Have you heard of ‘1857 Chapati’ movement? Why did it terrify the British like never before!

If you are wondering what Chapati are we talking about, you will be surprised. Yes, it is the same chapati what we eat daily! One may have never heard anyone getting scared of Chapatis. Chapatis which are just food for Indians had once scared the British like hell.

It was in March 1857, when the British army surgeon Dr. Gilbert Hadow had written a letter to the British government mentioning about a very strange movement which had started through out India.

“There is a most mysterious affair going on throughout the whole of India at present. No one seems to know the meaning of it. It is not known where it originated, by whom or for what purpose, whether it is supposed to be connected to any religious ceremony or whether it has to do with some secret society. The Indian papers are full of surmises as to what it means. It is called the chapati movement.”

He was totally unaware what was the movement about, whether it is related to some religious affair or celebration. He described that thousands and thousands of Chapatis were being distributed to everyone by hand to hand from small villages to cities to entire Nation during 1857.

The Chapatis were being supplied to police stations, post offices and every institutes at night by unknown men. The people who received the Chapatis would then start making more Chapatis and continue distributing in their village and cities. The distribution of Chapatis covered thousands of miles each day, starting from Narmada river in the south up to the Nepal border in the North. In very short span, the Chapati movement had spread across the country. From Farrukhabad to Gurgaon and from Avadh to Rohilkhand on to Delhi, every person in the country almost knew about this movement.

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Mark Thorn hill who was the Magistrate in the Mathura town found the situation alarming and believed that there was some planning going on. In order find truth, he set up an inquiry and asked British officials to find the truth. But his men could find no clue as to what was happening and they ended up producing numerous stories with no facts. He could not use the Indian police or the chowkidars to find out truth, as they themselves were involved in distributing Chapatis.

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The British held few Chowkidars and questioned them on their Chapati distribution, but they were surprised to know that Chowkidars were clueless about the reason behind it. This panicked the British as were not able to find the truth behind the movement. In 2 months, around 90,000 police men got involved in the activity distributing Chapatis.

Finally the British concluded that Chapatis were some code which was being passed on to start a rebellion against the British rule. On May 10, 1857, a massive revolt broke out in Meerut by the British suspecting danger to their government. But they could not find the reason behind Chapati movement until 1910, when J W Sherar revealed in his book Life during the Indian mutiny that the Chapati movement was a covert underground operation planned by group of Indians to create unrest in the British empire and confuse them with their strategy.

It was a very successful war strategy which was started by Tatya Tope during 1950s and adapted in 1957 War of Indian Independence. This was a method he adapted to galvanize the troops of his army without giving slightest clue and spread the logistic details of the troops. However no body knew how exactly did the information spread through Chapatis and reached the concerned person. Many strange strategies used by Tatya Tope has been recorded in many history books which describes his ‘chess’ like moves in war, counter strategies to confuse the enemies which are said to be master piece.

It was more of psychological war fare strategy he developed to defeat the enemies mentally. After all, every war in a psychological game, only a master strategist wins!

The Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi is also said to have adapted the same Chapati movement to confuse the British and attack them when they least expected.

There is also mention of something called Lotus movement, in which lotus were handed over to people from every village and cities. No person ever understood what exactly did it symbolize. An ominous slogan was whispered in everybody’s ear saying  Sub lal ho gaya hai ( ‘Everything has become red’ )  while the lotus was distributed.

So, it was not a blind movement but a well planned strategy by few master minds that made the British tizzy of the development. It was after 1857 war, the British had to revisit their strategy and rethink attacking Indians.

Aishwarya S


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