This is an extract from the account of Mirza Muinuddin Hasan Ali Khan, the first Kotwal of Delhi appointed by the Mughal Empire during the rebellion. He puts much weight on the happenings in Awadh as a reason for the rebellion – it is interesting to notice that British saw a threat in the play things of a bored king, which led to the king actually getting bored and the government, haywire. In spite of that, the reason for annexation seems to be a very trivial thing – assertion of my right to pray over the law of the land. Though this account starts with assualt of a Faqir by Brahmins(notice the word Brahmin specifically – is it Brahmin or is it a generic word used by Hindu?) without telling at what the provocation. The anger arising out of the annexation and the loss of jobs – especially in the army seems to be the trigger for the rebellion, according to the author.
When Amjad Ali Shah Padshah, King of Lucknow, died in 1847, he was succeeded by Shah Wajid Ali, who devoted himself to the organization of the Army. Orders were issued that after morning prayer all the regiments in Lucknow were to parade daily at 5 a.m. The King was in the habit of taking command at the parade, dressed in the uniform of a general; he used to drill the troops for four or five hours daily. Furthermore, he issued an order that if he were absent from parade, except through necessities of the State, he was to be fined 2,000 rupees, to be distributed among the regiments in garrison. An equivalent fine was to be levied if any of the regiments were late on parade, and as a further punishment two regiments of infantry and a resalah of cavalry were to remain under arms the whole day.
This activity of the King created suspicion. The British Resident inquired the cause of his exertions in creating an army, and suggested to him that if he required forces for the protection of his province he should employ British troops, to be paid out of the revenues of Oude. The courtiers of his Court also advised him not to raise suspicion by his personal activity. The King, discouraged by these remonstrances, replied that he would employ himself in future with some other occupation, as his interest in his army was not approved of. Henceforward he began to neglect the affairs of the State, and took pleasure in debauchery. The former Minister, Findad Hossim Khan, was removed from his post, and Ali Tukf Khan, a man of good family, was appointed to succeed him. The King married the niece of his new Minister, and then his daughter. He left the management of all the affairs of State to Ali Tukf Khan.
From the neglect of his kingdom there arose results which man’s wisdom could not foresee. There was a Rajah, Dursham Sing by name, a nobleman of old family, the son of a Brahmin, Mahender Sing, a soldier by profession. This Dursham Sing had three sons — Buktour Sing, Durshin Sing, and Cholauka Sing. The eldest obtained the King’s favour and a title of nobility, as did also Durshin Sing. They also obtained appointments as “Chakladars.”
Durshin Sing next proceeded to force defaulting zemindars to draw out bills of sale of their property in his name. Thus he gradually formed for himself a large estate. His talook (property) adjoined a place called Hanumanjari, in the vicinity of Fyzabad, where there was a Mahommedan mosque which Durshin Sing annexed, together with its endowment.
Durshin had two sons, Hanuman Dull and Man Sing. These two men refused to allow the “Arjan” (call to prayer) to be sounded from the mosque. A few days later a travelling Moulvie, Fakir Hossein Shah, came to the mosque to pray, and not knowing of the prohibition, sounded the Arjan. The Brahmins of a neighbouring temple, hearing this, came to the mosque, assaulted the Moulvie, and taking from him the Koran which he held in his hands, threw it into a fire and burned it, and then drove the Moulvie out of the mosque.
The traveller went on his way to Lucknow, and told in the bazaars what had happened. It so happened that in the Hyderabad Mehalla ward of the city, the story interested a man called Hyder Khan, who lived there with his four brothers. All were soldiers in the service of the King. On hearing of the outrage, the two younger brothers offered to assist the Moulvie to obtain retribution for the insult to the Prophet. The three, in pursuance of their plan, returned to Hanumanjari, and the next day at the usual hour of prayer, they sounded the Arjan loudly and repeatedly. Brahmins came running to the mosque ; an altercation followed ; then a fight, in which the two soldiers were killed ; Hossein escaped, and returning to Lucknow, laid a complaint before the criminal court. The native judge, seeing that the case was likely to prove troublesome, put it aside. The Moulvie then appealed to one Syud Amir-Ali, Resident of Kasbeh Intaband, who bore a great reputation in the city as a holy and just man, and who had lived for many years as a recluse in a corner of the mosque at Kusbeh Amaitie. On hearing the story, he took up the Moulvie’s cause. He first called a public meeting at the mosque, and issued a Futwa (law decision) on the consequences of burning the Koran, and the murder of two zealous Mahommedans, who had fallen in defence of their religion. He then began to preach a jehad (holy war) in the streets of Lucknow, and in the adjoining country. He pointed out that there was a danger to the Mahommedan religion, and this excited and inflamed the public mind. Eventually he started for Hanumanjari with a large following of persons burning to revenge the insult offered to their religion. The matter came to the ears of the British Resident, who hastened to the King, and urged him to take immediate measures to allay the excitement. The King sent for Kadum Hossein, and urged him to use his influence to settle the matter amicably.
Hossein Bux and Mahommed Tyer Khan were deputed to bring back the Moulvie, who, however, refused to return. Nawab Ali Tuk Khan then suggested to the King that Bashir-ul-Dowlah should be sent to bring back the Moulvie. He agreed to go if justice were done, and threatened if it were not that he would join the Moulvie. The British Resident again urged the King to prevent widespread bloodshed, and impressed on him his responsibility.
Both the King and his Minister for the time forgot their anger with the Resident for his interference with the King’s military ardour, and consulted upon the measures necessary to suppress the impending trouble. They sent for Moulvie Kadim Hossein, a resident of Feringhee Mehal in Lucknow, a man of ability and position, and asked him to publish a contradictory Futwa, so as to cut away the ground from beneath the feet of those who desired war. The King also summoned Shah Hossein Bux and Mahommed Fakir Khan, and urged them to do all in their power to quiet the Moulvie ; but their efforts were fruitless. The Moulvie would listen to no terms other than that the Brahmins should be expelled from the Hanumanjari mosque, and the Mahommedans protected in the exercise of their ceremonials and prayers, and offenders punished in accordance with the laws of the Koran. Promises were made, but no steps were taken to fulfil them. The Moulvie remained at Lucknow for eight or ten days as the guest of Bashir-ul-Dowlah, who repeatedly urged upon the Vizier the fulfilment of his promise. The Moulvie then sent a message to the King that he would take the enforcement of justice into his own hands, and he returned to Hanumanjari after quarrelling with Bashir-ul-Dowlah for non-fulfilment of his promises. On this, the King ordered Colonel Barlow, who commanded the King’s troops, to take a regiment of Hindus only, and to stop the Moulvie by force, and if necessary he was to blow the Moulvie from a gun in case resistance was offered. The King’s soldiers were encamped four miles from the Moulvie’s camp. When the Moulvie attempted to march from Radii Maidan, Colonel Barton forbad his doing so and surrounded his camp.
Attacked by the Moulvie’s followers, the guns opened fire, and killed all of the assailants, many of the King’s troops falling also. The news of this engagement spread throughout Hindustan and was the forerunner of still greater events. Little by little evil thoughts were generated. The British Resident, impressed by numerous petitions against the grave oppressions to which the people were subjected, and convinced of the inability of the King to rule the province in the interests of his people, recommended annexation. It is singular to record that under a Mahommedan sovereign injustice should have been perpetrated in the matter of a mosque, and that the people should subsequently have arisen in rebellion against the British, to whom they appealed for justice and protection. On the 17th of February, 1856, the British annexed Oude. They little anticipated the result. Thousands of men in the service of the King were thereby thrown out of employment, and were deprived of the means of livelihood. The worse the administration had been, the greater was the multitude of soldiers, courtiers, police, and landholders, who had fattened on it.
Those who had petitioned the English for redress were the poor and the oppressed. But the oppressors saw in British rule their own suppression. Oude was the birthplace of the Purbeah race, and these feelings of dissatisfaction affected the whole Purbeah race in the service of the British Government. To the native mind the act of annexation was one of gross injustice, and provoked a universal desire for resistance.
The King, and all those connected with him, although bowing to the hand of fate, became henceforward the bitter enemies of the English. At this time there were stationed at Lucknow two regiments, the 19th and the 34th, which were in the pay of the English Government. They had frequent consultations together on the injustice of the step which had been taken, and on the resistance which should be offered, and the attempts which should be made to create a rebellion for the purpose of overthrowing the British authority. It so happened that at the time of the annual change of regiments in 1857 one of these two regiments was sent to Berampur, the other to Barrackpur. Both these regiments were full of bitterness towards the English Government, and from them letters were written to other Purbeah regiments. The 34th took the lead. These letters reminded every regiment of the ancient dynasties of Hindustan ; pointed out that the annexation of Oude had been followed by the disbandonment of the Oude army, for the second time since the connection of the English with Oude ; and showed that their place was being filled by the enlistment of Punjabis and Sikhs, and the formation of a Punjab army. The very bread had been torn out of the mouths of men who knew no other profession than that of the sword. The letters went on to say that further annexations might be expected, with little or no use for the native army. Thus was it pressed upon the Sepoys that they must rebel to reseat the ancient kings on their thrones, and drive the trespassers away. The welfare of the soldier caste required this ; the honour of their chiefs was at stake.
The proximity of these two regiments to each other enabled the conspirators to carry on a constant correspondence (the circulation of these letters being conducted with great secrecy), and frequent consultations ensued. By degrees it became known in native society which regiments were disaffected, and it began to be inculcated as a creed that every Purbeah must withdraw his friendship from the foreigner; must ignore his authority, and overthrow his rule. Although these sentiments had become national, the methods to be employed in carrying them into action were but indistinctly known when the actual outbreak occurred. When the rebellion had begun, the full force and significance of all that had preceded it became apparent, and men understood what it meant.