Sepoy Revolt, 1857

Sepoy Revolt, 1857 started at Barrackpur under the leadership of Mangal Pandey on 29 March 1857 and soon spread to Meerut, Delhi and other parts of India. It created serious tension throughout Bangladesh. The resistance in Chittagong and Dhaka and skirmishes at Sylhet, Jessore, Rangpur, Pabna and Dinajpur had left Bangladesh in a state of alert and excitement. On 18 November 1857 the Native Infantry of Chittagong rose in open rebellion and released all prisoners from the jail. They seized arms and ammunition, ransacked the treasury, set the Magazine House on fire and proceeded towards Tippera.

The offensive of the sepoys of Chittagong had an important bearing upon the company's defensive posture at Dhaka. Being apprehensive of a further uprising of the sepoys, the authorities sent three companies of the 54th Regiment and one hundred seamen to Dhaka. Simultaneously a Naval Brigade was sent to Jessore, Rangpur, Dinajpur and some other districts of Bangladesh. Organised local volunteers consisting mostly of European residents took special measures for the protection of Dhaka. The situation became tense when the Naval Brigade arrived at Dhaka to disarm the sepoys stationed there. On 22 November the sepoys stationed at lalbagh resisted the process of disarming. In the skirmish that followed several sepoys were killed and arrested while many of them fled towards Mymensingh. Most of the fugitives were, however, arrested and put up for summary trial by a hurriedly constituted Court Martial. Of the accused sepoys 11 were sentenced to death and the rest were sentenced to life imprisonment. The judgement was executed rather hurriedly.

Tension and excitement persisted in different parts of Bangladesh, especially in the districts of Sylhet, Mymensingh, Dinajpur and Jessore. Several skirmishes occurred between the fugitive sepoys and European soldiers in Sylhet and some other places resulting in loss of lives on both sides. Summary trials by local Judges of the captured and disarmed sepoys took place in Sylhet and Jessore. Hanging and deportation were common features of these summary trials.

The role and reaction of various classes of people of Bangladesh during the sepoy revolt present a gloomy picture. The landed aristocracy were decidedly opposed to the sepoys and some of them rendered logistic support to the Company authorities by supplying carts, carriages and elephants; informing the movements of the fleeing sepoys and finally organising local volunteer corps to resist the sepoys. The government acknowledged such services of the landed aristocracy with thanks and subsequently awarded them titles of Nawab, Khan Bahadur, Khan Shaheb, Rai Bahadur, Rai Shaheb etc and rewarded them with all sorts of worldly gains. Following the role displayed by the landed aristocracy, the middle class too sided with the Company's government. The common people and the peasantry as a whole were apathetic and remained untouched by the sepoy revolt, though they suffered much from the concomitant artificial price hike. [Ratan Lal Chakraborty]