|Memorial Well by Wheeler’s Entrenchment (picture provided by Mark Probett from his collection)|
164 years ago, on the 27th of June, the Cawnpore Garrison was slaughtered at Satichaura Ghat. Unlike other memorial days which are perhaps given a moment’s notice or some commemoration, this day is much too obscure in history, too long ago and above all, steeped in controversy.
The world we live in today, we are meant to apologise for a colonial past, hang our heads in shame for perceived ills perpetrated by people from ages gone by and instead of remembering the dead, we should shun them. This may appear to be wisdom – a way to cure old ills and wrongdoings. However, history cannot be rewritten to serve a current agenda. To do so is to insult everyone.
The main criticism that anyone who writes about the mutiny hears, is the lament, “but the British wrote the history” so ergo, it must be biased. There is no doubt that many accounts of the mutiny were fabricated, especially in newspaper back in England to provide sensationalism to an already horrifying event. As was proved time and time again, the accounts of rape (defilement as the Victorians would say) of British women were discounted as were stories of roasting babies in boxes and skewering them on pikes. These were stories written with malice in mind; to sensationalise an already horrible time for means of profit, not unlike the stories we hear in the news today. We like to think we live in an enlightened world, but sadly, we do not. The essential evil behind them is the same. The cruel, wanton need to incite feelings of anger and revenge. 161 years later, we are still as gullible and as quick to judge as those men were then, acting on hearsay and outright lies.
The first soldiers who entered the Bibigarh do not recall the writings on the walls, like “Avenge Us Country Men” simply because they were not there. What was there was the sad little chronicle left by one of the Lindsay sisters, in which she lists the destruction of her family. The vengeful tomes were added later, by future visitors, malicious graffiti to fuel hatred.
We know that very few accounts exist of the atrocious behaviour of the British and the army of retaliation. The few that are mentioned are done so in a fleeting, almost off hand in manner. This is pure arrogance – the destruction the British left in their wake and the horrors they perpetrated during their advances should not be swept away. After the siege, Delhi was a ghost town – city of the dead, with bodies rotting in the streets, eerily silent and empty. The native population fled after the fall of the rebel army, fleeing from the on coming British who had very little more in mind than plunder and revenge. Stories were rife that the city should be razed to the ground, the mosques blown up and the fort destroyed – fortunately,sense prevailed and at least some of the city was left standing. This was an unequal war fought on unequal grounds, it would be wrong to say “but look what the Indians did.” Violence is not an excuse for more violence. The only equality we can give them is all sides were wrong. There was no reason to kill the Leeson children or murder the souls in the Bibigarh as there was no reason for the British to indiscriminately hang every Indian they came across or burn their villages.
There are some who are more invested in the story of Cawnpore than others – those who had ancestors that died in entrenchment, at the ghat and in the Bibighar. I have, over time, come into contact with people who lost their ancestors there – and even in the light of our ever so modern world, we should remember that these are family histories that were destroyed, lives that were not lived and dreams never fulfilled. A future never realised. What would their contributions have been? Would we perhaps live in a different world, had they lived? These are all branches of family trees, irreversibly broken.
Without further ado, I have added here a short film, a tribute to Cawnpore.
(All credit for the film to India Rising and my thanks for allowing me to link it to my site).