Mangal Pandey – Drug-crazed Fanatic Whom Hindutva Writers Made Hero


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19th July, the birth date of Mangal Pandey, credited by Hindutva writers as the national hero to the first revolutionary to what not. Today, on Twitter #MangalPandey was trending for quite some time and I decided to look for some details about the Mangal Pandey and decided to dig his ‘janam kundli’. Savarkar was among the first who gave the title of Shaheed to Mangal Pandey, Savarkar who himself had written letters to the British government for forgiveness!

Mangal Pandey was a drug addict, had no sense of revolt or freedom for India, acted more like to preserve caste purity and religion. 1857 rebellion was not the first rebellion as promoted by Brahminical writers of India. It was done purposely to promote a Brahmin Mangal Pandey and make him as a saviour of India.

Mangal Pandey had no notion of patriotism or even of India argues Rudrangshu Mukherjee in his 2005 work, Mangal Pandey: Brave Martyr or Accidental Hero? Mukherjee completely rejects the notion that Mangal Pandey’s rebellion can be reasonably viewed as having a causal relationship with the outbreak at Meerut, a thousand miles to the west, a month and a half later.

“Mangal Pandey never started the revolt of 1857. It started in Meerut, a place far off from Barrackpore where Pandey was stationed at that time.” – Source Book ‘Awadh in Revolt 1875-58’

Read below some excerpts from research paper ‘Mangal Pandey: Drug-crazed Fanatic Or Canny Revolutionary?’ written by Richard Forster and published by the Columbia University, USA and some other notes from book ‘Awadh in Revolt 1875-58’. Headings created to separate the related content.

Mangal Pandey – Hindutva Writer’s Hero

Against the current backdrop of a culturally ascendant, though contested, ideology of Hindutva – according to which authentic citizenship of the modern nation state of India is effectively reserved for Hindus – the celebration of Brahmin sepoy Mangal Pandey as the nation’s first religio-nationalist martyr cannot be viewed as a politically neutral gesture.

On another level, until very recent times, there has been a lack of official recognition of his role in the 1857 rebellion, at least in the form of public memorializations.

Mangal Pandey – A Drug-crazed Fanatic

Mangal Pandey has been both dismissed as no more than a drug-crazed fanatic with little, if any, bearing on the subsequent uprising, and valorized as the first in a chain of noble martyrs who consciously laid down their lives in the cause of a fully-fledged national movement.

Indeed, as we shall see, an early newspaper report of the incident characterized him as having “heavily drugged himself and run amok.”

The earliest report of Pandey’s insurrection in the Bengal Hurkaru, dated the 31st of March, noted that “a sepoy has drugged himself extensively and run amuck, shooting at Lieutenant and Adjutant Baugh…”

“On March 29, 1857, Mangal Pandey was under the influence of bhang. The historical records have no explanation about the reason behind his actions. During the trial too, he did not speak much.”

1857 To Preserve Caste and Religion

…the rebellion was prompted by fears of loss of caste and religion in the face of a British conspiracy to pollute soldiers with tainted cartridges…

“I conceive that the native mind had been gradually alarmed on the vital subjects of caste and religion, when the spark was applied by the threatened introduction of the greased cartridge…”

Read -  Castes and Myths – Bust the Myths

M.R. Gubbins, an official who served on the British Commission to Awadh, reflected on the causes of “the mutinies in Oudh” in a publication released in 1858. Although cognizant of the diversity of arguments being put forward as to reasons for the uprising – Gubbins enumerates several, and promptly counters them with the authoritative weight of the first-hand experience – ultimately Gubbins accords primacy to the primitive nature of “the Indian religious mind”. He writes, “I conceive that the native mind had been gradually alarmed on the vital subjects of caste and religion, when the spark was applied by the threatened introduction of the greased cartridge…”

Disraeli, as leading spokesman for the opposition in the House of Commons,  argued that the rebellion stemmed from a deep discontent among the general Indian population with the East India Company’s “increasing tendency to interfere with the established rules and customs.” He cited the presence of the “Sacred Scriptures” of Christianity in the national system of education, the promotion of female education, widow remarriage and laws allowing religious converts to inherit property as evidence.

[So, the reasons for the 1857 rebellion were the promotion of female education, widow remarriage and laws allowing religious converts to inherit property by British government! – Editor]

Eric Stokes contends that fear of a different kind, namely that of loss of status and privileges of the kind that we have seen postulated by Disraeli, was the more powerful motivating factor in the rebellion.

Fear of Losing the Upper Caste Monopoly  

Unlike the armies of the Madras and Bombay Presidencies, the Bengal army had traditionally followed a policy of recruiting almost exclusively from among high-caste peasantry, mostly from the regions of Awadh and Bihar. Reforms and reorganization initiated over the course of the decade or so leading up to 1857 gradually eroded this near monopoly, with increasing numbers of Punjabis and Nepali Gurkhas entering service after the respective annexation and pacification of those regions.

Rebellion and Trail

The first shot he fired, he missed. Second shot he fired, he killed a horse! And there was no time for the third shot as it took some time to reload the gun.

Mangal Pandey aimed his musket at his own breast and using his toe, released the trigger. The bullet made a “deep graze, ripping up the muscles of his chest, shoulder and neck, and he fell prostrate.” Pandey was taken into custody and given medical attention until the date of his trial by general court martial a little over a week later on the 6th of April.

As Mukherjee says, “the records yield nothing as the principal actor refused to speak. The proceedings of the court had offered Mangal Pandey an opportunity to speak to history. He had turned down that opportunity.”77 Whereas Mukherjee has chosen to interpret Pandey’s silence as the result of his being “helpless” and “cowed down by fear” in the context of the trial room.

[And they made you believe that 1857 was a fight for freedom! It was more like a fight to preserve caste and Brahmin religion. – Editor]

Image Credit – The Quint

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