Mangal Pande (July 19, 1827, died: 8 April 1857),
Also known as Shaheed Mangal Pande (Shaheed means martyr in Arabic and Hindustani), was a sepoy (soldier) in the 34th Regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) of the British East India Company.
Pande was born in the village of Nagwa in district Ballia, Uttar Pradesh. There is some dispute over his exact place of birth. One account (Misra, 2005, see below) claims that Mangal Pandey was born in a Bhumihar brahmin family to Divakar Pandey of Surhupur village of Faizabad district’s Akbarpur Tehsil. He joined the British East India Company forces in 1849 at the age of 22, as per this account. Pandey was part of 5th Company of the 34th BNI regiment. He is primarily known for attacking his British officers in an incident that sparked what is known to the British as the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and to Indians as the First War of Indian Independence.
Since the attack was not a result of personal grudges but rather driven by ideological (religious/patriotic) motives, in India Pande is widely considered to be the First Warrior in India’s long struggle for independence from the British rule. Some contemporary accounts suggest that Pande was under the influence of bhang (cannabis) at the time of this incidence. This claim however should be treated with a certain degree of reservation as it is not based on independent accounts. Moreover, this claim, even if true, does not rule out the possibility that Mangal Pandey could have been harboring a general grudge against the British rule in India that came to fore while under the influence of a drug. A further proof of his non-personal motives is delivered by accounts of British officers present at the scene. They recorded in numerous books that Pande used four-letter words for the British in general and incited his comrades to rise against the company rule..
.At Barrackpore (now Barrackpur), near Calcutta on March 29, 1857, Pande attacked and injured his British sergeant on the parade ground, and wounded an adjutant with a sword after shooting at him, but instead hitting the adjutant’s horse. He was however attacked by a native soldier called Shaikh Paltu who prevented him from killing the adjutant and later the sergant-major.
When General Joyce Hearsay ordered the Jemadar of the troops, a man called Ishari Pande, to arrest him, the Jemadar refused, as did the rest of the company except Shaikh Paltu. Mangal then turned the gun against himself, and used his foot to try to pull the trigger to shoot himself.
He failed, was captured and sentenced to death along with the Jemadar. Mangal Pandey was hanged on April 8. His execution was scheduled for April 18, but he was summarily executed 10 days prior to the date, fearing the possibility of a larger-scale revolt. The Jemadar Ishari Pandey was executed on April 22. The whole regiment was dismissed “with disgrace” on 6th May as a collective punishment, because it was felt that they harboured ill-feelings against their superiors. Other sepoys of the Bengal Army thought this was a harsh punishment. Shaikh Paltu was promoted on the spot to the post of a Havaldar (native sergant) by General Hearsay
The primary motivation behind Mangal’s behavior is attributed to a new type of bullet cartridge used in the Enfield P-53 rifle introduced in the Bengal Army that year.
The cartridge was rumored to be greased with animal fat (primarily pig and cow fat, which are not consumed by either Hindus or Muslims, the primary religions in the Bengal Army) . The cartidges had to be bitten to remove the cover, and that was abhorrent to the soldiers. The general feeling was that this was intentional on the part of the British, to defile their religions.
Commandant Wheler of the 34th BNI was known as a zealous Christian preacher, and this may also have impacted the Company’s behaviour. The husband of Captain Wilma Halliday of 56th BNI had the Bible printed in Urdu and Nagri and distributed among the sepoys, thus convincing them that the British were intent on converting them to Christianity .
Also, the 19th and 34th Bengal Native Infantry were stationed at Lucknow during the time of annexation of Awadh (anglicised to Oudh) under the Doctrine of Lapse on February 7, 1856.
The annexation had another implication for sepoys in the Bengal Army (a significant portion of whom came from that princely state). Before the annexation these sepoys had the right to petition the British Resident at the Awadh in Lucknow for justice – a significant privilege in the context of native courts. As a result of the annexation they lost that right, since that state no longer existed. Moreover, this action was seen by the residents of Awadh as an upfront by the British, as the annexation was done in violation of an existing treaty.
Thus, it was quite natural that sepoys were affected by the general discontent which was aroused with the annexation. In February 1857, both these regiments were situated in Barrakpur.
The 19th Regiment is important because it was the regiment charged with testing the new cartridges on February 26, 1857. The sepoys in that regiment refused, when ordered to fire . The whole regiment was dismissed with dishonour from service in order to post an exemplary punishment.