The Relentless Fighter of theSepoy Movement
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005