«In the Azamgarh district of UP there is a village called Majhauwa, which is predominantly inhabited by Dalit castes like Chamar, Pasi, Dhobi, Mali ...»
Among the brave sons of the country, the names of Balluram Mehtar and Chetram Jatav are written in shining letters. As soon as the news of the Barrackpore revolution reached the people, a mob of revolutionaries took to the streets. Mr. Phillips, who was an officer of the Eta District, tried to control the mob. On 26 May 1857, in the Soro region of Eta district, Chetram Jatav and Balluram Mehtar joined into the Barrackpore revolution without caring for their lives. In this revolution, Sadashiv Mehre, Chaturbhuj Vaish etc. were also present. Chetram Jatav and Balluram, who were the moving forces behind the revolution, were tied to trees and shot. The rest were hung from trees in the Kasganj area' (Dinkar op. cit: 56).
The bravery of martyr Banke Chamar is also described. He lived in village Kuarpur, Macchli Shahar, janpad Jaunpur.
When the revolution failed, the British declared Banke Chamar and 18 of his associates as baghi (revolutionaries).
Banke Chamar was ordered to be hung after being arrested.
Thus this brave revolutionary laid down his life for the country (Dinkar op. cit: 59).
Amar Shaheed Vira Pasi is another Dalit who is remembered as a brave warrior in the Dalit narrative. He was a security guard of Raja Beni Madhav Singh of Murar Mau, in Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh. Raja Beni Madhav Singh was arrested for taking part in the Revolt. One night, Vira Pasi entered the prison and helped the king escape. This was a big insult to the British administration. They decided to capture Vira Pasi dead or alive, and placed a reward of Rs.
50,000 on his head. However, they were unable to capture him (Dinkar op. cit: 64).
Another story narrated about their role in the 1857 movement is situated in the village Magarwara, about 10 kilometers from Unnao on the Lucknow highway. They claim that on 20 July 1857 a small battalion of the British army under the leadership of General Henry Havelock was passing through Magarwara to help another battalion that had got stuck in the Residency. Nearly 2,000 Pasis came out of their hamlets and pelted the battalion with stones, which forced them to return to Kanpur Cantonment. On 4 August 1857 the same battalion came to the village, this time with a lot of preparations. When the Pasis of Magarwara tried to stop them from moving forward a battle ensued and nearly 2,000 Pasis were killed (Pasi 1998: 34).
Yet another story narrated by the Pasis is situated in village Bani on the banks of River Sai, close to Magarwara.
This region consisted of many small Pasi hamlets. When the British army passed by this highway it faced a stiff resistance from the Pasis. Angered by this, the British officers asked the Pasis to vacate the area within five minutes. When the Pasis refused, the British announced that they would blow up the hamlets with canons. This caused great alarm.
People ran here and there to save themselves and their families but in spite of this many Pasis were killed in the canon firing. The British found this region very salubrious and decided to build a fort where their soldiers, who had faced stiff resistance by the Pasis after leaving Kanpur Cantonment, could rest and restore their vigour. This story is a part of the collective memory and oral tradition of the Pasis of that region and is often presented in plays and
songs. The song is :
Bani bani kati bani, ban ke bigri bani Angrezon ke tope se urhi, phir bani rahi bani.
(The village Bani was made, then destroyed, again made and again destroyed;
the cannon balls of the British blew it apart, then Bani was once again made and remained Bani.) The story is further narrated that the next day Gen.
Havelock once again moved forward with his troop to free the soldiers trapped in the Residency. Once again he had to face the wrath of Indian freedom fighters, this time at the Alambagh Bhavya Bhawan. Many soldiers, both Indian and British lost their lives in this battle. When the general reached Dilkushabagh, he again had to fight against Indian freedom fighters. These incidents took a toll of British soldiers and drained the energy of Gen. Havelock. He fell ill and finally succumbed to his illness on 24 November 1857.
He was buried at the British Cemetary in Alambagh (Pasi op cit: 36). This story is recorded in a documentation of the contributions of the Pasis in the freedom struggle of the country, from where it is once again transmitted to the oral memory of the Dalits.
Another story that is narrated in glowing terms is about the husband of Udadevi, Makka Pasi who, like his wife, laid down his life for the sake of the country. The incident took place on 10 June 1857, when a small battalion of British soldiers under the leadership of Henry Lawrence was passing through Barabanki on their way to Chinhat from Avadh. At village Chinhat, Makka Pasi gathered an army of 200 Pasis and killed many British soldiers. Seeing a danger in him, Captain Lawrence shot Makka Pasi to stop him from killing more soldiers. The Pasis claim that Udadevi and Makka Pasi are the only couple in complete world history where both the partners have become martyrs. This couple has elevated the glory of not just the Pasi community but the entire country. Each Indian should be proud of such a couple which has made such a supreme sacrifice for their country (Pasi 2005: 90-1).
The Dalits, through their narratives of the 1857 Revolution, have not only tried to establish their own heroes, but also tried to dethrone the existing high-caste heroes from the mainstream narratives.
Through the story of Jhalkaribai also, who was said to have fought alongside Queen (Rani) Laxmi Bai, the Dalits want to prove that the queen was strongly influenced by Jhalkaribai, who advised her regarding her war strategies.
Although Jhalkaribai belonged to a lower caste, she was as skilled as the queen and also had a sound military acumen.
Through the story of Jhalkaribai the dalits also want to subvert the existing notion that Rani of Jhansi died a chivalrous death in the battle against the British. Rather she has been shown as a coward who ran away from the battle field.
The story of Jhalkaribai is narrated in the following way:
nd Jhalkaribai was born on 22 November 1830 in village Bhojla in Jhansi. Being the only child of her parents, father Mool Chandra and mother Dhania, she was quite pampered and spoilt by them. The environment in her house was free, healthy and open, and she grew up with an independent spirit. As a child she was also inculcated with a strong notion of patriotism. As a result she was imbued with a great love for her country and a sense of anger against the British for enslaving the country. Having a dusky complexion, big eyes and sharp features, Jhalkari was striking to look at. Mool Chandra and Dhania were honoured to have such a daughter and addressed her as Jhalri with love.
As Jhalkari grew older, she distanced herself from the conventional feminine attributes. Instead she learnt to shoot arrows and guns, ride horses, and hunting and shooting wild animals. Her father also encouraged her and also taught her many skills of fighting. She thus became highly competent in martial arts although her formal education remained neglected. All her time was spent in playing with her friends, practicing military skills, going to the temple to pray, singing, dancing and so on. But her mind was elsewhere.
Once Jhalkari went to a fair with her mother, aunts, friends etc. Like most females, they all headed towards the bangle seller who had a wide array of bright, colourful, sparkling glass bangles before him on a tray. Jhalkari’s companions started trying on the bangles to see which would look best on their wrists. However Jhalkari refused to join them.
When her friends insisted that she should also try some on, Jhalkari said laughingly to the bangle seller, ‘If you have any iron bangles, give them to me. How many times can I change broken glass bangles?’ At that time Jhalkari had joked but it was true that only iron bangles can shackle strong hands. Her aunt had commented, ‘This girl is trying to fly in the sky, stay put on the ground, my girl’.
Once when Jhalkari was twelve, she went to the forest to cut wood. She had just started cutting when she saw a wolf coming towards her. Before she could collect her wits it sprang towards her. By that time Jhalkari had attained reasonable skill in martial arts, so she immediately tried to hit the wolf with her axe. However the animal was too big and strong for the twelve year old girl. The axe fell from her hands, but undaunted, she tried to defend herself by fighting off the wolf with her bare hands. After a fierce battle, she succeeded in killing the wolf, thanks to her fighting skills. Soaked in blood, with her clothes in tatters and wounds and scratches all over her body, she presented a sorry spectacle when she somehow managed to return home. Her parents and neighbours where amazed when they saw her condition and were thunderstruck when she told them that she had killed the wolf with her bare hands.
Another incident took place in 1850 when Jhalkari was sleeping at night with her mother. Suddenly a scream rent the night sky, accompanied with the words, ‘Save me, save me, he is killing me!’ Jhalkari immediately sprang up and ran outside to see what the matter was. It appeared that some dacoits had entered the house of the headman of the village and were attacking his family members. Jhalkari rushed inside to fetch a stout stick. She then ran to the headman’s house and thrashed the dacoits soundly, which sent them fleeing from there. The headman and all the other villagers were very pleased with the bravery of the girl and were loud in their praises for her.
Jhalkaribai was married to one Puran Kori of Nayapura, Jhansi. Puran was an attractive youth with a good personality. A soldier in the army of Jhansi, Puran was extremely happy to get a wife whose interests matched his own. Jhalkari’s mother-in-law, who was a maid servant of Rani Laxmibai, the queen of Jhansi, was also familiar with the masculine traits of her daughter-in-law, and she wholeheartedly accepted them. Once she took Jhalkari with her to the palace on Shivratri. There Jhalkari met the queen, who took an immediate fancy to her. Since Laxmibai was herself very fond of hunting, shooting, riding and other outdoor activities, she made Jhalkari her special companion. Rani Laxmibai then decided to form a women’s army and Jhalkari was made a member of it. Jhalkari and her husband were both very happy and her husband gave her special training at home to equip her with even more martial skills.
This was the period when the British had ensconced themselves firmly in India, th and the protest against them by the Indians was also at its peak. On 10 May 1857, when the th spark of rebellion was ignited in Meerut, the flames also reached Jhansi. On 6 June, Jhansi revolted. Puran Kori, Bhau Bakshi, Bakshish Ali and some other officers of the Jhansi army took control over the treasury chest and the armoury. A fierce battle ensued between the British army and the Jhansi army, but although Puran and the other officers fought bravely, it was soon apparent that they were losing. The queen was very worried about the situation but Jhalkari was more afraid that the queen, whom she loved dearly, would be taken captive by the British.
Jhalkari advised the queen to escape from the Jhansi fort so that she could foil the intentions of the British. The queen readily agreed since she too wanted to save her life.
Jhalkari and the other women soldiers led the queen to the Bhandari Gate so that she could make good her escape. In the meantime the British had got news that Tatya Tope was arriving with his army to the aid of Jhansi. They immediately blocked the Bhandari Gate so that the army could not enter Jhansi, but by then the queen had left for Bithoor. Jhalkari, who resembled the queen a great deal, then donned the queen’s dress. The whole day she fought pretending to be the queen, without the British being aware of the change.
Suddenly she heard the news that her husband Puran had been killed by the British army. The news affected her dreadfully. She started fighting with double vigour and killed many British soldiers, but her spirit was dead. A bullet hit her in the chest, throwing her off the horse. As she fell, a few more bullets hit her. She fell on the ground, never to rise again, leaving behind a legacy of sacrifice, love and patriotism, which history will never forget.’ The historicity of these narratives is questionable but the politics behind the creation and narration of these stories is to dethrone the established heroes of the mainstream narratives. A three-dimensional discursive strategy was adopted to achieve this aim. The first is to make allegations about the distortion of mainstream writings of the events of the 1857 struggle. The second is to establish their own heroes as freedom fighters who fought for their motherland.
The third is to prove that zamindars, feudal lords, and the wealthy classes of the society were conspirators of the British. The educated Indian intelligentsia is also claimed to be conspirators of the British. In the preface of his booklet 'Sepoy Mutiny 1857-58: An Indian Perfidy', A.K. Biswas (1997: 22), a Dalit from West Bengal who later became an
IAS officer, wrote:
‘The Indian history has been subjected to calculated distortion at the hands of educated Indians. Instances are galore in many walks of life. The Sepoy Mutiny (1857-58) though not even two centuries old and though there is vast mass of contemporary literatures, has suffered the same mindless perversion, truth has been swept under the carpet.
In other words, it has not been allowed to come to the light.