Agra, being one of the oldest settlements of India, possesses remarkable contributions in political, economic, industrial, and social history of the country. Likewise, the city has always been ahead in the freedom struggle against the colonial British forces and has its own major role in igniting the spark of rebellion in the revolution of 1857.
According to many myths and ancient stories, Agra is settled from the time of Pandavas and Kauravas, but on the basis of various authentic historical facts, historians believe that the work of bringing Agra into the light of history was done by Sultan Sikandar of the Lodi dynasty. In 1494 AD, Sultan Sikandar Lodi started establishing the city on the banks of the Yamuna river and issued a decree to name it Agra. By his order in 1504, the capital of India was shifted from Delhi to Agra.
The British rule over Agra lasted about 150 years from 1803 to 1947. The history of the city in these years has been written as the glorious tale of the ceaseless struggle of the citizens of Agra against the British. It took myriads of unmatched sacrifices of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, labourers, students, teachers, farmers, traders, government employees, women, and children of Agra to break the shackles of English slavery.
The Agra Fort was captured by the British in October 1803. At that time, a slow flame was smouldering against their oppression in the whole of India. In 1823, on the basis of the Parliament Act, Agra Presidency was formed and Lord C. T. Metcalfe was appointed as the first governor. In 1824, Lord Hastings sent precious stones, glasses, and other items of Agra Fort’s Sheesh Mahal to England. In 1828, Lord Bentinck auctioned off the rest of the valuables of Sheesh Mahal. The British were not paying the full value of their products to the Agra factory workers, forcing labour from the workers, imposing Christian education on the students, etc. This was inculcating anger and aversion among the people. The result of this was Agra’s inclusion in the 1857 freedom struggle.
From time to time, apart from the ambassador of the king and the leader of the revolution Bahadur Shah Zafar, Nana Saheb, Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah, Tantya Tope, and the general of the queen of Jhansi, Azimullah Khan, etc. used to incite the civilians against the tyranny of the British. Mangal Pandey blew the bugle of the revolt of 1857 in Meerut. On May 1, 1857, preparations were made for the revolt in Agra. On 22 May, Mirza Jawan Bakht, the prince of Delhi’s emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, came to Agra and at his behest, a fierce fire was set on the infantry hospital. This was the first sign of the freedom struggle in Agra. Maulvi Raisuddin, Imam Shah Shujaullah, Rahmat Ali Khan, Kripashankar, Gorelal Contractor, and others participated in this act.
After this, British troops and rebels from Meerut, Neemuch, Mathura, Aligarh, Hathras, and Mainpuri started reaching Agra. There were fierce battles between them at many places on the way. A meeting of the freedom fighters of this region was held under the chairmanship of Thakur Laxman Singh Chauhan on May 1, 1857, where it was announced to wage a war against the foreign rule. Under this program, the treasury of the tehsil was looted. Jats and Kshatriyas had opened their front in Chulhavali. Under the leadership of Mr. Rukum Singh and Thakur Dhiri Singh, the Mukti soldiers taught a lesson to the British but after several days of fierce battle, Mukti soldiers were defeated. Ten of the leaders were arrested and hanged, along with seven others being sentenced to life imprisonment. The fort of Chulhavali was blown up with a cannon and all seven lands were confiscated. At the same time, a contingent of Muslims and Jats led by the Zamindar of Runkata, Shabd Beg Khan, killed ten Britishers. After the crime was proven, twelve soldiers including Shabd Baig Khan, Abdullah Baig Khan, Inayat Ali Khan, and Rahim Baksh were gunned down.
By July 4, 1857, India’s freedom struggle had completely spread throughout the country. The pressure on revolutionaries was increasing in and around Agra. Revolutionaries demolished government buildings and started heavy vandalism. A lot of Agra Colleges (government building) and Tehsil were blown up by cannons. An officer of the Sindhi army posted in Agra to look after the British administration was murdered. At this time Agra had become an important center for the enthusiasm of the patriots. The Muslim community was openly taking a front with other revolutionaries. Qureshis, Mewatis, Pathans, and other ancestries vowed to destroy the foreign rule completely. A contingent of 80 Muslims, led by Sultan Ali, armed with guns, spears, and swords, marched towards Keetham where the British army was reported to have assembled. By this time, the Indian police under the British had also started helping the revolutionaries. Finally, the government police also went to war with the revolutionaries on the 6th of July. The Kotwal of the city, Muhammad Murad Ali, flouting all the English orders, declared independence in the city and declared a revolution, as the collector of the district. A concatenation of several significant events took place in Agra that played vital roles in strengthening the revolution of 1857.
Syed Ilham Jafri is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Maria Aqdas