The first battle of Indian Independence in1857 was fought by the Hindus and Muslims together and it rattled the British and they began to unleash their infamous divide and rule policy against the people.
The English government termed it as the Sepoy Mutiny though the reality was that it was a manifestation of peoples’ sentiments to get rid of the British rule.
The war was led by Nana Saheb, Bahadur Shah Zafar of Delhi, Maulvi Ahmad Shah, Tatya Tope, Khan Bahadur Khan, Rani Laxmibai, Hazrat Mahal, Azimullah Khan and Shahzada Firoz Shah. Their names figure prominently in the history books yet there are hundreds of others whose sacrifices have lapsed into the history.
They included Hindu priests and several Muslim and Sikh clerics, landlords, farmers, businessmen, women and students of all castes and religions.
The rebel army of Delhi was commanded by Mohammad Bakht, Sighari Lal, Ghaus Mohammad, Sirdhara Singh and Heera Singh. Led by Bakht Khan, it had a large number of Hindus. They all placed their nation above religion. Here are some stories:
Hukumchand Jain and Munir Baig fought against the British rule in Hansi, Haryana. Jain was a scholar of Kanungo, Persian and mathematics and a big landlord. When he knew about the outbreak of 1857 war, he reached Delhi Durbar and met Tantya Tope.
Jain and his close friend Mirza Munir Baig raised a banner of revolt. Munir Baig was also a great scholar of Persian and mathematics. The Delhi durbar offered no help and he faced defeat at the hands of the British.
Both Jain and Baig were arrested at Hansi in September 1857 and awarded death sentence. In a demeaning and revengeful act, the British hanged them on January 19, 1858; buried the body of Hukumchand Jain, against his religious belief and cremated the body of Munir Baig, a Muslim.
This act of the British infuriated people especially the men associated with religion.
Ayodhya emerged as a great example of Hindu-Muslim unity during the mutiny where many clerics and priests rose up against the British. Most of them were arrested and hanged.
Maulana Amir Ali was a famous cleric of Ayodhya and Baba Ramcharan Das was the priest of the famous Hanumangarhi temple. They rebelled, got arrested and were hanged from a tree in the Kuber area of Ayodhya.
In adjoining Faizabad, Achchan Khan and Shambhuprasad Shukla were the commanders of the revolutionary army of King Devi Bakhsh Singh. Both of them met a gory end after being arrested; they were tortured to death and hanged in full public view.
Raja Maharao of Kota, Rajasthan, was a puppet of the British while one of his courtiers Lala Jayad Lal Bhatnagar stood up against the British. He got the support of Mehta Khan, an Army general of the princely state. Together, they contacted other rebels across India and attacked the British in Kota. He also extended help to Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi.
Only after a long chase, the British arrested him and hanged him to death. Mehrab Khan also met the same fate.
In the Malwa region, Tatya Tope, Rao Saheb, Feroz Shah and Maulvi Fazal Haq were the heroes of the war for independence. Maulvi Fazal Haq, along with his army of 480 Hindu-Muslim-Sikh members was martyred in the Battle of Ranaud on 17 December 1858.
Tatya Tope continued to lead the freedom struggle for next two year. He was arrested and hanged at Shivpuri in 1859. However, the British could never catch Pirojshah.
Ghulam Gaus Khan was in charge of the Artillery of Rani Laxmibai. Also another Muslim, Khudabkhsh was in charge of her cavalry. When the British attacked Rani’s fort at Jhansi, they led the forces in defending the Fort and got killed in the battle field. Mundar, a Muslim woman, was in charge of Rani Laxmibai’s personal safety; she too died fighting alongside the Rani in the battle of Kota-ki Sarai in 1858.
In Ruhelkhand independence was proclaimed under the leadership of Khan Bahadur Khan whose key aide was Khushiram. They cobbled an eight-member Hindu-Muslim committee to rule Ruhelkhand. The committee banned cow slaughter, apparently in deference to the wishes of Hindus. Later, when the British captured Ruhelkhand, Khan Bahadur Khan, Khushiram and 243 soldiers and key functionaries were hanged in an unprecedented mass hanging event.