Vol. 5 Num 1046 Sat. May 12, 2007  

India salutes 'martyrs' who battled British rule 150 yrs ago

India paid homage with full pomp and honour yesterday to the "martyrs" who battled British rule 150 years ago in the country's "first war of independence."

Thousands of flag-waving marchers shouting "Jai Hind" or "Long live India" converged on the Mughal-built Red Fort in Old Delhi after retracing the route of rebellious soldiers for ceremonies kicking off a year-long celebration of the bloody uprising against the mighty British empire.

The revolt has long been known as the "Indian Mutiny," but many Indian historians now say the term "mutiny" belittles what actually happened.

"The fight for freedom united people from different religions and speaking different languages," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a speech from the ramparts of the imposing 17th-century sandstone fort.

Actors restaged the events that led to the revolt, which helped pave the way for independence 90 years later of the "jewel" in Britain's imperial crown, and dancers performed in a swirl of colour.

Security was stepped up across the capital, particularly at the Red Fort, which has been attacked in the past by Islamic militants fighting New Delhi's rule in Indian Kashmir, police said.

Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress party, dismissed attempts by some historians to project the uprising as only a mutiny of foot soldiers, known as sepoys, and called it "the first war of independence."

"Those who thought the sun would never set on their empire were brought to their knees and forced to leave the country and that too within a century after the whole of India stood united to take charge of their destiny," she said.

With a backdrop of Jain Temples, (R) Indian performers take part in a ceremony marking India's "first war of independence" at the Mughal-built Red Fort in New Delhi yesterday. India paid homage with full pomp and honour to the "martyrs" who battled British rule 150 years ago. PHOTO: AFP