17 April, 2021

Lakshmi Bai, 1828-1858

Rani Of Jhansi Bad-Ass Queen

Photo by AP
Lakshmi Bai, 1828-1858

Even the terms used to describe the famous Indian uprising against the British in 1857 are political positions. Was it a mutiny, or India’s First War of Independence? Rebellion or uprising? A nationalist movement or a string of local protests?

The violence began in Meerut, in present-day Uttar Pradesh, and the proximate cause was the British acquisition of Enfield rifles. To load these new weapons, Bengal sepoys—the security forces for the Raj—had to use their teeth to tear open paper cartridges produced, in accordance with a British design, at the Dumdum Arsenal, on the outskirts of Calcutta. A rumour had spread that the cartridges were greased with tallow and lard. Biting down on them was therefore an affront to Hindus and Muslims alike.

The first to be appalled was a Brahmin worker at the arsenal, which still today produces ordnance. His disgust quickly spread among the sepoys, and many refused to load the rifles. When they were punished, long-suppressed grievances erupted. In May 1857, some of the roughly 2,000 sepoys based in Meerut turned on...

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