Monday, 28 May 2018

200 year old British Cemetery in Meerut, UP - needs renovation


Meerut, UP, 200 year old British graveyard. St. John's. Pinterest
In so far as India's freedom is concerned no other city became a more prominent flash point and  drew the international attention of India's struggle against  the British  than Meerut city. Next to Barrackpore, W. Bengal Meerut was the second largest  East India Company's garrison. Obviously, Meerut city's association with  the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the notorious British  Company was not an accidental one. At the right opportunity the pent-up frustration and anger of oppressed  Indians came out like a volcanic eruption and the city's barracks became the venue.  The famous slogan "Dilli Chalo" ("Let's march to Delhi!") was first raised here.
India: major revolt against east India Co.  gkwale.com
 Meerut Cantonment is the place where the rebellion  was started when Hindu and Muslim soldiers were given new Enfield rifle cartridges rumored to have a coating of grease made of animal fat both pig and cow. What started out as a   localized rebellion had turned out to be a mass struggle covering vast areas of the northern Indian states. Here in Meerut 89 Indian soldiers who refused to use the greased cartridges to load the rifles were stripped of their uniforms, imprisoned for ten years and shackled - this was a major humiliation for the Indian soldiers. The rebels were from the 3rd cavalry and were from upper-class elite.  Unable to bear the humiliation and ill treatment  meted out to them, these soldiers, along with  other imprisoned soldiers, escaped from the prison and declared themselves free. Then they  revolted, attacked and killed several of the British authorities to take the city under their control. This marked the beginning of a widespread revolt across northern India as these soldiers marched towards Delhi. The  upraising  turned to be a towering inferno and the British added more fuel to it by killing rebels and innocent people  in thousands without any mercy. The British burnt down some villages in and around Meerut in retaliation. 
Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, location map. World Atlas
During this worst revolt Indians in tens of thousands were killed and on the British side, the rebels mercilessly killed British soldiers, civilians, women and children that might  run into  several hundreds. 
Here in Meerut, Western UP  the 200  year-old sprawling cemetery, located  in the  cantonment town, has an old graveyard containing   British casualties of the 1857 Revolt.  Under the fallen leaves and foliage lie  thousands of graves out of which there are numerous British soldiers' graves including those  casualties of the 1857 Revolt around  50.  Many tombs  have overgrowth of bushes trees, etc., and  are heavily damaged.  The huge graveyard is not well taken care of due to paucity of funds.

 Meerut: British cemetery. image: Sandeep saxana. the hindu.com

An old man by the name of Robinson in his 50s is taking care of the grave and he stays close to the grave yard. The public is not allowed to go inside the graves without prior permission. One  Jean Thomas Indian of British origin has been in the past one decade and more has been voluntarily helping the British who want to trace their   ancestors  in the grave  here and has succeeded in helping  more than 10 families.  As the names and epitaphs, if any, on the graves, having become faded or damaged with no traces, identifying the person in the grave is a tough job. However,  Jean Thomas is offering a ray of hope to those who are concerned about the grave of their ancestors who were buried here. Amit Pathak, general-secretary, Cantonment Heritage Society,  is of the opinion that "She is committed to her task". And her selfless task continues unabated despite its time-consuming nature. According to him out of 50 plus British soldiers killed in the revolt, 36 were buried here. and the rest are not identifiable because  of  various reasons - graves were made of soft materials and are damaged and some are so cemented identification is a difficult one. Only nine British  graves have been  identified so far. 

St. John’s Cemetery, Meerut. image :Sandeep saxena the hindu.com

According to the grave keeper, the oldest grave dates back to 1810. The first British soldier killed in the revolt,  53 year old John Finnis' grave is here. He was killed on 10 May 1857 first day of uprising. Vincent Recar 48 was also killed on the same day, so was John Henry Taylor 57 year old captain. They belong to 20th regiment.  30 year old Lousia Sophia wife of Donald McDonald, Officer  and her 3 young children were brutally murdered by the rebels while escaping from the burning house at night. Though her Indian servants covered her with a burkha, she could not escape from the fury of hell-bent mob. Besides, there is a tall gravestone with  100 European names  who  died in service between 1988 and 1905 in british India. St. John's cemetery wears a forlorn look implying its loss of old glory and the descent of gloom.
The graveyard is spread over 27 acres and flowering lantana and  the presence of venomous snakes are a menace and need to be taken care o

http://specials.rediff.com/news/2007/may/09slide1.html
http://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/the-200-year-old-meerut-cemetery-where-nine-british-soldiers-lie/article23989579.ece