The Battle of Chinhat
An important victory for the `rebels’ of 1857, the Battle of Chinhat has all but been completely effaced from history. 158 years ago, on the morning of June 30, 1857, British officer Sir Henry Lawrence received reports of a force of insurgents making their way to Oudh. Resolved to ambush the rebels, he led his troops to the village of Chinhat.
An easy victory was certain and the East India Company’s officers had advanced ahead of the Kukrail bridge when they were suddenly fired at by sepoys hiding among mango groves at Chinhat. Led by Barkat Ahmad, a highly trained mutineer of the Company’s Army and joined by a number of Indian sepoys who defected from the Army on the site, the rebels had managed to completely outflank the British.
What followed was a battle that would force the company’s officers to beat a hasty retreat and take shelter in the Residency, where they would be held captive until September 1857.
The British officers and their families at the Residency had not expected the `mutiny’ to be of this magnitude. G Harris, the wife of an officer in the British East India Company, wrote in her diary on June 30, 1857, “Early this morning, we found that a small force of 300, with seven guns, was going out to meet the advanced guard of the enemy. When they reached the village of Chinhut, they found the rebel army amounting to between 12,000 and 15,000.”
“The siege of the Residency had been initiated by the sepoys from Chinhat and Lawrence’s death was the first important British casualty in the history of the mutiny,” says Prof TK Roy Choudhury, a historian, who has done extensive research on The first war of Independence.
While the siege of the Residency is fairly well-documented, the events at Chinhat have been lost in the annals of state libraries and archive divisions.
Noted historian Roshan Taqui believes the reason for this to be the great embarrassment that the crushing defeat was to the British. “This was the first time that Indian troops were seen as a force to be reckoned with. In any record by the British of the events at Lucknow in 1857, you will find numerous descriptions of the valour of the Company’s forces against the `rebels’. The loss at Chinhat has been treated as a mere transgression and an unfortunate miscalculation.”
However, telegrams sent by officers stationed in Lucknow at the time tell a different story. Documents at UP State Archives show this defeat was not the mere unfortunate skirmish it has been made out to be.
Writing from the Residency on the day it was besieged, Harris states in her diary, “Our unfortunate troops were taken at a disadvantage, obliged to fly back in terrible disorder, leaving nearly 200 killed and wounded. At nine o’clock, we were in a state of siege…”
Chinhat has since become an industrial part of Lucknow and it is hard to appreciate the significance of this once-small village, especially because there is no memorial to mark the defeat of the Company’s troops and to commemorate the Indian soldiers who won a significant victory here.
LU professor Aroop Chakravarti says the Company wished to create a wilful amnesia regarding the occurrence at Chinhat but the event should be given its due now. “The Battle must be adequately recognized by constructing a cenotaph in Chinhat.” While historians and scholars assert the importance of the battle and the role it played in crushing the very spirit of the British, there is a complete lack of knowledge among citizens. The Company might have in fact, succeeded in its attempt at relegating this battle to the background.