Flying the Flag of Revolution, The Indian Struggle for Independence

Flying the Flag of Revolution, Part 4 – Why Did India Lose in 1857?

In the early stages of the 1857  uprising, the British forces had only three garrisons stationed around Delhi. They came very close to being overtaken, and for a brief moment it seemed that the Indian soldiers would be victorious. However, British reinforcements soon came flooding in and the ambitious movement was suppressed. Bahadur Shah, who had been installed as king of India in Delhi, was eventually imprisoned, and his sons were sentenced to death by firing squad.

In the years that followed, historians speculated about the reasons for the failed uprising.

Some have written that the great efforts of the Indian forces were unsuccessful due to a lack of communication among the rulers of the various regions in India. They have furthermore stated that the frontlines were too spread out, making the exchange of information difficult. These have been acknowledged as core factors in the defeat of the Indian soldiers.

Some historians have also said that the British army was in an advantageous position from the very start. They had superior weapons and had established plenty of routes through which they could receive backup supplies and reinforcements. The Indian forces, on the other hand, had insufficient and outdated weapons, with no means of restocking.

The War of Independence ended unsuccessfully in 1858, twenty-eight years before I was born. It was soon followed by an onslaught of unspeakable horrors at the hands of the British forces.

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Flying the Flag of Revolution, The Indian Struggle for Independence

Flying the Flag of Revolution, Part 3 – Fighting Against British Rule

The uprising that had begun at Awadh soon spread to Meerut, and before long the effort was blazing throughout northern and central India. British authorities initially believed that the disturbance could be easily suppressed, but the movement proved to be far greater than they had anticipated.

According to British history books, this incident is known as the Indian Rebellion of 1857. However, such a name gives an inaccurate portrayal of these events. In reality, what unfolded here was a brave and valiant battle against British rule, and a fight to end their relentless control over India.

During this time, Hindus and Muslims did not work in isolation to free themselves from the evil grip of the British East India Company, but rather, all the citizens of India came together as one. As united compatriots with a common goal, they took up arms and fought side by side against the British. It was a truly magnificent event that to this very day gleams like a jewel, ornamenting the pages of Indian history.

In the early stages of the battle, the Indian mercenaries completely annihilated the British officers, and on the 11th, three mercenary units went on to occupy Meerut. All involved fought with great vigour, and their spirits soared so high that they could touch the clouds.

The units that took Meerut installed Bahadur Shah at Delhi as the king of India, and his sons as the commanders-in-chief of his forces. The struggle continued on in this manner for some months, with fierce battles being fought in various locations.

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Flying the Flag of Revolution, The Indian Struggle for Independence

Flying the Flag of Revolution, Part 2 – The War of Independence Begins

The Indian soldiers working for the British discovered that they had been deceived into using ammunition cartridges greased with the fat of cows and pigs. This was an intolerable offense, in outright disregard of the Hindu reverence for cows and the Islamic attitude towards swine. The Indian soldiers were understandably incensed, and they soon launched a mutiny.

At that time, the commander-in-chief of the British army was Major-General George Anson.  He believed that the impudent Indian soldiers could be easily suppressed, and the moment that the revolt was launched, he attempted to extinguish their uprising with a single blow.

However, the reality was that the people of India had been burning with anger and indignation for so long, and their resistance was not easy to contain. In the end, the effort at Awadh was successfully stamped out by a man named Brigadier-General Henry Montgomery Lawrence.

Little did he know that this incident was only one small spark of a much larger flame.

Just one week later, on the 10th of May, another uprising was launched at Meerut, fourty-two miles away from Delhi. In the blink of an eye, the effort had spread throughout the north, and before long had reached central India.

This marked the beginnings of the First War of Independence, and the Indian people’s courageous fight against British rule.

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Flying the Flag of Revolution, The Early Years, The Indian Struggle for Independence

Flying the Flag of Revolution, Part 1 – Deceived into Biting Cow Fat

In the last several sections, I spoke about my childhood and early involvement in the struggle for Indian independence. Before going further into my own role in the effort, I would like to go back in time and discuss the events that led up to the present revolutionary movement.

In 1857, our country was faced with a dire situation. It was as though India was a milk cow and the British East India Company was a farmer, relentlessly squeezing her dry, down to the very last drop. We all eagerly waited for the day when we would finally have the chance to rise up against their tyranny.

Then, in May the 7th Special Operations Squadron at Awadh suddenly launched a movement and flew the flag of revolution for the first time. Their uprising was triggered by rumours of a most outrageous offense. It was said that the British had been supplying Indian soldiers with the tallow of pigs and cattle, and that they had been unknowingly using this to grease their ammunition.

(Author’s note: Not only were the soldiers required to handle the ammunition, but they also needed to bite open the cartridges in order to release the gun powder, creating a most egregious situation.)

It is common knowledge that in Hinduism, cows are revered as holy gods. They are so highly venerated that they are even referred to as the mother of India. To kill these heavenly creatures and extract their fat is an unspeakably sinister crime. Moreover, in Islamic tradition the Quran gives strict warning in regard to swine.

These animals were so central to Hinduism and Islam, and yet they were being slaughtered and the people of India were being deceived into using their grease-laden cartridges. Upon hearing this grave news, it is entirely understandable and only natural that they would immediately be triggered into a furious outrage.

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The Early Years, The Indian Struggle for Independence, The Youth Who Crave Revolution

The Youth Who Crave Revolution, Part 6 – Dedicating My Life to India’s Independence

My father had made his position on the matter very clear. I was not to dedicate my life to fighting for India’s independence, but rather, it was his desire that I should further my education and pursue a professional business career. As much as I wanted to honour his wishes, however, I held fast to my dreams of raising up the move for our freedom.

After the response to my last army application had been intercepted by my father, I finally abandoned this approach. Realizing that I would not be able to become a soldier and fight for our freedom in this manner, I decided to use other methods to strengthen the movement.

At the time, I was still very young but I eagerly took up every opportunity to drive forward our efforts, and by the age of fifteen I was already a true revolutionary. During this time, the movement in India began to develop at a remarkable pace, and from 1908 to 1915 my plans were in full force.

In 1915, I made contact with like-minded Indian soldiers and established plans to launch a large-scale revolution in the north. But despite all effort, the move was unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the situation was growing tense and British government officials in India caught wind of my actions. They began to employ all possible means to secure my arrest, dispatching spies, distributing my photos throughout the country, and placing a bounty on my head that would eventually reach as high as 12,000 rupees.

Before I go into all the details of my personal engagement in the struggle for Indian independence, however, I would first like to set the backdrop and talk about the history behind the revolutionary movement.

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The Early Years, The Indian Struggle for Independence, The Youth Who Crave Revolution

The Youth Who Crave Revolution, Part 5 – Against My Parents’ Wishes

Despite numerous setbacks, I continued to pursue my goal of joining the army and fighting for India’s independence. Against my father’s warning, I had determinedly sent out one more application, fully prepared to yet again be met with silence. However, my dedication had paid off and at long last I received a response.

Naturally, I was faced with one final obstacle, as the letter ended up in the hands of my father. Upon opening the envelope and seeing that I had gone against his word, he gripped the paper firmly in his hand as he came to confront me.

“I have made my position very clear. I have told you the path that you ought to follow, and explained to you every reason why you must abandon this childish dream. And yet, you still insist on becoming a soldier!”

He reprimanded me harshly.

Our conversation dragged on, with each of us attempting to assert our thoughts on the matter, but no matter how much my father scolded me, I held fast to my convictions. There was not a single moment when I let my mind falter, or allowed his stern words to sway me from my goals.

In the end, I did not enter the army, but nevertheless I responded to my calling to fight for India. Even at the young age of thirteen I had already thrown myself headfirst into the Indian revolution effort, and within the coming years I  soon found myself in the midst of plans to launch a large-scale revolution in the north.

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Author's Comments

Rash Behari Bose on the Vaisakhi Day Incident at Amritsar

I have been publishing my translations from Rash Behari Bose’s book, “The Indian Struggle For Independence”, in the order in which he wrote them, however in light of the present time of year I would like to move ahead momentarily to some of the topics that he addresses further on in his book.

In this post, I will touch on one of the many sections in which he writes about the events surrounding the Amritsar massacre. Throughout his writings, Bose continues to return to this incident, each time focusing on different aspects as they relate to the topic at hand, as it was a pivotal turning point in the move for Indian independence.

In one such section, Bose writes that by 1917, the Indian National Congress and the Indian people at large were in widespread agreement that the autonomy of India must be secured. There were differing opinions on how this could be achieved, with some suggesting that they work together with the British and look towards the example of places such as Canada, while others proposed that India aim for total independence and expel Britain all together.

Not long thereafter, the British government offered a promise that they would help India establish its own independent self-government contingent upon their assistance in achieving an Allied victory in World War I. The Indian public erupted into joyful elation and dedicated tremendous effort and sacrifice to the war effort.

After the conclusion of the war, faced only with the newly instated Montague-Chelmsford Reforms, the people of India fell into indignation over such an insufficient measure. Sensing their discontent, the British government responded by establishing the infamous Rowlatt Act which laid out in clear terms the dire situation that the Indian public would now face.

In his writings, Rash Behari Bose goes into the details of these events, elaborating on the extent of the sacrifice that Punjabis had made during the war, all with the promise of an independent India. He also addresses the contents of the Rowlatt Act, the public response, and the implications that the Act held for Indian society.

Directly preceding the fateful events that would soon unfold at Jallianwala Bagh, Bose speaks of the increasing tensions in Punjab that eventually led to a protest in front of the residence of the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. General Reginald Dyer was soon dispatched to suppress the public.

Then, on April 13, Bose writes that large crowds of people had gathered from all across the region to enjoy the festivities at Jallianwala Bagh Garden, Amritsar, in celebration of Vaisakhi. The plaza overflowed with people, young and old, as their faces lit up with excitement and joy unaware of what would soon follow.

Bose writes in great detail about the events that unfolded that day, the aftermath, and the results of the investigations that followed. He provides us with the statements of firsthand witnesses, including the well-known personage, Alice Coomaraswamy, otherwise known as Ratan Devī.

Bose’s book also covers the first War of Independence in 1857, and explains how India came to be trapped in the situation that it was presently facing at the time of his publication.

His books were originally written in old Japanese in such a manner that their contents could be understood by any Japanese citizen who was not familiar with Indian history and Western colonization. Bose dedicated his time to writing materials that would spread understanding of India’s history, culture and tribulations with people far beyond the Indian borders.

The contents of the pages that I have summarised above will take time to work through and translate, but when I complete these valuable passages, I will include them on this site along with the rest of the posts.