In India’s fight for freedom, the city of Meerut is remembered as being the epicentre of the First War of Independence in 1857. Dhan Singh Gurjar, also known as Dhunna Singh, the incredible kotwal (Head policeman) of Meerut, will always be hailed for triggering the events that led to this historic revolt that ultimately shook the foundation of the British rule and changed the course of India’s freedom struggle.
Dhan Singh was born into the powerful landowning community of the Gurjars in Panchali Village of Meerut, United Province (now Uttar Pradesh). On 09 May 1857, the sepoys of the East India Company defied the order to use the cartridges given to them. These cartridges were rumoured to have been greased with lard made of animal fat, and this went against their religious beliefs. The British authorities retaliated by stripping them of their uniform and sending them to jail. The news of this incident spread like wildfire, and on 10th May, villagers from across the district assembled at the Meerut Police Station to protest and demand the release of the sepoys.
Dhan Singh was the head of the kotwali (police station). It was his duty as the kotwal of the region to protect the city. However, many of his officers deserted their posts to join hands with the protestors, and this prompted Dhan Singh to join the revolution and lead from the front. Under his leadership, more than 800 prisoners were freed, and they joined hands with the other revolutionaries to take part in what is now known as the “Siege of Delhi”, which was one of the most decisive conflicts in the First War of Independence.
The revolutionaries plundered and destroyed everything associated with the British across the city. There was loot, theft, and murder to protest against the atrocities and unjust rule of the East India Company. The British forces suppressed the rebellion with all their might and power. A committee was set up to investigate and trace the beginning of the revolt in the city of Meerut. Based on the eye-witnesses’ statements, a report was filed by the committee, declaring Dhan Singh Gurjar as the prime culprit and the leader of the revolt. To avenge what had happened, the British attacked Dhan Singh’s village of Panchali, killing 400 villagers. Dhan Singh was sentenced to death for conspiring against the British and hanged on 04 July 1857.
Dhan Singh the braveheart, is remembered by the countrymen through various initiatives across India. In 2018, O P Singh, the Director-General of Police (Uttar Pradesh), unveiled a statue of Dhan Singh Gurjar at the Sadar Police Station (Meerut), where he was a kotwal 190 years ago, to commemorate his heroic leadership. Meerut University’s Community Centre has been renamed Dhan Singh Kotwal Community Centre. To pay homage, and as a tribute to him, an arterial road running across the heart of Delhi, and a University in Loni (Ghaziabad), have also been named after him.