Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 4 Issue 47 | May 20, 2005 |

   Cover Story
   News Notes
   Time Out
   Human Rights
   Food For Thought
   In Retrospect
   Dhaka Diary
   Book Review
   New Flicks

   SWM Home

In Retrospect

Bakht Khan
The Relentless Fighter of theSepoy Movement

The Sepoy Movement, a milestone in the history of Bengal, first broke out on March 29, 1857 and came to end on September 20 that year. Muhammad Bakht Khan, who joined the Sepoy upheaval in Bariely later became its de facto Commander-in Chief.


It is said that Bakht Khan came from the royal family of Oudh (the family of Nawab Shujaud-Dowla) and was said to be connected with the Mughals through matrimony. He was a Subedar Major in the artillery of the colonial army when the movement broke out. He had served with the English for nearly forty years and fought in Jalalabad in the first Afghan War. When the Sepoy movement broke out, he came to Bariely, of Rohilakhand and took active part in this great movement.

On March 29, 1857, the Sepoy Movement first broke out in Barrackpore near Kolkata. On May 10, the Sepoys in Meerut revolted, killed British officers and proceeded towards Delhi, which was only a few miles away. The Sepoys along with general people, selected Khan Bahadur Khan, the grandson of the former Nawab Hafiz Rahmat Khan, as the Nawab-Nazim of Rohilakhand under the Mughal Emperor, Bhadur Shah II. Bakht Khan organised, trained and built up, so to speak, the Rohila Sepoys and then left for Delhi. It then spread out to Dhaka, Chittagong and Bahrampur. As the historians say, with quite a great number of sepoys, a cavalry, a great number of arms and ammunitions and with 4 lakh rupees, Bakht Khan arrived in Delhi on July 2. Sepoys in other places took the cue and rose against the British Raj.

They proceeded towards Delhi, which was only a few miles away. Delhi eventually fell on May 2; Bahadur Shah II was proclaimed as the Emperor of India. All his forces were in Delhi and Meerut. But the Sepoys in other places as if taking the cue from this, rose against the British.

There was great disorder in every sphere. The Sepoys were unruly and undisciplined. There was great shortage of funds for financing the war. The different princes and various military officers used to exact taxes from the people, individually and separately. The Sepoys also used to extort money from the masses and caused great harassment. Lack of co-ordination, indiscipline, chaos and confusion were much evident everywhere. There was great paucity of supplies too; and again, during this very period, on June 8, the army of the Emperor suffered defeat in Badli ki Sarai at the hands of the British. The colonial troops took up position at the famous Ridge situated on the south and southwest of Delhi.

Right from the beginning, Bakht Khan set about business and addressed himself to bring discipline and order. The eldest prince, Mirza Zohiruddin or Mirza Mughul was the Commander-in-chief. But after Bakht Khan appeared, Mirza became only the titular head of the army and Bakht Khan became the actual or virtual chief. He was awarded the title Lord Governor General (Saheb-I-Alam Bhadur).

Six military members and four civilian members comprised the War Council for directing the civilian and military affairs. Bakht Khan was also tenderly called "Farzand" (son) by the Emperor. By being the real Commander-in-chief, it became easier for Bakht Khan to restore discipline in the army. He also got the authority from the Emperor that in civilian affairs, in matters of collecting taxes, his authority was supreme. Arrears-taxes were realised, grants and ''levies'' were collected from the rich; loans where also taken from banks.

Throughout the month of July and the beginning of August, the forces of the Emperor fought the British troops in some skirmishes and battles. On August 14, Colonel Nicholoson arrived at the Ridge with a strong re-enforcement from the Punjab. But the English still waited for the guns, arms and ammunitions that arrived after some time.

In the second week of September, the colonial troops under the command of Wilson started firing canons on Delhi all around. On September 14, the British forces advanced as far as Jam-e-Masjid but were repulsed by the Imperial army and were forced to retreat towards Kashmir Gate. The massive Gate collapsed and was shattered to pieces. Fighting continued for six long days between the Sepoys and the English.

Just when the defeat was imminent, the agents and the spies of the English were at work in persuading the Emperor to surrender. Bakht Khan went up to the Emperor and prayed to him not to surrender. He argued that they had lost Delhi, but the Sepoys were still fighting valiantly in Rohilakhand, Oudh and other places. The Emperor should go with Bakht Khan and they should again fight the British from these places, he suggested. Begum Zeenat Mahal, the Empress and other members of the Emperor's family were all in favour of surrendering to the British troops.

On September 20, six miles away from Delhi, near the tomb of late Emperor Humayun the last Emperor of India Bhadur Shah II gave himself up to Lt. Hudson of the colonial troops. The princes were shot dead by Hudson near Delhi Gate and their bodies were kept hanging at the Kotowali, so that the people 'might have a look at them'. After a long and protracted trial the Emperor was exiled to Rangoon where he breathed his last after four years in 1862.

Life, however, was different for Bakht Khan who fled Delhi and did not give in so easily. He joined the forces of Moulavi Ahmadullah, another great fighter of this movement, and fought in Lucknow, Shahjahanpur and other places. He later passed away unattended in the dense forests of Terain. One of the greatest heroes of our Independence struggle died abandoned, fighting to death.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2005