LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) - A group of retired British soldiers and civilians visiting India have caused outrage during their trip to pay homage at sites where British soldiers died during the 1857 revolt against colonial rule.
Hundreds of Hindu nationalists protested on Monday against the planned visit by the group to the site of the Siege of Lucknow, one of the key events of what is known in India as the First War of Independence and in Britain as the Sepoy Mutiny.
During the siege, hundreds of British soldiers and their families defended the Residency of Lucknow against thousands of Indian soldiers — or sepoys — rebelling against the colonial occupiers. Hundreds died in the fighting.
“We will not allow anyone to make a mockery of our freedom struggle by eulogizing those who oppressed us, rebuked and humiliated us for almost 200 years,” Lalji Tandon, a local leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, told a gathering of about 300 protesters outside the closed gates of the Residency on Monday.
The group is led by Mark Allen Havelock, a descendant of Major-General Henry Havelock, who helped defeat the Indian rebellion at Lucknow.
A spokesman for the tourist agency behind the group’s trip said their plans had been misunderstood, and that they planned to commemorate lives lost on both sides.
“All they wish to do is to pay homage to their ancestors,” the spokesman said. “The British group proposed to first hoist the Indian tricolour at the Residency and the ceremony was to be concluded with hymns to commemorate the soldiers from both sides.”
It was not clear what day the group planned to visit Lucknow.
Last week the group had hoped to install a plaque in a church in Meerut commemorating the bravery of British soldiers at the site of another key flashpoint during the 1857 rebellion.
The local bishop and other officials refused permission, media reports said.
J.N. Chamber, the home secretary of Uttar Pradesh state, of which Lucknow is the capital, said the group would not be stopped from paying homage to the dead in Lucknow, but they would not be allowed to hold a ceremony that hurt the feelings of locals.