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Last Updated: Friday, 11 May 2007, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Indians mark revolt anniversary
Delhi celebrations

A ceremony has been held in India to mark the 150th anniversary of the landmark revolt against the British.

Hundreds of gaily-dressed performers enacted scenes from the 1857 uprising to recreate a sense of history at the Red Fort in the capital, Delhi.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the crowd that the revolt was "a shining example of our national unity".

It is known in India as the first war of India's independence, while in the UK it is usually called a mutiny.

Tight security

At the majestic 17th Century Red Fort, the celebrations began early on Friday morning.

Scenes from the uprising were enacted before an audience that comprised the entire Indian leadership, including the president and the prime minister.

Mutiny Monument in Delhi
Some historians say the rebellion was the first war of independence

"There is no doubt that 1857 was a shining example of our national unity," Prime Minister Singh said, addressing the crowds from the Red Fort.

"Our war of independence was based on unity in diversity and today our national unity is also based on this.

"This is our strength and this is our destiny."

It was in Delhi 150 years ago that hundreds of Indian soldiers breached the city walls and swore allegiance to the last Mogul emperor, setting off a brutal uprising that lasted for months.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says the government is projecting the event as one of unity, an occasion when Hindus and Muslims rose as one against the British.

But he says that many of Friday's performers were drawn from parts of India that had nothing to do with the uprising, such as the south and the north-east.

Our correspondent says it is an illustration of the ambiguity that surrounds the event, with some arguing that it was far too localised to be characterised as a war of independence.

Others say it was too violent in a country that eventually won its independence after a non-violent struggle.

Security has been tight across the city. Thousands of policemen and soldiers were deployed to ensure the event passed off peacefully.

Schools, colleges and many offices were closed for the occasion and traffic on the streets was thin.

Thousands of people, who have been retracing the steps of the Indian soldiers who marched from Meerut town to Delhi 150 years ago, reached the capital on Thursday night.

'Honouring rebels'

Speaking in parliament on Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged India to honour the memory of the rebels.

"As a nation inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's message of non-violence, India has consciously abjured violence as an instrument of social and political change," Mr Singh said.

"Yet we cannot forget those inspired revolutionaries - many of them anonymous to history - who sacrificed their lives in 1857 to free the country from foreign yoke," he said.

The uprising began when native Hindu and Muslim soldiers, known as sepoys, revolted against the British East India Company over fears that new gun cartridges were greased with animal fat forbidden by their religions.

The rebellion was eventually crushed by the British.

Mock fights

On Monday, thousands of people began marching towards the capital in a colourful procession.

Around 10,000 people retraced the march that dozens of mutinous Indian soldiers undertook from the garrison town of Meerut in a bid to capture Delhi.

Many of the marchers were dressed like Indian soldiers and British officers and staged mock fights with swords and muskets on top of colourful floats.

They carried huge banners and posters with messages referring to the revolt, which left many British and Indians dead.

Although the uprising was crushed, historians say it laid the seeds of a popular revolt against British occupation which culminated in full independence.

After suppressing the revolt, the British captured Delhi and exiled the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, to Rangoon in Burma.

He died in captivity five years later.

The revolt ended the British East India Company's rule in India, making way for direct rule by the British government until 1947, when the country gained independence.

Performers re-enact the uprising

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