Sunday Eye

Remembering the forgotten heroes from India’s freedom battle

Chahe jitni tarah se kahi jaye,aur jitni bar, Azadi ki kahani se kuchh chhut hello jata hai (Regardless of what number of methods and what number of occasions it’s mentioned, some issues at all times stay unsaid in the case of tales of the liberty battle), I heard this assertion from a balladeer in jap Uttar Pradesh who used to compose songs on the heroes of freedom motion. It’s true that historical past is the “narrative of what occurred’’, however it isn’t mounted, it repeatedly evolves.

When communities turn out to be conscious and assertive, they discover their unsung histories and stake declare on mainstream narratives. Thus, the historical past of Dalits, tribals and marginal communities emerge in two methods — as educational historical past and as public historical past. Each work together, affect, overlap, contradict and debate with one another to inform the story of the subaltern.

Within the ’90s, after I was doing fieldwork within the villages of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, I’d come throughout numerous thans (house of worship) underneath peepal timber close to Dalit bastis, like Shahid Baba, Ladaka Baba, and so on. After I enquired additional, I discovered that a few of them have been remembered by the Dalit individuals as freedom fighters killed by the British. I additionally heard and picked up many people songs and people narratives in reward of those heroes. These dwelling reminiscences — within the type of shrines, songs, folklore — preserve in circulation the reminiscences of the women and men whom mainstream historical past has missed.

Most of those heroes that we documented have been associated to the 1857 rebellion, now often known as the First Warfare of Independence. The reminiscences of Gangu Baba of Bithoor who belonged to the Balmiki neighborhood, Banke Beer (Jatav), Beera Pasee, Matadin Bhangi are commemorated by marginal communities in numerous components of Uttar Pradesh. The 4 bodyguards of revolutionary chief Amar Singh, youthful brother of Babu Kunwar Singh of Jagdishpur (1777-1858), Bihar, have been his warfare strategists. They, too, got here from marginal communities of the area.
Sunday Eye

Jhalkari Bai’s statue in Gwalior (Supply: Wiki Commons)
It’s fascinating to notice that almost all of those Dalit icons have been additionally girls. These embody Jhalkari Bai, Uda Devi, and Mahaviri Devi. Jhalkari Bai, a courageous girl born within the Koree neighborhood, was a member of the ladies’s military organised by Rani Lakshmi Bai and the queen’s shut ally, chief strategist and advisor. When the queen of Jhansi escaped together with her son, Jhalkari Bai foxed the British by pretending to be the queen, whom she carefully resembled, and put up a valiant combat towards the invaders.

Uda Devi, one other virangana of the 1857 gadar, was a member of the ladies’s battalion of Begum Hazrat Mahal, the queen of what was then Awadh, who led a spirited combat towards the British, killing greater than half-a-dozen troopers within the battle of Sikandar Bagh. These heroes are revered not simply inside their caste communities however amongst a bigger Dalit neighborhood as nicely.

It’s fascinating to notice that until the ’60s, there was not a lot assertion of the marginals in claiming their function within the freedom motion. However there existed a development of writing in style chapbooks among the many Dalits of north India.

By means of these chapbooks, offered in melas and rallies, on thelas and pavements, they began narrating and circulating their very own roles within the freedom motion. The historical past of Jhalkari Bai was one such instance from this time.

Throughout the numerous phases of Gandhian actions such because the Khilafat Motion (1919), Non-Cooperation Motion (1920), Civil Disobedience Motion (1930), we discover the emergence of many Dalit leaders and icons who have been a part of the mainstream narrative. These embody stalwarts akin to Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Palwankar Baloo of Maharashtra, Babu Masuria Deen of Uttar Pradesh, Karu Paswan, Babu Jagjivan Ram, Sukhari Paswan, Ram Basawan, Nandan Paswan and Yashoda Devi.

The subaltern heroes of the nationwide motion have to be remembered and embraced by each citizen and these narratives of Dalit participation in India’s freedom battle want to maneuver from the periphery to the centre. That’s after we will turn out to be extra inclusive of our grassroots and our democracy will deepen.

(The author is director, Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad)

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