The first shock

Cradle of revolt: The Vellore fort   | Photo Credit: C. Venkatachalapathy

It happened before daybreak on July 10, 1806 — much before the ferocious Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 that is widely considered to be India’s First War of Independence. The events of July 10 are now an indelible part of history. What exactly happened?

It was a time when India was under British rule. Though the atmosphere was fairly peaceful, anger against the rules imposed on Indians was gradually building up. In 1805, General Sir John Craddock, who was the Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army, ordered a change in the army’s uniform that hurt the sentiments of both Hindu as well as Muslim soldiers. Hindus were prohibited from putting religious marks on their forehead and Muslims were forced to trim their moustaches and beards. Further, in place of the turban they were used to wearing, they were asked to wear a round hat usually associated with Europeans. This naturally angered the soldiers. Those who protested were punished with whipping and sent out of the army.

Another trigger point was Tipu Sultan, who was the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore till he was defeated and killed by the British in 1799. After his death, his wives, children and servants were confined to the city of Vellore. People were angry about the disrespect shown by the British to the erstwhile ruler’s sons. An attack was planned.

Surprise strike

The setting was the Vellore Fort that housed battalions of the British and Madras Infantry. The day was the wedding of one of Tipu Sultan’s daughters. Soon after midnight, around 500 Indian soldiers broke into the fort and murdered more than 100 unsuspecting soldiers who were sleeping. The outnumbered British were taken by surprise and they fled.

In a fiercely symbolic gesture, the rebels took down the Union Jack (the flag of the U.K.) and replaced it with the flag of Tipu Sultan. They then declared Tipu Sultan’s second son as the king. A lack of clear leadership, however, caused the rebellion to lose focus beyond this point.

Meanwhile, the British started fighting back. Lead by Sir Rollo Gillespie, a team of soldiers approached the fort. They blew open its doors and shot dead 100 Indian soldiers who were still inside. A total of around 350 Indian sepoys were killed in the counter-attack. Tipu Sultan’s family was eventually shifted to Calcutta.

Though the revolt was suppressed within a day, it was successful in sending across a message to the British — that dissent was starting to simmer.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 10:58:47 PM |

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