May 10 marks the day when in 1857 soldiers of Britain’s Indian Army began a revolt against the colonial rule. It led to rise of the people through vast parts of India against colonial rule. It indeed was the first pan India people’s war for independence. Basically it was the first independent assertion of Indian peasantry while also the last hurrah of the independent minded feudal princes.
This war continued for nearly two years in which reportedly 23 lakh Indians laid down their lives. This has been hailed as the biggest war of 19th Century by many historians. Indians who rose in revolt against British colonial rule regarded themselves independent of foreign rule till the advent of British rule, hence proclaimed last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar to lead the Indians’ war for independence. Events of 1857 are a clear refutation of revisionist history pedaled by Hindutva inspired historians that India was nor free even before British colonial rule. This revisionist history was patronized by colonial rulers as it negated the importance of anti-colonial struggle of Indian people.
It has been nearly 75 years since colonial rule in the country ended with transfer of power. However, during this period the heroes of 1857 were largely ignored. The leader of that war, Bahadur Shah Zafar, died in captivity in today’s Myanmar. However, no attempt has been made to bring his remains to India and buried here (a place already marked near Kutub Minar). This demand has been repeatedly raised but the rulers of the day have been deaf to this. Indian rulers have been more beholden to the erstwhile colonial masters than to Indian people who struggle against the colonial yoke.
War of independence of 1857-’59 symbolized people’s united struggle against foreign colonial rule. Its most pronounced aspects were anti-colonialism and unity in struggle of the two major communities in India- Hindus and Muslims. This secularism was of united aspirations to make India free of foreign domination and not of mere mutual tolerance. While many other aspects got imbibed in further course of movement for freedom like democracy, social justice and federalism; these two aspects i.e. anti-imperialism (genuine freedom) and secularism (of common aspirations) continue to be of vital importance.
Bahadur Shah Zafar is a symbol of both India’s yearning of freedom from imperialist influence and unity of different religious communities inhabiting India. It is time that his remains are brought back to India, his beloved motherland for whose freedom he laid down his life.
Present rulers i.e. RSS will not countenance with this demand. They are out to erase all examples of unity of Indian people especially Hindu-Muslim unity. They are attacking Muslims under one pretext after another; even attacking their means of livelihood. Moreover they are out to erase Muslims from the Indian history itself; negating common sacrifices and common heritage. It was not accidental that they kept themselves aloof from the freedom movement of Indian people. They were intent on dividing Indian people on communal lines, a goal which they shared with the then colonial rulers of India. Ruling class politicians as well as other authorities talk of Indianization but their Indianization does not include ethos of Indian people, their shared heritage and their common struggle for better future. Present rulers are dead afraid of unity of Indian people and they would not like any symbol of such unity be allowed to exist, leave alone brought to India.
It is for the people to raise the demand for bringing back Zafar’s remains. This demand should be raised from all fora, all avenues and in all meetings. It is a symbol and a powerful symbol.
CPI (ML)-New Democracy
May 10, 2022