The birth anniversary of Mangal Pandey, the soldier who sparked the Revolt of 1857 falls today, 19 July. Pandey’s attack on British soldiers was the beginning of the revolt and inspired many people to take up arms against the atrocities of the British East India Company.
Who was Mangal Pandey?
Pandey was born in Akbarpur on 19 July 1827 to a landowning family. In 1849, he joined the British East India Company as a sepoy (soldier) in the 6th Company of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry. The 1850s saw a lot of dissatisfaction festering against the British rule. While the agrarian communities were burdened by the heavy load of taxation, the traders and artisans were also seeing their businesses being destroyed by the British East India Company's policies.
In this scenario, the introduction of a new Enfield rifle sparked protests. Soldiers had to bite off the ends of greased cartridges to load the weapon. Rumours that the greased cartridges contained cow or pig lard soon began circulating. The sepoys viewed the new rifle as an assault on their religious beliefs.
On 29 March 1857, Pandey, who was posted at a garrison in Barrackpore, tried to start a rebellion against the British officers. Lieutenant Baugh, who confronted the sepoy and tried to stop him, was injured in the fight that followed.
Pandey battled Baugh and Sergeant Major Hewson, while the Commanding Officer General Hearsey tried to bring the situation under control, as per reports.
Pandey was finally outnumbered and he put his gun to his chest and pressed its trigger. He was rushed to the infirmary. He recovered and was brought to trial within a week. Mangal Pandey was executed on 8 April 1857. While the execution date was actually set for 18 April, it was moved forward to quell any chances of a revolt.
However, Pandey’s attack on the British officers proved to be an inspiration. Later, a rebellion broke out in Meerut that ultimately led to the Revolt of 1857.
Mangal Pandey is viewed as a freedom fighter and inspirational figure in the country. His life has been the subject of a move as well as a stage play. A commemorative postage stamp in his honour was issued by the Indian government in 1984.