blown at the beginning of a battle. The trumpet blowers and drum beaters also participated in the fight along with the other soldiers. The posts of drum beaters in armies have traditionally been held by Bhangis, an untouchable lower caste to which Gangadin belonged.

“One day in the middle of the 1857 revolt when Gangudin was at the Sattichaura wresting ring a platoon of Nana Saheb’s soldiers came to inform that the British army was on his trail. After some time the British soldiers led by Captain Havelock reached the wrestling ring where they confronted Gangudin and his followers. Ganga taunted the captain by saying that he and the other soldiers were not like the Rajas and Maharajas who ran away when the British army attacked their forts and palaces. They were the original settlers of Bithoor and the land was theirs. Nana Saheb might have come from Poona but the soldiers were local inhabitants. Bithoor belonged to the ancestors of all the Indian soldiers and they would fight till their last breath to defend the land of their forefathers.

“As the British soldiers started firing on Gangu and his soldiers he pulled out his sword from its sheath and pounced on Havelock. But just before he could chop off Havelock’s head the British soldiers surrounded him and directed their forces at him. Bloody and injured, Gangu jumped on his horse and started running towards the pond in Chunniganj. Unfortunately, he fell from his horse on the way. The British soldiers tied him to the horse and dragged him to the makeshift prison for Indian revolutionaries that had been set up in Kanpur and locked him up there. ”

“On the dawn of 5 June 1858 some British soldiers arrived in the prison and tied up Gangu’s mouth with a black cloth. Then they took him to the British Civil Surgeon John Nicholas Tresidar, who conducted his medical check up and photographed him. He was then taken to the forest of Chunniganj with his head covered with a black cape. There he was hanged to death on a neem tree. One end of the rope used as a noose was tied to the tree while the other was tied to a horse. The reins of the horse were then pulled hard which made it start galloping at full speed. This tightened the noose around Gangu’s neck and killed him instantly. When his family members heard of his death they took his body with them and buried it in the wrestling ring so that the future generations could worship him. ” 27

Gangu Baba: Myth and Reality

Although the story of Gangu Baba narrated by the dalits might be filled with elements of high drama and might seem to be highly exaggerated, nevertheless it is difficult to write off the story as being mere fantasy. The following may be the reasons for this:

1. The photograph of Gangu Mehtar taken by the English doctor named John Nicholas Tresidar taken just before his hanging was found in the personal collection of Alkaji. The photograph was published in a special issue on the 1857 revolt published by the literary magazine Nayi Dilli. 28

2. Gangu Baba’s descendants including Babulal, his great grandson, still live in Kanpur. Babulal, resident of Sudarshan Nagar, Kanpur, says that his ancestors originally lived in Kasba Akbarpur, district Kanpur Dehat. But later Gangadin’s family comprising his father Bakhtawar and his mother Budhiya left Akbarpur and came to Kanpur where they settled down in Subedar ka Talab, Chunniganj. Babulal’s father and grandfather had told him that Gangu Baba, his great grandfather, was a drummer in Nana Saheb’s army. Because of his bravery Nana Saheb had elevated him to the post of Subedar.29

3. Gangu Baba had converted into a Naga Sadhu towards the end of his life. That is why he came to be known as Gangu Giri. In the register of the Banaras branch of the Juna Akhara a name Gangu Giri, resident of Kanpur, is lodged. A fair in memory of Gangu Giri is organized in Sattichaura near Gangu Babu’s tomb. 30

Thus there appears to be a certain element of truth in the folk tales of the dalits connected with the 1857 revolt that have transformed into myths. They cannot be dismissed as figments of their imagination. Folk culture is a valuable source for authenticating the contribution of dalits in the nationalist movement and in the nation building process and should be accepted by historians. In addition, folk culture helps to liberate the image of the dalits as inactive, docile, submissive and filled with servitude that are mainly Brahminical constructions and interpretations. Thus instead of rejecting the role of dalits in the 1857 revolt it is important that we develop a constructive viewpoint based on our rationality so that the lost history of such a large section of the population is retrieved.


1. Kaye, A History of the Sepoy War in India. (4th ed., 1878), vol. II; Malleson, History of the Indian Mutiny, (1880), vol. II.

2. Maurits Hassan Khan, Immigrants in Suriname, 1876-1916, The Hague, 1998

3. Susan Legene, Report on Bidesia Migration, KIT, 2003.

4. Dirk H. Kolff, Naukar, Rajput and Sipahi, Ethnohistory of Labour Market in Hindustan, 1450-1850, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990

5. ibid

6. ibid

7. ibid

8. ibid

9. Basu Amar Nath, Reports on the Education in Bengal 1835-38 by million Adams, University of Calcutta, p. 267. Also see Colonial Context of Higher Education in India, Hetkar Jha, Usha Publication,1985, New Delhi.

10. ibid

11. S. Rao Sajeevan Nath, 1857 ki kranti ka janak nagvanshi bhangi Matadin Hela, Milan Prakashan, 1998, Allahabad.

12. Zoe yalland, Traders and Nawabs:The British in Cownpore 1765-1857,Great Britain, Michael Russel Publishing Limited,Dechantry,wilton,salesbury,1987

13. Muinuddin Hassan, Gadar 1857, Hindi Madhyam Karyanvayan Nideshalaya, Delhi University, 1999.

14. ibid

15. ibid

16. ibid

17. ibid

18. ibid

19. ibid

20. ibid

21. Women Heroes and Dalit assertion in North India:Identity,Culture and Politics,Sage,2006,New Delhi

22. Muinuddin Hassan op cit

23. S. Sanjeevan Nath op cit

24. Brajendra Gautam and Nivedita Singh, field diary, Bithoor, 27. 8.2007

25. ibid

26. Oral interview of Babulal and Mohanlal, Bithoor, 27. 8.2007

27. K. Nath, 1857-Dalit Sacrifice in Gadar, Kanpur, 2007, Baudh Upasak Sangh Sahitya Prakashan, p. 18, Back cover shows photograph of Gangu Mehtar.

28. ibid

29. ibid

30. ibid


De Klerk, C.J.M. 1951, De Immigratie der Hindostanen in Suriname, Amsterdam (Urbi et Orbi)

Dutt, R.C. 1959. The Economic History of India, vol. II, 7th Ed.

Gautam, M.K. 1995, Challenge and Change: The Indian Diaspora in its Historical and Contemporary Contexts. Paper presented in the Conference on the Indian Diaspora, University of West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad, 11-18 August 1995.

Lowe, T. 1860. Central India During the Rebellion of 1857 and 1858.

Rawat, R. 2007. Mirza Muhammad Ferozeshah ka ghoshana patra, Akaar, Vol. 19, April-July, p. 18-23.

Savarkar, V.D. 1946. India’s War of Independence.

Thornhill, M. 1884. The Personal Adventures and Experiences of a Magistrate During the Rise, Progress and Suppression of the Indian Mutiny.

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  1. [...] 8, 2008 by readerswords Hindi writer Badri Narayan puts together a riveting narrative of the role of dalits during the 1857 revolt. As with any [...]

  2. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  3. बहुत खूब म्यूटनी मेरा प्रिय विषय है क्योकि इस बहाने हम तब के हिन्दुस्तान को पूरी तौर पर जान पाते है खूब लिखा ब्रिटिश एतिहासकारो ने, आप की विवेचना बहुत उम्दा है

  4. कक्षा ३ से लेकर अब तक १८५७ के इतिहास से पीछा नहीं छुड़ा पाया -कभी परीक्षा में लिखने के लिए तो कभी कलेक्टर या डिप्टी कलेक्टर बनाने वाली परीक्षाओं के लिए(खैर मै दोनों नहीं बन सका ,कुछ अपनी वजह से कुछ विद्वान परीक्षकों की वजह से) ,फिर भी यह सोच ही नहीं सका था कि आजादी की लड़ाई में और लोग भी शामिल हो सकते हैं .यह मुझसे ज्यादा उन पाठ्यपुस्तकों की सीमा थी जो मार्केट में उपलब्ध हैं.वास्तव में बद्री नारायण जी का पूरा अकादमिक जगत इस जोरदार और वास्तविक रिसर्च के लिए आभारी है .

  5. Nice and informative. Thanks

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