150th anniversary of an armed revolt against British colonialists
MEERUT, India (Reuters) - India began celebrations on Monday to mark the 150th anniversary of an armed revolt against British colonialists, a mutiny that sparked the first Indian war of independence before being crushed.
Singing patriotic songs, thousands of Indians took part in a colourful procession, retracing a march 150 years ago by dozens of mutinous Indian soldiers from Meerut in a bid to capture the capital Delhi.
From an act of defiance by a handful of Indian soldiers who refused to use rifle bullets said to be greased with beef and pork fat -- considered unclean by Hindus and Muslims -- the mutiny became a popular revolt against British occupation.
After initial reverses, British troops quelled the revolt in four months and exiled to then Burma the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar who had been proclaimed India's ruler by the mutineers.
Monday's marchers, dressed like Indian soldiers and British officers, staged mock fights with swords and muskets on top of colourful floats.
About 10,000 young people from all over India walked alongside carrying huge banners and posters with messages referring to the revolt that left hundreds of British and Indians dead.
"The march has the same spirit as that of the freedom fighters of 1857 but Gandhi's message of truth and non-violence should not be forgotten," said Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, flagging off the procession.
The marchers will reach Delhi on May 11, exactly 150 years after the mutinous Indian soldiers stormed the walled city and attacked British officers and their families.
About two dozen ambulances drove alongside the marchers who ignored sweltering heat as they headed towards New Delhi, about 65 km away.
After the mutiny, much of the Indian subcontinent passed from the control of the British East India Company to direct rule by the British government, until independence in 1947.