Sunday, April 19, 2009

Revolutionary freedom fighter Tatya Tope was hanged 150 years ago: Remembering the hero of 1857, the first freedom movement of India

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

The hero of first war of independence, guerrilla warrior and freedom fighter Commander Tatya Tope was executed exactly 150 years ago. 
The anniversary of his death passed without any notable event or mention to this legendary figure of the War against imperialist forces. 
It was on April 18, 1859 that this great figure who had traversed across Central and North India, fighting the British forces and uniting the rebel sepoys, died. 
He was sent to gallows by a Kangaroo court soon after he was arrested. Tatya Tope was hanged to death in Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh when he was just 45. 
Along with Nana Sahib, Azimullah Khan, Ahmadullah Shah, Kunwar Singh, General Bakht Khan, Azizan, Begun Hazrat Mahal and other heroes, he is among the tallest figures of grand Indian struggle to the Company rule. 
After the spark of Meerut spread across the country, the soldiers of East India Company had joined the revolution and Tatya had become the Commander-in-Chief of the fores. He had witnessed the entire war [termed as mutiny by British], wrested Kanpur and Kalpi, reached Jhansi where their [and Rani Laxmi Bai] joint armies had defeated British forces to proclaim independence.  
Though the British re-captured it later, Tatya kept organising bands of fighters, criss-crossed the entire Bundelkhand, Central India and United Provinces from Bharatpur [in present day Rajasthan] to Bithur and beyond. He fought up to Narmada, Betwa rivers and went as far as South towards Khandesh to keep flame of revolution alive. 
The marathon march of Tatya is extraordinary by any standards: From Gwalior to Jora Alipore, crossing Chambal river, reaching Tonk and later Bundi, then passing Bhhilwara, Kankroli and Jahlrapatan to reah Rajgarh, Biaora, Sironj, Chanderi, Isagarh, Khurai, Bagrod, Rajpur. 
Then, crossing Narmada and through Banswara, reaching Zirapur, Indargarh, Sikar and dozens of other towns. Gharib Parwar, Hatim-e-Dauraa.n, Aadil-e-Zamaa.n, Fayyaz-e-Ahad, Shujaat Shoaar, Shrimant Peshwa Bahadur Tatya Sahab Daam-e-Iqbaaluhu [That's how he was addressed in letters].
Quite similar to Tipu Sultan, this brave warriour also ran out of luck. It is believed that his own trusted friend Man Singh had betrayed him. Man Singh of Narwar was promised that if he helped the EIC, he would get his territory back as reward for this service. Ultimately, Tatya Tope was captured. [No surprise. 
After all, Jiwaji Rao Scindia of Gwalior had already decided to support the British though majority of his troops had joined Tatya and Laxmi Bai. But Gwalior's support proved crucial and paved the way for British to capture the country.] 
The rare pictures and portraits of the era including the photographs of the armies of Tatya Tope and Nana Sahib make an impressive sight. They look smart, well-armed sepoys ready to take on the might of the empire. They were mostly the East India Company soldiers who had joined him. 
Tatya Tope spent long time in jungles. The Bitish generals were scared of his guerilla tactics. For a long time he dodged them and had skirmishes with forces. 
But after the betrayal, he was caught on April 7 and brought before the court. During the trial, he said that it was his duty to fight for reclaiming his motherland. 
Within 11 days the Compnay executed him. He asked the hangman to stay away and himself put the noose around his neck. Though there were later speculations that someone else was hanged and Tatya had managed to escape. 
However, it seems to be the optimism among the masses whose spirits had hit an all time low after the failure of the revolution, and wanted to believe that he was still alive and planning for a great battle. 
Tatya Tope, whose real name was Ram Chandra Pandurung Yolekar, was born in 1814. His father had accompanied Peshwa Baji Rao from Pune to Bithur. Young Tatya was just a few inches over 5 feet but his valour made him one of the heroes of the war of 1857. 
He was feared among British forces. Tatya had led the assault on General Havelock's army and defeated it near Ganges. He had battled the armies of Campbell, Major Rock, Homes, Roberts and kept playing hide and seek with British forces even when the Company forces had re-captured most of the areas in other parts of the country. 
No mention in mainstream media, news channels I couldn't find a single report on Tatya Tope on any of the channels on the 150th anniversary of his martyrdom. Isn't it a shame? Twenty20 cricket, Elections and the Celebrity culture seems to have eclipsed every other thing. Remaining slots were occupied by the daily reports about nonsense. 
Though a couple of years back there were a couple of reports about the plight of his descendants living in Bithur, Kanpur and Railway Minister Lalu Yadav had given job with the railways to a family member. 
However, it is sad to see that society remains almost apathetic and the newspapers rarely remind us of such occasions. It's not so unusual as the 150th anniversary of Ghadar had also passed two years back with barely a few seminars and functions to talk about.
Illustrations: [1. Stamp on Tatya Tope 2. The other photograph shows the letter written by Tatya's armymen from Kalpi informing him about their victory over East India Company's forces 3. Pencil sketch of Tatya Tope that was drawn just before he was hanged in Shivpuri. ]