Friday 11 May 2007
BARRACKPORE, Kolkata, India — As India celebrates the 150th anniversary of the first uprising against the British, the town where the first shot was fired by sepoy (soldier سپاهی) Mangal Pandey is witnessing the gradual obliteration of its historical heritage. Mangal Pandey (born: c. July 19, 1827, died: 8 April 1857), also known as Shaheed Mangal Pandey was a sepoy in the 34th Regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) of the British East India Company. He fired the famous shot at a British officer on 29 March 1857 at the Barrackpore parade ground — now on the outskirts of Calcutta.
It was an action that stirred up a wave of rebellion in north India against the colonial power, and meant that Barrackpore would be a name always prominent in Indian history books.
Pandey’s actions towards his British officers was not a result of personal grudges, but rather driven by ideological, religious and patriotic motives. For this reason, Pandey is widely considered in India to be the first warrior in India’s long struggle for independence from the British rule. Mangal Pandey may have held a personal grudge against the British because he was Brahmin and he had unknowingly consumed cow-fat based grease from the cartridges. The British were pushing Indian soldiers to use these cartridges, which contained grease made from cow and pig fat. A further proof of his non-personal motives is delivered by accounts of British officers present at the scene. They recorded in numerous books that Pandey used four-letter words for the British in general and incited his comrades to rise against the company rule.
But 150 years later, many of the sprawling bungalows and imposing structures from the colonial past have been completely swallowed by wild undergrowth.
Peepal and banyan trees have broken through the roofs and walls of once beautiful houses, leaving almost no scope for restoration.