|Writing for the New-York Tribune on July 15, 1857, Karl Marx described the events in an article titled "The Revolt in the Indian Army." He wrote:
"On the 22nd of January, an incendiary fire broke out in cantonments a short distance from Calcutta. On the 25th of February the 19th native regiment mutinied at Berhampore the men objecting to the cartridges served out to them. On the 31st of March that regiment was disbanded; at the end of March the 34th sepoy regiment, stationed at Barrackpore, allowed one of its men to advance with a loaded musket upon the parade-ground in front of the line, and, after having called his comrades to mutiny, he was permitted to attack and wound the Adjutant and Sergeant-Major of his regiment. During the hand-to-hand conflict, that ensued, hundreds of sepoys looked passively on, while others participated in the struggle, and attacked the officers with the butt ends of their muskets.
"Subsequently that regiment was also disbanded. The month of April was signalized by incendiary fires in several cantonments of the Bengal army at Allahabad, Agra, Umballah, by a mutiny of the 3d regiment of light cavalry at Meerut, and by similar appearances of disaffection in the Madras and Bombay armies. At the beginning of May an emeute was preparing at Lucknow, the capital of Oude, which was, however, prevented by the promptitude of Sit. H. Lawrence. On the 9th of May the mutineers of the 3d light cavalry of Meerut were marched off to jail, to undergo the various terms of imprisonment to which they were sentenced. On the evening of the following day the troopers of the 3d cavalry, together with the two native regiments, the 11th and 20th, assembled upon the parade-ground, killed the officers endeavoring to pacify them, set fire to the cantonments, and slew all the Englishmen they were able to lay hands on. Although the British part of the brigade mustered a regiment of infantry, another of cavalry, and an overwhelming force of horse and foot artillery, they were not able to move until nightfall. Having inflicted but little harm on the mutineers, they, allowed them to betake themselves to the open field and to throw themselves into Delhi, some forty miles distant from Meerut. There they were joined by the native garrison, consisting of the 38th, 54th and 74th regiments of infantry, and a company of native artillery. The British officers were attacked, all Englishmen within reach of the rebels were murdered, and the heir of the late Mogul of Delhi proclaimed King of India. Of the troops sent to the rescue of Meerut, where order had been re-established, six companies of native sappers and miners, who arrived on the 15th of May, murdered their commanding officer, Major Frazer, and made at once for the open country, pursued by troops of horse artillery and several of the 6th dragoon guards. Fifty or sixty of the mutineers were shot, but the rest contrived to escape to Delhi. At Ferozepore, in the Punjaub, the 57th and 45th native infantry regiments mutinied, but were put down by force. Private letters from Lahore state the whole of the native troops to be in an undisguised state of mutiny. On the 19th of May, unsuccessful efforts were made by the sepoys stationed at Calcutta to get possession of Fort St. William. Three regiments arrived from Bushire at Bombay were at once dispatched to Calcutta."
Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi, was one of the leaders of the First War of Indian Independence in 1857. When the British tried to annex Jhansi in 1853, she assembled a volunteer army of 14,000 rebels to defend the city. During the British attack in March 1858, her valour was exemplary. An Indian ballad sings:
How valiantly fought she,
The Rani of Jhansi
On every parapet a gun she set
Raining fire of hell,
How well fought the Rani of Jhansi
How valiantly and well!
When Jhansi fell to the British, the Rani escaped; again she rallied the rebel forces, this time at the fortress in Kalpi, one hundred miles away. The Rani lost her life in the battle but her name and the cause for which she fought live on in the hearts, minds and revolutionary action of all those the world over whose commitment and sacrifice we honour.
In his book, The Call of the Martyrs, Comrade Bains wrote:
“The call of the martyrs and the demand of the masses is for revolution. Let all the people unite as one and rise in a revolutionary storm to end this barbaric rule which has brought so much suffering and has committed such horrible crimes against the people. … The people must unite from North to South and from East to West, raise the banner of the liberation of all the peoples and fight for the goal of establishing a new democratic state through the triumph of the revolution and embarking on the socialist road. Unite as one around the working class and its Party. Take up the ideas of Marxism-Leninism, the spiritual weapon which will make your unity unbreakable, your force invincible and your victory inevitable.
“Rise up, for the times are calling for the settling of scores with the exploiters and oppressors of the people, both native and foreign.”
Hum Hain Iske Malik, Hindustan Hamara --
The Battle Cry of 1857 to Vest Sovereignty in the People
- Jaspal Singh -
The developments of the last hundred years and more have placed the agenda of people governing themselves as a problem to be solved and not just an aspiration of the people. In 1857 the people of India raised this demand -- Hum Hain Iske Malik, Hindustan Hamara -- We are the sovereign people of India, it belongs to us. Hum or We refers to the Praja, the people of India. It squarely put the issue that Hindustan belongs to the people of India. It is they who are sovereign and they themselves must decide how this Hindustan will be administered. They must govern themselves. It was a battle cry to vest sovereignty in the people and affirm this sovereignty.
Basing themselves on the traditions and aspirations of the past, in order to deal with the present, and build a new future, Indian people posed the problem that they must become rulers themselves if they are to have freedom, prosperity, security, enlightenment. They gave rise to a program, a set of arrangements that the victorious people will have between themselves. These arrangements took the form of various Firmans -- decrees -- issued by Bahadur Shah Zafar. They broke with the old Brahmanical and colonial notion of Yatho Raja, Tatho Praja -- according to which the Raja will determine the affairs of the Praja. This affirmation of their being and sovereignty gave rise to countless revolts against the British and their collaborators in Hindustan before and after the transfer of power in 1947. It continues to bring people in battle against the Indian state which is based on the empire building notions of the British colonialists.
This task of vesting sovereignty in the people, whereby people themselves become rulers without the mediation of any one, including the political parties, is one of the most crucial tasks confronting the Praja of Hindustan for the renovation and renewal of India. All over Hindustan, Praja, the people, are raising the demand, Hum Hain Iske Malik, Hindustan Hamara. They are calling for the affirmation of their collective being and making their claims that they collectively are the masters of their destiny, the destiny of Hindustan. It is they who must govern it and no one else. It is a necessary condition for their emancipation from all bondage. It is a claim that pronounces what is missing from the lives of people, that under the present system of governance, Hindustan does not belong to them, they are not sovereign and that Hindustan is under the control of others who are not part of Praja. Not only are they not part of Praja but they have usurped the sovereignty of the Praja by force. For this reason the claim -- Hum Hain Iske Malik, Hindustan Humara, affirms that we, the Praja, are the rightful masters of Hindustan. It is ours and no one else's.
This affirmation of the sovereignty of Praja calls into question all those arrangements that have been made by others, be they British, Maharajas, political parties or anyone else, ostensibly in the name of the Praja. It calls for the establishment of new arrangements, mechanisms through which the sovereignty of the Praja can be affirmed and exercised. It is a condemnation of all those institutions which the vested interests of the British and their collaborators, the Indian ruling circles have developed and imposed as a condition on the Praja in which the Praja is not ruling, governance is by someone else, by those who are not Hum. In fact governance is over and above Hum and against Hum.
Governance is to ensure that the claims of Praja, Hum, all of us, are not honoured. The solution to this problem posed by history and this condition of powerlessness is the creation of a new situation, a new power, by Praja: a Prajaraj, governance by Praja, where the claims of all can be honored by all. Hum Hain Iske Malik, Hindustan Hamara, is a call for the empowerment of all the peoples of India. Hindustan belongs to us -- those who toil in factories and fields, homes and hearths, mills and mines, schools and offices. We -- Hum -- must set the agenda for it. We must determine its direction. We must not allow anyone else to determine its direction. Anything that comes in our way must be swept away.
It is an affirmation of the age old wisdom and Taang of Rig Veda under new conditions, on a modern and higher basis that declares that it is the Praja that gives birth to Raj and Raja, that Praja is the foundation and creator of the seven organs of Rajya; that it is the Praja that is the very basis of governance itself.
Tam medhshu prathamam devayantirvisah up bruvate dasamaarih
(Desirous of many things the Praja should make him the leader of the sabha (legislature) who is the friend of all, who is a person of knowledge, who wishes the well-being of all, who is an able commander of the army which is endowed with the best weapons and vehicles.)
Prajaavata vachsa vahinraasa cha huve ni sateeh devaih. Veshi hotramut potram yajatra bodhi pryantarjanitavasunaam
(In accordance with the words of the Praja, with knowledge, bring prosperity. Because of your constant effort to bring happiness to us, we praise you.) - Rig Veda
Hum Hain Iske Malik, Hindustan Hamara is a clarion call that this Praja no longer is content with just paying lip service to its illusion. This Praja has to be at the centre stage and not sidelined in order to deal with the problems of life and war. Without Praja being at the centre stage no problems of humanizing nature or society can be solved to serve the interests of all, to ensure everyone's Sukh and Raksha (Well-being and Security). Praja must rise to the occasion and establish once again, laying its claim, Hum Hain Iske Malik, Hindustan Hamara.
The present situation calls upon Praja to create mechanisms through which it can establish Prajaraj, actualize and exercise its sovereignty by negating all those institutions and mechanisms that have negated the sovereignty of the people. This Prajaraj will empower all members of the polity and honour their claims. The Communist Ghadar Party of India addressed its political program to lay this claim: Hum Hain Iske Malik, Hum Hain Hindustan, Mazdoor Kisan, Aurat Aur Jawan -- We the workers, peasants, women and youth; we are India. A program of action and appropriate organisations are required which activate the human factor/social consciousness to establish this Prajaraj, by uniting all those who are discontented with the present state of affairs and are deprived of their power by the powers that be. This program outlines the arrangements which must be made in practice amongst the various sections of the people. How will the well being of the workers be ensured? What measures will be taken to ensure the age old aspirations of the peasantry from want and hunger? What provisions will be made for the middle strata, students, youth, women, Dalits, nations and nationalities? What spiritual force must be further developed to deal with the problems of our days?
This program must put the Indian working class as the leader of all the oppressed people in the front ranks to establish this Prajaraj. It must not delay in giving rise to this Prajaraj for the renewal and renovation of India.
(Originally published in TML Weekly, Vol. 4, No.7, February 14, 1999.)