The Freedom of Jhansi
After Kalpi the next important fort
to defy the British might was Jhansi. 'Surrender my Jhansi? I will not.
Let him try to take who dares' - Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi had thrown this
challenge. She had put up a heroic resistance. The British led by Sir Hugh
Rose, an experienced general, besieged the fort of Jhansi. The fort was
pressed hard on all sides. All the points of entrance and exit were blocked.
But Lakshmibai could not be cowed down. The twenty-three-year old widow
and the handful of her soldiers faced all the dangers of the battle. The
goddess of war, Lakshmibai, with her drawn sword, shone above one and all.
Sir Hugh Rose, here nemy and the hero of a hundred baffles, called her
'The best and the bravest'.
The news of the heroic resistance by
Rani Lakshmibai thrilled Tatia Tope. That proud
Rani was none other than the playmate
of his childhood 'Chabili'. He was filled with joy. But this joy was short-lived.
A message came from Jhansi that the fort was in danger. It had been hard
pressed by Sir Hugh Rose. The supplies had been cut. Jhansi had no food,
no troops and no arms. The fall of Jhansi and the capture of the Rani appeared
certain. She had urged Tatia Tope to help her.
Tatia could not resist this appeal.
Now the first concern of Tatia Tope was to relieve
Jhansi. Every moment was precious.
He mobilised the army. Tatia marched at the head of a large army of twenty-two
thousand. He was on the road to Jhansi, which was crying for help. Tatia
kindled fires in the jungle, which told the Rani in advance that he was
coming. The people trapped inside had passed many anxious hours. What a
relief Tatia's approaching army gave them!
But Jhansi was luckless. Sir Hugh Rose
proved quite a match. He gave grim battle.
Tatia's army suffered a terrible defeat.
Tatia fought like a tiger but his army did not
prove worthy of its master. It could
hardly be called an army. It was mostly a collection of cowards who had
fled from battles, an unorganized crowd of sepoys. They did not share Tatia's
passion for the cause. At one blow the army fell like a pack of cards.
The sepoys fled. Their guns fell into the hands of the enemy. Those guns
were now turned against Jhansi itself. Tatia had to retreat to Kalpi and
save as many men as he could. The defeat dashed every hope of victory.
Tatia Tope's mission to rescue Jhansi
had failed. The fall of Jhansi was now a question of time. Sir Hugh Rose
had aimed at holding the Rani as his captive. But the Rani was feadess.
Dressed as a warrior, she marched down the fort and in the middle of the
night slipped out of the fort. When the British discovered it, they went
in quick pursuit. The Rani crossed swords with those who followed her to
catch her. Their chief Dowker was rewarded with a terrible wound. Her horse
riced on the road towards Kalpi. Before the day broke Rani Lakshmibai of
Jhansi entered Kalpi.
Lakshmibai and Tatia Tope met.
Sir Hugh Rose turned his attention
to Kalpi. As the seat of Tatia Tope Kalpi was
mocking the might of the British.
It was time for him to strike. So with a large army he marched to Kalpi
and stormed the fort. Tatia Tope and Lakshmibai fought every inch. But
the tide had turned. After a series of battles Kalpi fell. Wealth and military
supplies in huge quantities fell into the hands of the British. Years of
sweat and toil were rendered utterly useless.
The rebel sepoys became desperate.
They saw no sign of hope anywhere. But Tatia's spirit was undimmed. As
soon as Kalpi fell Tatia disappeared. He had gone to Gwalior secretly.
Gwalior was a Maratha kingdom. He had contacts there. He got into touch
with the troops there. He stirred up their patriotic feelings. His burning
patriotism moved every one. In no time he could rally them under the flag
of freedom. The 'loyal' friends of the British, the king and the minister,
had to run away. The British camp was still celebrating the victory of
Kalpi when Tatia's capture of Gwalior took it by, surprise. Kalpi after
Kanpur, and Gwalior after Kalpi - what a sensation Tatia had created! The
sepoys began to beat their war drums from their new center-Gwalior.
Sir Hugh Rose acted quickly. Losing
no time he made a bold bid for the recapture of the fort. The fort was
attacked on June 18, 1858. Tatia and the Rani took the lead. They left
no stone unturned. But defeat was in store. And what a defeat it was!Rani
Lakshmibai was wounded on the chest. Her right eyeball came out. To avoid
being captured she made good her escape on horseback. Blood was dripping
from her delicate body. But the British were in hot pursuit. She ran and
ran. But the end was inevitable. Wounded and bleeding, bathed in blood,
she at last dropped dead. The death of the Rani paralysed the sepoys fighting
for freedom. Tatia Tope was rendered friendless.
The last stage had came. The flames
of the revolution had begun to die down. The rebel leaders vanished. The
sepoys were dispersed. No king was prepared to help Tatia. He was single-handed.
Hopes of victory had been changed into certainty of defeat. He could see
the noose round his neck. Yet his undaunted spirit refused to accept defeat.
Give up the fight? No, never.
The most dangerous of the rebels, Tatia,
was still at large. To the British he was the
enemy number one. Eight war veterans
had already been in pursuit of the man for eight months, trying to catch
him. But he eluded them all. Cities, forests, valleys and
deserts-he wandered everywhere. Here
today and their tomorrow, he would appear
where he was least expected. When
everything was lost he could still raise one more army, risk one more battle,
suffer one more defeat, but fight he would. He could cross the Narmada
in full floods. How he could accomplish such a feat, only God knew. He
was a living legend!
The struggle for Swaraj had failed
dismally. Queen Victoria had made a proclamation. The rebel sepoys were
given full pardon. They were asked to lay down the arms. Taking advantage
of it many rebels surrendered themselves to save their lives.
Tatia Tope was in a miserable plight,
without any army, without any fort, without hope of any help from any quarter.
Nizam of Hyderabad had once promised
help but refused to honor his promise. The
Scindhia, the ruler of Gwalior, had
rejected the hand of friendship. Defeat and despair
greeted him everywhere.
The flames of 1857 had ended in smoke.
There was but one burning flame - 'Tatia Tope'. He had fought one hundred
and fifty battles, big and small. He had kept more than ten thousand British
soldiers on their toes. His sword had put to death many a renowned general.
The English dreaded him most. 'The Devil' they used to call him.
But now he was helpless, a tiger without
claws. He had no foothold anywhere, no place to hide no roof to sleep under.
He was a hunted lion. His pursuers were many. They vied with one another
for the credit of catching the arch-rebel. Tafia carded a big prize on
his head. Any clue to his capture would bring a great reward. Any show
of sympathy would invite British wrath. Day and night Tatia hadto run from
place to place.
He had but two ways open to him. He
had either to fight and die fighting or to follow in
the footsteps of others that surrendered
to the British, begging for mercy.
Surrender? Oh, no! Tatia would prefer
death to dishonor. No doubt Tatia had been
defeated but his spirit had remained
unbroken. It was unbreakable.
In that hour of despair Tatia remembered
his old friend, Man Singh. Man Singh had
formerly been a Sirdar in the Gwalior
army. He had deserted his king to join the
revolution. Tatia Tope had welcomed
him, helped him, and had honored him. In
search of shelter he came to the forest
of Paron where Man Singh was hiding. Tatia'
believed that forest to be the safest