12 April, 2021

Arise Sepoy!

As Mangal Pandey is glammed up for celluloid, it's time to do a reality check

Arise Sepoy!
India is two years away from celebrating the 150th anniversary of 1857, the first war of Indian Independence. Earlier generations recognised the event as the bloodiest revolution in human history, a momentous epic, a war of civilisations even. But fifteen years of liberalisation appears to have dulled our senses. When new perspectives on 1857 ought to be emerging, Indians are squabbling over the birthplace and other minor issues about Mangal Pandey, the first sepoy who pulled the trigger that ignited a whole country.

Aalha Mangal Pandey, an Awadhi ballad, the Oudh Gazette of 1861 and other literary and oral sources attest to the man having been born into a peasant Brahmin family in Faizabad’s Akbarpur tehsil. As a people who saw themselves at the apex of the Indian moral order, Brahmins were orthodox and radical, capable of backing a good order but also sanctioning revolution against a bad one. The year was 1827—a time when William Bentinck’s reforms ended a phase of active British-western appreciation of things Indian.

The British East India Company...

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