The First War of Independence, which began on 10th May, 1857, was the first widespread uprising against the British rule in India. It destroyed the strength of the East India Company and subsequently the British Crown had to take over the administration of India. The uniqueness of the 1857 uprising was that it was never a local revolt led by a leader or a king. The war was more widespread and had a pan India support base.
Some of the tactics used by freedom fighters in the run up to the war has baffled historians to this day and it surely unnerved the English officers at the time. It is believed that the leaders of the freedom fighters used chapattis and lotus flowers to send coded messages across a wide area of the Indian subcontinent.
In the book, Operation Red Lotus, the author, Parag Tope, a descendant of Tatya Tope, outlines how the lotus and chapattis were used to spread secret messages of the war of independence. It helped in preparing the population for an uprising and was also helpful for the freedom fighters, who faced the Britishers.
When a village headman received a chapatti, he would make more and pass it on to other villages. The acceptance of the chapatti, meant that the people of that village supported the freedom fighters. It also meant that the villagers would prepare food for the armies of the freedom fighters that would pass through that village.
Another way of communicating was the use of red lotus flower. The flower’s stalk symbolized a platoon and the petals of the flower indicated the soldiers who are willing to participate. Every soldier was asked to remove one petal. The number of petals remaining on the stalk indicated that the number of soldiers who were not participating in the war.
This unique way of communicating helped in the recruitment and logistics of people spread over a vast area.
Needless to say the use of chapattis in the run up towards the war unnerved the British officers of the East India Company. Suddenly, chapattis were being distributed across wide areas of the country from village to village. No one knew where it came from or what purpose it served.
In a report, it says that chapattis were moving across the country faster than fastest British mail. According to the magistrate of the town of Mathura during 1857, he reported that chapattis travelled 300 kms during night and was spreading rapidly.
Chapattis reached many houses and police outposts. More were made by those who received it and passed on. This was seen by the English as a secret code and it alarmed them. They carried on investigations in to the matter but no one had any clue.
The English officers stationed in India numbered only 100,000 and they were facing a population of 250 million Indians at that time. A secret message, which the Britishers believed to be a call for revolt, had created an atmosphere of fear and restlessness. This psychological warfare by the Indian freedom fighters had served its purpose – to frighten the British and also to unify and get support of the villagers.