As per the documents still retained by surviving members of his clan, the date when Mangal Pandey was born presumably was 19th July 1827. These details are arrived at by calculating backwards from the Hindu calendar, the Vikram Samvat, followed by Indian astrology.
The Vikram Samvat Era commenced from 57 A.D. According to these calculations, Mangal Pandey's birth took place on the second Friday of Ashadh Shukl. This can only be July, as Ashadh covers the period from 15th July to 15th August. Besides these possibilities, very little is known about Mangal's early life in historical records.
The village in which young Mangal Pandey spent his early life was Surhurpur. The village was a small sleepy hamlet, with a dusty rustic look. Divakar Pandey, Mangal's father actually belonged to another village-Dugvaan-Rahimpur in Faizabad Tehsil. He had settled in Surhurpur as his father-in-law had no male heir. The village property thus was bequeathed to the son-in-law.
Divakar Pandey's circumstances must have been pressing-it was still not normal for a Brahmin son-in-law to accept the status of a ghar jamai (resident son-in-law). Hindu property laws did not grant property rights to women. Hence Divakar's move to his wife's village must have denoted a change in convention.
The 1820s were not easy times for Uttar Pradesh's rural society. The textile industry was a major component of artisan production and probably accounted for between 20 to 30 per cent of the total artisan population of towns and villages. By the nineteenth century rich markets like Delhi and Agra had collapsed.
Tanda falls within Akbarpur Tehsil. Tanda's flourishing industry was alive when Mangal Pandey was in his early boyhood stages. The village society of Surhurpur was middle class if not prosperous. Divakar Pandey in fact represented the typical enterprising peasant till then not tormented by a high revenue demand.
Unlike the rest of Uttar Pradesh, Oudh was still an independent entity. Its citizens were proud of this fact, as they were wary of the British East India Company's intentions. Traders and peasants alike had suffered in areas where the Company had taken over the administration directly. There seemed to be, in fact, a reverse logic in the Company's evolution-it started off as a trading article. Then with the passage of time, it began acquiring territories to 'protect its trading interests'. But the acquisitions soon turned into loot, which undermined production and manufacture. Then the administrative question came along. Under native rule-even the post Mughal regimes and small sovereignties-there was a direct link between trade and revenue. The revenue extracted from the peasantry from the state was ploughed back in the form of buying back of village and artisan produce. The jajmani system of exchange still prevailed in most parts of the Upper Ganges or the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Hence, buying back by the state in luxury consumption and essential commodities to feed its bureaucracy and its army led to the rotation of exchange and money within the village society. Mangal Pandey's father would habitually bring home a cow every year, purchased from the produce from his land. He used to give lavish parties, especially on Holi and Diwali.
During his early life, Mangal Pandey's society was quite composite. He had Nakki Khan, a boy of his own age, the son of the village Maulavi as his friend. Muslims came over to his house regularly. They were welcomed with open arms and fed non-vegetarian food in separate dishes. Divakar Pandey took Mangal to various Muslim fairs held at dargahs. Mangal's sister who was to die later in the 1830s famine was fond of bangles and her favourite were the red and green ones very popular at the dargah of Ghazi Baba in Bahraich district.
It was in Bahraich that a young Mangal Pandey first witnessed a display of British cruelty. His age is not clear, but the times were of want and suffering. Nakki Khan had gone to relieve himself in a field when a British officer's horse, chasing a hunt, almost trampled him. The Muslim ran for his life. He was, however, caught and despite Divakar Pandey's pleadings and offerings of money was caned for the 'offence'.
East India Company's role was limited to administration and maintaining law and order only. But then, the Company was not a state, it was a trading firm. The Company acquired monopolies to resolve this dilemma. But the link between revenue and trade was snapped. Revenue was reserved exclusively for shoring up the state machinery. The Company was a poor buyer. Its trade monopolies did not exist in the same area from where the revenue was being extracted.
In Company acquisition, the Indian peasantry lost out due to heavy revenue demand. The manufactures and traders also lost because they were barred politically from competing. This was perhaps one of the most vicious instruments. It was an early example of how a foreign power uses indigenous state power to beat back indigenous competition in the name of free trade policies.
Mangal Pandey's early life and world was far from these heavy thoughts. The Oudh state was still a buyer, albeit a declining one. The jajmani system was yet to be torn apart. Oudh also, as Mangal was to learn, was the most ancient of Indian societies-it carried an ethical responsibility.
The famine of 1830, which claimed Mangal Pandey's sister, was a direct result of the closure of indigenous states and market, the drying up of purchasing power in towns and cities. The administration did not acknowledge the large-scale dead and devastation. Divakar Pandey had taken Mangal's sister to a relative's place in Basti district, which shared its border with Oudh. Basti was Company territory. Under the Nawabs it was a prosperous trading town in sugar and rice. Then after the withdrawal of Company investment following free trade dogma, Basti's economy collapsed. Divakar Pandey's sister was married in Basti. When he reached her village he found her mad, raving and ranting for food and her husband dead from a mysterious disease.
The disease turned out to be cholera. There were no medicines available, as the local Ayurveda doctors had either died or fled and British doctors were of course not available. The local police did not allow Divakar Pandey to venture back to Oudh. The pretext was a massive manhunt launched to nab a dreaded bandit. The bandit was actually a daredevil peasant who had taken to banditry in famine conditions. But there was also a more sinister design. Basti authorities had decided upon a policy of confining outsiders in Basti even if they die in order to block the message of the terrible famine leaking out.
Divakar Pandey could have sneaked out, but he preferred to try save his sister. He sacrificed his daughter in the bargain. When he finally returned to Oudh, he proclaimed proudly that he tried his best to help people and did not let a father's affection come in the way of duty. Then he broke down and wept uncontrollably.
Mangal Pandey saw his father's humiliation.. He told Nakki Khan of a plan to run away to Basti and see the spot where his sister was cremated. He managed to reach the Faizabad border. But before he could proceed, a group of Indian sepoys (soldiers) in red coats stopped him.
Mangal pleaded with them. In spite of his imploring, they would not hear of letting the friends proceed further. An elderly Muslim sepoy gave Nakki and Mangal sweets and drinks. Mangal was highly pleased by the treatment. Then he saw sepoys beating peasants who were trying to cross over to Oudh.
In an instance, a young Mangal Pandey was privy to two sides of the sepoys. One section was beating the peasants, while the section led by the elderly Muslim tried stopping them. Then bandits appeared from all sides. They exhorted the sepoys to leave the peasants. The sepoys replied they were Company servants bound by their military oath of loyalty and salt. Mangal Pandey saw the Muslim sepoy (soldier) urging his comrades to be lenient on the peasants. Some of them listened; some did not. Some wept at their predicament.
The sepoy dilemma that Mangal Pandey witnessed during his early life, was to haunt him till death. Later he described the red coats as beautifully clothed, armed men, full of honour and resolve. That day Mangal told his father and Nakki that he would become a sepoy. Divakar laughed, but Nakki was grim. He told Mangal that his Maulavi father had denounced all sepoys as British toadies. The British had conquered India through Indian arms and men, dazzled by the power of the Brown Bess musket and the colour of their suits.
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