India Politics
The revolt of 1857 - does India remember?
May 6, 2007 - 12:58:17 PM

New Delhi, May 6 - India is commemorating a seminal revolt against the British by native soldiers 150 years ago that jolted colonial rule, but experts admit there is hardly any enthusiasm for the anniversary.

Thanks mainly to the media, millions of Indians are getting to read about the known and unsung heroes of the 1857 revolt that developed into a massive rebellion and came to be regarded as the country's first war of independence.

In town after town in northern India where the soldiers rebelled, eventually marching to Delhi where they declared Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar the emperor of Hindustan, there is a trickle of people visiting the numerous sites that saw major fighting and slaughter - from both sides.

But the search for history has only shown that many sites related to 1857 have been left to rot, the heroes of that struggle mostly forgotten. And at least one spot here has turned into a garbage dump and a den for druggists.

And the number of Indians visiting these sites is negligible.

As if to make up for the sorry state of affairs, the government is planning a march of people from Meerut, where the rebellion erupted May 10 a full 150 years ago, to New Delhi -- the same 80-km route the mutinous Sepoys took.

This will be part of yearlong government-sponsored events in memory of 1857.

According to the government's Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan, some 30,000 people, mostly the young, will join the walkathon starting Monday. It finishes Friday at the Red Fort here, passing through Modinagar, Muradnagar and Ghaziabad.

'The march will draw people from all 623 districts of India, representing every nook and corner of the country,' the Sangathan's director general, Shakeel Ahmad Khan, told IANS on telephone from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh.

'The objective of the march is to tell the world that 150 years back there was complete unity among the Indian people, cutting across religious divide. This is the need of the hour today,' he added.

But Khan admitted there was lack of popular response to the anniversary.

'Largely it is because of the fault of opinion makers,' he said. 'They have to create opinion in favour of 1857. A certain environment is needed. There has to be a keenness for these monuments.'

Madhukar Upadhyaya, who last month led a march along the same Merut-to-Delhi route, stopping along the villages where the 1857 Sepoys had halted on their way to the Red Fort, also regretted the absence of mass interest.

'Most people we met were not aware of 1857 beyond that something happened in those places where they live. But I must admit that many were keen to know,'the journalist-author said.

'In all, the response to our march was not very great, not like it should have been considering the events that took place -.

'All through the route we did not find a single sign barring one that these villages had hosted the soldiers of that time,' he said. 'Villagers at one place told us about a red stone plaque, in Hindi.

'We finally found in a 'halwai' - shop buried under sacks, chipped in the corners. Beyond the date May 10, 1857, nothing was legible.'

Mushirul Hasan, historian and vice chancellor of Jamia Milia University here, admitted that Indians in general 'are not sensitive to our legacy, we don't honour our dead, we don't respect our monuments. By and large, that is true'.

But Hasan told IANS that the 150th anniversary of 1857 should be used to change the mindset.

'It is a good opportunity to sensitize people. Through the media and academics, a lot of people would hear the names of the heroes of the 1857 revolt.

'Just as participation in democracy is through the ballot box, this one can be through the media and through public events such as the march taking place from Meerut to Delhi.'

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