The Forgotten Glory

A survey carried out in various cities of India has revealed that today’s youth has forgotten our history and has no idea about the significance of the year 1857 in our lives. For some, it may just signify a car’s number plate, while for others, it is a year when riots took place. There are those for whom dates don’t matter at all, only personalities like Mahatma Gandhi do. Then come the ones who, in their wide embrace of history, attribute the events of 1857 to Bhagat Singh and Shivaji.

Many historians called this First War of Independence as a ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ of 1857. For them, it was just a group of Indian sepoys (soldiers) who had mutinied and revolted against the British rule. They largely failed to recognise the involvement of a vast section of Indian society that took part in this struggle. It was not just the soldiers, small peasants and nobles were also involved in our very first struggle for independence.

It may be the First War of Independence, but it is a mutiny that the nation seems to be in a hurry to forget. Several political parties and the government talked a lot about the year-long celebrations planned (starting May 10, last year) to mark the 150th anniversary of the 1857 revolt. However, in the time of Indian Premiere League (IPL) and other more mundane things, the ‘1857 struggle’ appears to have failed to stir the imagination of the country. The struggle is an example of the unity, first shown by people as “Indians”, in which several people from various sections of the society participated.

Yet, our political parties are just not interested in recognizing the first signs of unison that our country men showed 150 years ago; all of them merely carried out a few events and processions suiting their ideology. The government flagged off the Azadi Express, a train showcasing the events of the struggle, ‘freedom movement chair’ event in Meerut last year and some processions in New Delhi. But mostly, our political parties used this occasion to direct their guns at the rivals. Sitaram Yechury took his usual dig at Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for having stayed away from the freedom struggle, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), obviously busy with other petty issues, could not be part of any observations and celebrations of that glorious history of Indian people’s struggle. Furthermore, neither did the communist party take part in the freedom struggle, nor did the Congress in the current shape (Congress has been divided so many times that the revered Indian National Congress, which was India’s major political party during the freedom struggle is not the one that we have today). And neither did you nor I participate in the movement. Why do we find it so hard celebrate the 150th anniversary of the struggle and commemorate those who laid down their lives to give us the freedom that we cherish today?

I strongly feel that we should keep politics aside in the matter of national interest. Why blame only Communist Part of India (Marxists) (CPM) when even BJP and Congress are no saints in this matter? Uttar Pradesh holds a key place in the First War of Independence, but the Chief Minister seems to have forgotten the occasion. On May 13, the Mayawati government celebrates the completion of its one year in office. While the state gears up for a round of pomp and pageantry to celebrate the achievement of the state’s first woman Chief Minister, Uttar Pradesh has forgotten another woman’s sacrifice – Rani Laxmi Bai. In the entire anniversary year, the state government organised only one rally in Lucknow in May 2007. People in cities like Meerut, Lucknow, Kanpur and Jhansi, which were focal points of the revolt, don’t even know about the significance of May 10. A senior cultural department official told a leading newspaper in an interview that out of the Rs. 3 crores sanctioned for the 1857 anniversary programmes in 2007-08, only Rs 50 lakh have been utilised. There is no prize for guessing where the rest of amount went.

India‘s First War of Independence carried on till as late as 1859, while in some instances it went on till India finally achieved independence in 1947. A number of heroes and heroines of the India’s First War of Independence have been immortalised for their fight against the British rule.

However, today, we have forgotten them. There is a common saying, “History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.”

Shaheedon ki chitaaon par lagenge har baras mele. Watan pe mitne waalon ka yahi baaki nishaan hoga.” Is it true?

Rishabh Srivastava

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