Hindi writer Badri Narayan
puts together a riveting narrative of the role of dalits during the 1857 revolt. As with any historical narrative, it is as much an attempt to re- write the past as it is to bring a historical perspective to contemporary struggles and claims to the nation.
Although we know that the colonial archive has been created guided by the needs of the colonizers, yet these narratives function as rays of light in the search for the role of dalits in the 1857 revolt. The narratives around dalit identity which the dalits are using to prove their role in the 1857 revolt are also based on the colonial archives that enlist the names of the people who were hanged for their role in the revolt, since the mainstream nationalist Indian history completely ignores the contribution of dalits in the revolt. For example Matadin Bhangi, a sweeper in the British army at Barrackpore, who is claimed by the dalits to have spearheaded the 1857 revolt since he was the first to make Mangal Pandey, the mainstream nationalist originator of the revolt, aware of the fact that the cartridges were greased with cow fat, has been overlooked by the official record of the revolt. However that he was not a figment of the imagination of the dalits can be proved by the colonial archives that show that he was hanged to death for participating in the revolt. In the same vein there is another myth about a dalit hero of the 1857 revolt which is popular in the oral memories of the region adjoining Kanpur and Bithoor. This is the myth of Gangu Mehtar who is also known as Gangu Baba. The people of that region say that Gangu Baba was a Bhangi who worked as a drum beater (nagarchi) in the army of Nana Saheb. He was built extremely powerfully and was also a wrestler. He himself owned a wrestling ring where many youths practiced wrestling under his tutelage. During the 1857 revolt Gangu Baba fought against the British along with his students at a place near Satichaura and killed many of them. After the revolt was quelled he was arrested by the British and hanged to death. The story of Gangu baba has transcended from the real world into the ethereal world and there is a popular story about him that is still circulated among the people in the region where he died which establish his supernatural qualities.
Link to Pratilipi via Publisher’s Post.