Marginalised Identities: Figuring the Lesser Known Revolutionaries of 1857 Bundelkhand

Abstract : This paper attempts to bring to light a few lesser-known heroic figures in and around 1857 Bundelkhand, who have never figured in the pages of mainstream history and whose voices have never been heard by the students and researchers of history — Khuda Baksh, the disciple of the Chief gunner of Rani Lakshmi Bai’s artillery, Jhalkari Bai, the chief of the women’s wing of the army of Jhansi, Raja Shankar Shah, the chief of the Gond tribe in Jabalpur, Angad Singh, who assisted Rani Lakshmi Bai in the mutiny and also the “Giris” and the “Gosains” who left an indelible mark in history.

Keywords : colonial historiography, subaltern historiography, folk song, women’s writing, political parties

Bundelkhand is geographically situated in the central part of India covering some parts of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. As a way of unfurling the chronicle of Bundelkhand, it must first be stated that the place is historically renowned for the legendary ruler Maharaj Chhatrasal Bundela who founded the independent kingdom of Bundelkhand in the 17th century and made Panna its capital. He expanded the territories with the help of the Maratha power led by Peshwa Baji Rao of Pune. As a token of gratitude, Chhatrasal bestowed one third of his kingdom to the Peshwa and divided what remained among his sons. During the 19th century the power of the Peshwas weakened and there were skirmishes among the descendants of the Peshwa for land and power. This paved way for the entry of the British in the kingdom in the early 19th century. Gradually they fashioned and formatted the established laws and decrees of the kingdom according to their whims and wishes.

Although the colonisers of Bundelkhand settled upon the land and passed laws and decrees, they were not able to apprehend the real vein of the land. The ubiquitous presence of the British and their unsolicited intrusions in the agrarian and fiscal affairs generated several problems and polemics in the land, minds and the economy of the people and their living. This spawned a general climate of lawlessness in the kingdom. From the 1820s onwards Bundelkhand saw several brawls and uprisings against the British from the part of the peasants, tribals and local Bundelas upholding the glitches levelled against their land and its revenue by the colonisers and also on several other economic policies implemented upon them.The cold and indifferent attitude of the British combined with the introduction of greased cartridges and the policy of the Doctrine of Lapse added fuel to the burning embers in frustrated minds. The sepoys of the Jhansi garrison kick-started the ball of the mutiny in Bundelkhand and soon it was conjoined by the local people and the rulers of the minor territories who were anti-British in their strands. The fire of the 1857 mutiny had been carried all over Bundelkhand by Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi and more significantly by those who have paved ground support for her.

A history of Bundelkhand during 1857, which has normally been collected from elite sources such as the reports of the British officials, minutes or other official sources such as letters sent by native rulers to the British, opens up only the history of the upper class. The “people” who fought and toiled in the war remain as “people” themselves. The task of untangling this bunch and understanding them as individuals cannot be attained with this elite reading of history. As subaltern scholars suggest, the method of reading history from below would serve as a solution for this problem to an extent. They have observed that “colonial historiographers are elitist and exclusionary both in the choice of historical subjects and also in the tools of historiography” (Abraham 14). The history that has been created by them, that foregrounds the elite individual leaders and organisations, provides emphasis to the motivational force supplied by these elites, and delivers the version that, what has been achieved is by the venture of these elite individuals and organisations (Bhadra 230). The statement made by Bhadra proves true when a student of history reads and comprehends that the 1857 Revolt in Central India has been faced and fought by a few leaders like Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, Nana Sahib or Tantya Tope without understanding the major support provided to them by the common people who had toiled and shed their blood for their motherland. A reading of history within this framework does not provide a full view of it, for it has fissures in the course of its narration left by the colonial historiographer.

Categorically analysing, the mainstream Indian Nationalist historiography focusses on elite leaders and organisations who have participated in the struggle and the Marxist historiography delineates the colonial Indian history from the angle of the socio-economic structure of the society and the woes and actions of the peasant-proletariat class. The polemics and ideologies of the common mass or the locals remain unattended both in the mainstream and in the Marxist historiography. It is the subaltern school of historiography that probes into the individual and collective actions of the non-elites or the common masses. The significant aspect reflected in the subaltern historiography is the violent insurgency of the common masses against the domination, by proclaiming their solidarity which is devoid of any class or caste consciousness.

A parallel reading of the history from below, along with the elite version furnished by the mainstream historiographer, provides a complete view of the history. To understand the history from below, it is high time to turn towards non-elite sources such as the folk literature, ballads or narratives in the regional dialect of those days. A large volume of the folk literature of 1857 that has been translated and published by the scholars provide great information for the researchers about the socio-cultural, political and historical background of the revolt of 1857 and also about the lesser known heroes of the revolt who had made an indelible imprint on history, that has been ignored by the mainstream historians in their course of narration. The role of “harbolas” or the local folk singers, in rendering the land of Bundelkhand a fecund place from where the fruits of 1857 mutiny could be harvested, is worthy of notice. The songs they transmitted vocally had the strident power to instill patriotism and the zest to wage war against the colonial clout, to free themselves and their country from the superior domination.

It is really interesting to note how these minor historical characters that have been ignored by the mainstream historian, but hailed by the local folk singers have brought about major changes in the course of history. A re-reading of the history in such lines confirms that the history would not have moved forward without such agencies. A few illustrations from the subaltern history display how the so called minor characters had geared up the history of 1857.

An assessment of the case history of Khuda Baksh, who guarded the Sainwar gate of the Jhansi fort during the revolt of 1857, by analysing the folk songs of 1857 and a reading of the ‘history from below’ confirms that his was not a trivial role as evaluated by a mainstream or a colonial historiographer. The entry of the British force inside the fort was delayed by the sheer resistance of Khuda Baksh. Mahasweta Devi had recorded in her The Queen of Jhansi that the Sainwar gate of Jhansi fort was guarded by Khuda Baksh and another person named Dulhaju (149). The Bundeli folk songs of 1857 and the subaltern history portray Dulhaju as a traitor who has done favours to the British for monetary gains while serving the queen of Jhansi. One such folk song that sings of the treachery of Dulhaju illustrates the fact. “Dulhaju had betrayed her faith / She was defeated by treachery / The Bai Sa’ab of Jhansi”( Joshi 43). Bhavani Shankar too has noted in his biographical sketch on Jhalkari Bai, “Veerangana Jhalkaribai” that it was Dulhaju who has betrayed Jhalkari Bai, when she appeared before Hugh Rose in the pretense of Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi (147). Analysing these specifics, a researcher could decipher the fact that the British forces could enter the fort easily and early and that too at an untimely hour, leaving behind the history of Jhansi and its Rani to be read in a different fashion, if the presence of the so called minor character Khuda Baksh was not there at the Sainwar gate along with Dulhaju.

Another agency of change that could be analyzed in such lines is that of Jhalkari Bai, the chief of the women’s wing of the army of Jhansi. The subaltern and Dalit histories claim that it was Jhalkari Bai who had urged Rani Lakshmi Bai to fight against the British, when the Rani was in a dilemma whether to fight or to concede the territory and draw peace agreements with the colonisers. When the British forces had besieged the Jhansi fort, it was Jhalkari Bai who had helped the Rani to escape from Jhansi. It was because of the help provided by Jhalkari Bai that Rani Lakshmi Bai was able to escape to Kalpi on 3rd April 1858 and lead the role of a revolutionary, which the historians have celebrated in the pages of history. While fleshing out the valorous accounts of Rani Lakshmi Bai and her role as a revolutionary in the revolt of 1857, the historians have forgotten about the key role played by Jhalkari Bai in helping the Rani to escape from Jhansi and delaying the British pursuit of the Rani. As of the case of Khuda Baksh, if Jhalkari Bai was not present to tackle the trouble in such a critical situation, the history of Jhansi would have been sculpted in a different fashion.

The case of Shankar Shah, the chief of the Gond tribe is a different case from those mentioned above. More than the actions of Shankar Shah during his life time, the gory and brutal public execution conferred upon Shah and his son provoked the sepoys and created ripples in the history of the Revolt of 1857.The native sepoys of Jabalpur left the cantonment after this incident openly declaring war against the colonial authority. The British could have very well evaded this situation by avoiding this ruthless injustice done to Shah and his son. Thus the horrible and heinous public execution of the Gond chief had marked a milestone in the history of the Revolt of 1857, the details of which is absent in the history books.

Such details of history mentioned above is unexplored by the students or a layman who approaches history from its mainstream angle. These details open up a totally new history for the reader, which shows that the mainstream history has wide fissures in its course of narration. A reading of the subaltern history along with the mainstream history is advocated for the accomplishment of a comprehensive view of the historiography.

This paper attempts to bring to light a few lesser-known heroic figures in and around 1857 Bundelkhand, who have never figured in the pages of mainstream history and whose voices have never been heard by the students and researchers of history — Khuda Baksh, the disciple of the Chief gunner of Rani Lakshmi Bai’s artillery, Jhalkari Bai, the chief of the women’s wing of the army of Jhansi, Raja Shankar Shah, the chief of the Gond tribe in Jabalpur, Angad Singh, who assisted Rani Lakshmi Bai in the mutiny and also the “Giris” and the “Gosains” who left an indelible mark on history.

Khuda Baksh

Khuda Baksh was the friend and disciple of Gulam Gaus Khan, who was the chief gunner of Rani Lakshmi Bai’s artillery. He was in charge of guarding the Sainwar gate of the Jhansi fortress during the British invasion of 1857. The Bundeli folk songs sing of a chivalrous Khuda Baksh who operated the cannons with his left hand, since his right hand was badly wounded and rendered useless during the fight with the British. With his mutilated hand, he continued the tussle with the British till his last breath.The folk songs sung in Bundelkhand that commemorates the chivalrous actions of Khuda Baksh in the 1857 revolt, illustrates the esteem which this personality has enjoyed in the minds of the people of Bundelkhand.

The song quoted below, collected and translated by Pankaj Rag, portrays the heroic deeds of Khuda Baksh, which a mainstream historian has failed to note in his course of narration.

KhudaBakshman sumarkhudaakaonchalauangaaribadke Jyonsurraajgaajbrajoopardhaayoghumarghumarke DhanyapratapBaiSaab kaukiyaahatkayaabadke Kaanidaitse kaadtupakmaardai jar ke.(79)

According to Rag’s translated version, Khuda Baksh has been compared to Lord Indra at the war front. Like Indra using his weapon Vajraayudha, Khuda Baksh used his cannon to eliminate the enemies from his land.

Khuda Baksh fought under his master Gulam Gaus Khan and the proficiency of the latter in operating the cannons pleased the Rani who gifted him her silver anklets (Devi 166). This underlines that Khuda Baksh, who fought with one hand, took time till his death to earn the recognition from the Rani. Khuda Baksh and his master Gulam Gaus Khan died on the same day, 29 March 1857, while preventing the British from entering the fort (Devi 166

Puran Chandra Joshi, a Marxist historian who has collected and translated a large volume of folk songs of 1857, had in his collection the translation of a song that contains the last words of Khuda Baksh to Gulam Guas Khan which is as follows:

We have to die one day, brother and I shall choose today

For our queen I shall lay down my life,

I shall hack the firangis with my sword And the world will forever

remember me!

The name of Khuda Baksh did not find a place in the pages of history shaped by mainstream historians. But he is well remembered by the locals of Bundelkhand, especially by the people of Jhansi. Homage is paid by the people of Jhansi every year on March 29 at his grave inside the Jhansi fort. He is remembered and revered in the oral history of Bundelkhand. The words of Mahasweta Devi regarding the oral tradition confirm accurately here that “. . . history comes alive authentically through oral tradition” (275).

Jhalkari Bai

The history of Jhalkari Bai has come to the limelight only during the post-Independence period. The remarkable fact is that, though she played an equal role with Rani Lakshmi Bai in defending Jhansi against the British, her name has not been mentioned either by the British or by the Indian historians who had focussed on the Revolt of 1857. It is after the 1960s that a few Dalit intellectuals have attempted to narrate the history of Jhalkari Bai, who belonged to the peasant community of Jhansi, and bring her name to the limelight. Till this date, not much full length materials are available about her, other than the works on her by a few Dalit scholars and a handful of Bundeli folk songs.

Jhalkari Bai was the chief of “Durgavahini”, the women’s wing of the army of Jhansi recruited by Rani Lakshmi Bai during the British invasion of 1857. She was the wife of Puran Kori, who was a weaver by profession and they belonged to the Kori caste. The available records that provide light on the history of Jhalkari Bai, testifies to the fact that she served as the hand and heart of the Rani during times of emergency. Jhalkari Bai, who had mastered the art of archery and sword fighting from her husband, was given additional training in shooting and other war tactics by the Rani during the time of the revolt. Puran and Jhalkari together guarded the Unnao gate of the Jhansi fortress during the British attack. This place is now named as “Jhalkari Burj” to commemorate their heroic deeds.

When the fort was surrounded by the army of Hugh Rose, Jhalkari Bai helped the Rani to escape from Jhansi and proceed to Kalpi. Bhavani Shankar Visharad, the first Dalit intellectual to flesh out the biography of Jhalkari Bai, has mentioned in his work “Veerangana Jhalkaribai” that she, who resembled Rani Lakshmi Bai, faced Hugh Rose after the Rani had escaped to Kalpi, and asked him to arrest her. Her intention was to delay the British pursuit of the Rani, so that she could safely reach Kalpi (146). Bhavani Shankar, who had relied upon Brindavan Lal Varma’s work Jhansee Kee Rani and the Bundeli folk lores to portray her biography, observes that the traitor Dulhaju had betrayed her but Hugh Rose, who was impressed by the bravery that she had exhibited, released her (147). Jhalkari Bai has opened up a glorious page in the records of the Revolt of 1857 by helping the Rani escape from Jhansi. Though she did not get any recognition in the annals of history, it was actually this act of Jhalkari Bai that helped the Rani to lead the role of a revolutionary in the Revolt of 1857.

There is a dispute regarding the date of demise of Jhalkari Bai. Relying on the date mentioned by Usha Bande in an online edition of The Tribune, we can say that Jhalkari Bai died in 1890. Bhavani Shankar, who has not mentioned a particular date, affirms that she lived a long life (149). He also comments: “Whatsoever be the truth, there is no doubt that she belonged to Jhansi” (133).

The image of “Virangana” that has been shaped by the reform movements of the nineteenth century as a paradigm of female heroism and valour, can be conferred upon Jhalkari Bai. The icon of “Virangana” has been propagated with the intentions to combat the colonial domination and to put an end to the oppressive attitude towards women, thereby giving a status and respect to them in the society. This image could be conferred upon those women who have the power to overthrow the traditionally accepted reticence in them. They also should have the dexterity to reach to the normally accepted male roles such as facing and winning a battle against the superior domination or to attain martyrdom for their motherland. A “Virangana” could not be placed within the framework of an ordinary female character. To quote Hansen: “This female figure refuses to fit the polarities encompassed by the pairs good woman/ bad woman, chaste/unchaste, self-denying/all-destroying

. . . . The Virangana moves beyond the roles for women prescribed by patriarchal society” (283).The image of Jhalkari Bai fits well in this frame work. The “Virangana” role has been conferred upon her after the 1960s by Dalit activists and a few political parties of North India taking into account her significance in the present socio-political scenario.

Jhalkari Bai can be considered as a prototype of double marginalisation — marginalised on the basis of caste and gender. It is only during the post-Independence period that her name has emerged from oblivion through the efforts of some Dalit activists and political parties. Her image is also utilised to create a movement for the formation of a separate state of Bundelkhand and a Bundeli identity.

Shankar Shah

Shut the mouth of slanderers, bite and eat up backbiters, trample upon Sinners, O the destroyer of enemies!

Kill the British, exterminate them, O Mother Chandi! Let not the enemy escape, nor their wives and children,

O Goddess Sanharaka show favour to Shankar, support your slave Listen up the Mlechhas, make to delay

Now devour them, and that too quickly, O Ghormat Kalika. (qtd. in Singh 69 )

The lines quoted above are the translated version of the verse composed by Shankar Shah, the chief of the Gond tribe of Jabalpur, a place which has a very close influence of Bundelkhand. The verse enlightens the reader or researcher with a few facts about the writer and the socio-political and cultural set-up of the time, which the sophisticated words of a historiographer could hardly bring into the pages of history.The poignancy of the above verse conveys the hatred of Shankar Shah towards the British and moreover his helplessness, for which he invokes the power of Goddess Chandika to exterminate the sinners from his land. This is also a pointer towards the atrocities these foreigners have committed upon the writer, his people and to his land which made him pronounce such sharp words.

Mahasweta Devi, in her biographical work The Queen of Jhansi, had dedicated a few paragraphs to Shankar Shah, the Gond Chief. The Gond kingdom, which was once affluent, lost its glory when the Maratha occupation progressed in Bundelkhand. When the rule of the Gonds ended, the nominal piece of land which the last heir Shankar Shah received was taken away from him by the English, with their invasion. They also forced him into exile to a nearby village.

When disturbances broke out in Jabalpur, the sepoys secretly went to conspire with the exiled chief. When this news reached the British, they appointed spies to watch Shankar Shah and his son Raghunath Shah. A verse invoking Goddess Chandika to kill the British has been discovered in his handwriting. This provoked the British, and both Shankar Shah and his son Raghunath Shah were convicted of treason against the established government and were sentenced to death— ordered to be blown off from the mouths of the cannons on 18 September 1857.

About the retribution conferred on Shankar Shah, Abhijith Dutta in his article on “Public Executions during 1857” comments that the “… barbarous nature of their execution revealed the sadistic side of English justice” (54). The eyewitness reports recorded from the British sources provide a different version from that of the opinion of Dutta furnished above. One such reporter explains how that brutal incident had entertained him. He feels that the punishment provided was apt, as it would serve as a warning to others that similar retribution would befall them if they rebelled against the established rule of law (qtd. in Dutta 55). According to Mahasweta Devi, such cruel incidents stimulated the minds of the natives and “. . . during Hugh Rose’s expedition to Central India, anti-British sepoys and common people were awaiting in rebel camps everywhere under different leaders, throughout Southern Bundelkhand” (134).

Thakur Angad Singh

Angad Singh, who is locally enshrined in Bundeli folk songs, is yet another person who failed to obtain a space in the records of mainstream narratives despite his valorous deeds on the battlefield alongside Rani Lakshmi Bai. He, who had supported the Rani in her anti-British policies, assisted her in the war effort and attained martyrdom. A Bundeli folk song on Thakur Angad Singh, collected and translated by Pankaj Rag, proves the fact that although his voice has been suppressed by mainstream narratives, his name and deeds resonate in parallel narratives. A folk song on Angad Singh is furnished herewith Pankaj Rag’s translation:

Baai Saaheb Jhansi ne thaani laddaike suno mere bhaai/Angad dada unke sang, rom rommen bhari umang/Jaise paani dhare tarang . . .(80)

The translated version is as follows:

The Bai Saaheb of Jhansi launched a war, O listen my brother/ Angad was with her like an elder brother,every part of his body was full of enthusiasm/Like waves on water… (80-81)

“Giris” and “Gosains”

Apart from Rag’s reference on “Giris” and “Gosains” in his work on the oral tradition of 1857, there is little information about these people, who have showcased valorous war strategies during the Mutiny. They were a group of religious men who had shown keen interest in body and muscle-building during the period of the Mutiny. They were recruited into the military wing for their physical prowess during the 19th century. They themselves formed an army to fight against colonial domination. A researcher or a reader of history rarely gets a chance to read about such a group from the established so called “authentic” versions of history. One of the folk songs of 1857 sings about the tussle between Shyamal Giri, who belonged to this group and the British — how Shyamal Giri attacked the British with an army formed of 30,000 sadhus. The folk song on Shyamal Giri furnished below is taken from Pankaj Rag’s work 1857: The Oral Tradition:

Shyamal Giri bhaura in aadham ke Teessahas sadhu le aae

Angrej anpai jamke Kanpur se bhage firangi Phir Bithur jaa chamke Hone lagita k raar raar hai Aaan firangi thamkai

Saat dinon lau bhai ladaai Giri gosaain thum kai Kaat koot kai sabe firangi

Chitra koot pai dhamkai. (92)

The colonial historiographers have failed to carve a niche in the history of Indian Nationalism, to record the achievements of several such revolutionaries who shed their blood for their motherland. The reading of history, without focussing upon its subaltern aspect, does not provide a comprehensive vision. This testifies to the fact that a normal reading of the history of Bundelkhand delivered by a historiographer is not sufficient to get a wholesome view of the Revolt of 1857 in Bundelkhand, for it provides only information regarding elite rebels like Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, Raja Mardan Singh of Banpur or Tantya Tope. To understand the actions and intentions of the locals of Bundelkhand, the oral literature of Bundelkhand, Bundeli folk songs, and even works of the local writers and scholars should be taken into account. These works treat the elites and the non-elites equally, and pays obeisance to all, irrespective of caste, creed, race, colour or gender. One such Bundeli folk song collected and translated by Pankaj Rag illustrates this fact. Furnished below is a part of this song that remembers the forgotten heroes of 1857 Bundelkhand, translated by Pankaj Rag:

Chhatar Singh of Kakarbai O, he became a rebel

O brother, so many of the people also joined. Chhinde and Bhagaune Dauaa

Narpat Singh and Jaanki Dauaa

O brother, they all combined together

O brother, so many of the people also joined. Pandit Sundar Lal Tiwari

Jangi and Ganesjjoo of Bhasneri

O brother, they all became leaders

………………………………………. Adding one to one they became many

They adorned themselves as warriors of an army. (83-84)

The folk songs of 1857 have been fashioned with the sole intention of rousing the people to rage war against colonial domination. This was a social need of the time for the whole mass irrespective of caste, creed or profession. Folk songs are created and sung even today, but as distinct from the earlier mentioned category of folk songs, these “modern” folk songs are created as laudatory hymns or songs of iconisation for each special clan. Such folk forms convey clear visions and notions of the person or party who undertakes its creation. These are primarily created by the political parties to achieve their objectives.Thus each party has a set of folk forms to convey their own needs and visions. The Dalit political parties of North and Central India, such as the BSP and Lok Janshakti Party create such “modern” folk art to suit their needs. The declaration of a Dalit folk actor named Suman Kumar of Banaras, asserts the truth of the above statement. According to him, “We are creating our own narratives and establishing our own heroes” (qtd. in Narayan 70).

Gillis is of the opinion that “Commemoration has been a political process: what was memorialised reflected the interests of the official elites who made invisible the contributions of women, workers and ethnic minorities” ( Leoussi 48). In the current socio-political scenario, the statement made by Gillis can be read with a slight change that commemoration, which has been a political process, is applicable to both the marginalised and the elite classes. Badri Narayan narrates how the birth and death anniversaries of Jhalkari Bai are being celebrated in grandeur in Jhansi by the Dalit political parties. Worship would be held before the statue of Jhalkari Bai, which had been erected by the BSP Party in front of the fort of Rani Lakshmi Bai. The statue on those days would be adorned with vermillion and flowers (84). They have composed even a prayer song on Jhalkari Bai to honour and venerate her as the new goddess of Jhansi, who had once liberated them from the fetters of foreign domination. Such songs were printed in the form of pamphlets and distributed among the masses who attended the political meetings of BSP, the main idea behind which is to build up an image of Mayawati, comparable to Jhalkari Bai, who once saved the people from the shackles of slavery and exploitation (Narayan 31). While the BSP celebrates the memory of Jhalkari Bai, the myth and memory of Rani Lakshmi Bai is commemorated by the BJP. They too have written poems and songs on Rani Lakshmi Bai and have their own modes of its transmission. Through such means they see to it that the political and religious ideologies of the party are achieved (Narayan 114).

The mainstream history and narratives have dedicated little space in commemorating the deeds and experiences of the marginalised communities. Hence they create “… popular (hi) stories based on their role in the process of nation making” (Narayan 92). Narayan criticises this attitude of Subaltern literature by pointing out that in such narratives, while carving a space for themselves, the marginalised try to project themselves as greater nationalists than the elites who have already been accorded a space in the nationalist narratives by the mainstream or colonial historian (93). To carry out this aim they attempt to tarnish the image of the elite leaders projected by the historians.

N. K. Jose who has assumed the pseudonym “Dalit Bandhu” condemns the manoeuvres and strategies adopted by Rani Lakshmi Bai, Tantya Tope, Nana Sahib and the Begum of Oudh during the period of the mutiny in his work Shipayi Lahala: Oru Dalit Munnettam. He points out that Rani Lakshmi Bai and the Begum of Oudh had joined forces in the mutiny because their ruling spaces had been seised from them by the dominating colonial powers (74). Through his narration he directly points out to the reader that after the mutiny that was officially designated as the “Sepoy Mutiny” by the British had concluded, the sepoys who worked and toiled as the ground force of the mutiny has been totally eliminated from the pages of history. Later, the history was formatted in such a way that Jhansi Rani is depicted as the “leader”, Nana Sahib as the “commander” and Tantya Tope as the real “brain” of the mutiny. The actual role played by the sepoys is still under investigation (60). Tapti Roy explains the reason why the voice of the “people”, the real force behind the leaders is lost during the construction of the history.

The reason lies in the very nature and purpose of official reporting. The state was concerned above all with locating the nodal points of rebellion which were believed to exist around some principal instigators or organisers. It is by locating these leaders of rebellion that the state expected to proceed to stem the tide of the revolt and eventually to crush it. It was the degree of threat posed by such nodal points of rebellion which determined to what extent the official narrative would become individualised. Not surprisingly, therefore, leaders and dominant groups feature in greater personalised detail in the records than do the masses of ordinary people (196).

The personalities discussed in this paper have become rebels or revolutionaries by their force of mind and experience. Contrary to the common notion of a “leader” in its stereotypical version, they are the common people who do not come under the framework of law making, ruling or leadership. A subaltern historiographer probes into the core of the society and the social elements more diligently than a mainstream historiographer who only attempts a perusal of the crust facts. While a mainstream historiographer tries to marginalise the historical facts and a Marxian historiographer labels the history under class and social structure, a subaltern historiographer centralises the marginalised facts devoid of any labels. This history from the margins had been shaped in a different ideological tendency, devoid of the outline drawn by the earlier historiographers. This makes the history focussed from a subaltern angle appear different from the colonial history promulgated by the colonial historiographer.

It has become a binding point that the subaltern historiography should be read along the lines of the elitist historiography. On a heedful investigation by a researcher it would become vibrant that, though each of these genres — the mainstream / elitist and the subaltern versions of historiography appear as a separate entity on its first outlook. Factually both are partial and imperfect without each other’s support. One aspect needs the support of the other for a complete and wholesome vision of the historiography.The history created within each of these frame works has its own individual configurations and practices. Ranajit Guha points out in the opening series of Subaltern Studies that, elitism of the modern Indian historiography is an oppressive fact that is resented by the students, writers and academicians. Many other historiographical points of view are likely to converge into a single point and each one has to promote such a convergence to propagate the clarity of one’s own view (7).

As in the case of the historiography of the Revolt of 1857 in Bundelkhand, the history at first should be read and thought about separately in each angle — elitist, subaltern, Marxian and colonial. Later each of these thought processes should be brought into a single point of convergence as advocated by Guha (7). From this point of convergence the reader or the researcher can flesh out a historiography of the revolt that suits to his own ideologies. Since the researcher had analyzed all the possible facades of historiography in this methodology, the history that he has configured does not lack much of its significant aspects.


1. Folk Songs are oral narratives and hence the line numbers and stanza forms of these verses cannot be taken to be authentic. Hence the numbers that are given within the parentheses at the end of each verse are the page numbers in which these songs appear in the text, as against the MLA Style of noting the line numbers.

2. The lines quoted from the text Shipayi Lahala: Oru Dalit Munnettam by Dalit Bandhu [N.K. Jose] is a free hand translation by the researcher of this paper.


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SWETHA CHANDRAN. Is Research Scholar at the Institute of English, University of Kerala.

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Is Research Scholar at the Institute of English, University of Kerala.

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