Mangal Pandey (19 July 1827 – 8 April 1857) was a sepoy (en.soldier) in the 34th Regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) of the English East India Company. He is widely known in India as one of its first freedom fighters. The Indian government has issued an Indian Postage Stamp to commemorate him as a distinguished freedom fighter. Beyond that his life and actions have also been adapted to the silver screen
Mangal Pandey was born on 19 July 1827 in the village Nagwa, of Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh of India to a Bhumihar Brahmin family.
He joined the East India Company’s forces in 1849 at the age of 22. Pandey was part of the 6th Company of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry and is primarily known for his involvement in an attack on several of the regiment’s officers. This incident marked an opening stage in what came to be known as the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 or the First War of Indian Independence. It is said that Pandey was a devout Hindu who practiced his religion diligently.
The 1857 incident
At Barrackpore on the afternoon of March 29, 1857, Lieutenant Baugh, Adjutant of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI), was informed that several men of his regiment were in an excited state. Further, it was reported to him that one of them, Mangal Pandey, was pacing in front of the regiment’s guard room by the parade ground, armed with a loaded musket, calling upon the men to rebel and threatening to shoot the first European he set his eyes on. Baugh immediately buckled on his sword, placed loaded pistols in his holsters, mounted his horse, and galloped to the lines. Pandey took position behind the station gun, which was in front of the quarter-guard of the 34th, took aim at Baugh and fired. He missed Baugh, but the bullet struck his horse in the flank, and horse and rider were brought down. Baugh quickly disentangled himself and, seizing one of his pistols, advanced towards Pandey and fired. He missed. Before Baugh could draw his sword, Pandey attacked him with a talwar (a heavy Indian sword) and closing with the adjutant, slashed him on the shoulder and neck and brought him to the ground. It was then that another sepoy, Shaikh Paltu, intervened and tried to restrain Pandey even as he tried to reload his musket.
English Sergeant-Major Hewson, had arrived on the ground, summoned by a native officer, before Baugh. He had ordered Jemadar Ishwari Prasad, the Indian officer in command of the quarter-guard, to arrest Mangal Pandey. To this, the jemadar expostulated that his NCOs had gone for help and that he could not take Pandey by himself. At this, Hewson ordered Ishwari Prasad to fall in his guard with loaded weapons. In the meantime, Baugh had arrived on the field shouting ‘Where is he? Where is he?’ Hewson called out to Baugh, ‘Ride to the right, Sir, for your life. The sepoy will fire at you! At that point Pandey fired.
Hewson had charged towards Pandey as he was fighting with Lieutenant Baugh. He then locked in combat with Pandey and was knocked to the ground from behind by a blow from Pandey’s musket. The sound of the firing had brought other sepoys from the barracks; they remained mute spectators. At this juncture, Shaikh Paltu, while trying to defend the two Englishmen called upon the other sepoys to assist him. Assailed by other sepoys, who threw stones and shoes at his back, he called on the guard to help him hold Pandey, but they threatened to shoot him if he did not let go of Pandey.
Some of the sepoys of the quarter-guard then advanced and struck at the two prostrate officers. They then threatened Shaikh Paltu and ordered him to release Pandey, whom he had been vainly trying to hold back. However, Paltu continued to hold Pandey until Baugh and the sergeant-major had had time to get up.Himself wounded by now, Paltu was obliged to loosen his grip. He backed away in one direction and Baugh and Hewson in another, while being struck with the butt ends of the guards’ muskets.
In the meantime, report of the incident had been carried to the commanding officer General Hearsey, who then galloped to the ground with his two sons. Taking in the scene, he rode up to the guard, drew his pistol and ordered them to do their duty by seizing Mangal Pandey. The General threatened to shoot the first man who disobeyed. The men of the guard fell in and followed Hearsey towards Pandey. Pandey then put the muzzle of the musket to his breast and discharged it by pressing the trigger with his foot. He collapsed bleeding and with his regimental jacket on fire but not mortally wounded.
Pandey recovered and was brought to trial less than a week later. When asked whether he had been under the influence of any substances, he admitted to having used bhang (cannabis) and opium of late. He pleaded to not knowing what he was doing when intoxicated. He stated steadfastly that he had mutinied on his own accord and that none had played any role in egging him on. When asked to defend himself, he said, “I did not know what I was doing. I did not know who I wounded and who I did not. What more shall I say? I have nothing more to say. I have no evidence”. He was sentenced to death by hanging along with the jemadar after three Sikh members of the quarter-guard testified that the latter had ordered them not to arrest Pandey”.
Mangal Pandey’s execution was scheduled for April 18, but was carried out ten days before that date. Jemadar Ishwari Prasad was executed by hanging on April 21
The 34th B.N.I. Regiment was disbanded “with disgrace” on May 6 as a collective punishment, after an investigation by the government, for failing to perform their duty in restraining a mutinous soldier and protecting their officer. This came after a period of six weeks while petitions for leniency were examined in Calcutta. Shaikh Paltu was promoted on the spot to the post of Havaldar (native sergeant) by General Hearsey, for his conduct during the incident.
The Indian historian Surendra Nath Sen notes that the 34th B.N.I. had had a good recent record and that the Court of Enquiry had not found any evidence of a connection with unrest at Berhampur involving the 19th B.N.I. four weeks before (see below). However, Mangal Pandey’s actions and the failure of the armed and on-duty sepoys of the quarter-guard to take action convinced the British military authorities that the whole regiment was unreliable. It appeared that Pandey had acted without first taking other sepoys into his confidence but that antipathy towards their British officers within the regiment had led most of those present to act as spectators rather than obey orders.