By Prashant K. Nanda
Muradnagar (Uttar Pradesh): They cannot walk nor can they stand straight. That has not stopped a group of young men bound to wheelchairs from joining a memorable march from Meerut to Delhi to mark the 150th anniversary of the 1857 Mutiny against British rule.
With patriotic songs and slogans on their lips, the group of dozen physically challenged are the cynosure of thousands of participants walking briskly since they set out from Meerut Monday – as well as the many more lining the streets.
And the young men, the youngest 18 years old and the others all below 24 years, are enjoying every bit of it.
“Though we are on wheelchair, it is a pleasure marching with thousands of youths from several states,” said Dinesh Kumar, a Class 10 school student who lives in Meerut, about 80 km from New Delhi. “Meerut is famous for its role in the (1857) uprising and we want to keep up the spirit.”
Dinesh Kumar is not the only occupant of his wheelchair though. Squeezing into it is another handicapped and lanky young man, Salhabaz. Like Dinesh, he is also 18 years of age and the two are chums.
“Mangal Pandey Zindabad!” chants Dinesh Kumar while his friend flaunts a poster of the Mutiny, which turned from a soldiers’ revolt into a mass uprising and came to be known as India’s first war of independence.
The government-backed Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangatan has organized the walkathon in memory of those who died in 1857. The marchers will reach the Mughal-built Red Fort in the Indian capital Friday.
The rally was flagged off from Meerut’s Victoria Park, the very spot where the 1857 mutiny by Indian sepoys against their British colonial masters erupted. The event, etched in Indian history as just the Mutiny, is also called the First War of Independence.
The handicapped men pedal their own wheelchairs, stopping, like everyone else, only for food and to rest.
The wheelchairs are decorated with plastic Indian flags and colourful posters of the seminal 1857 revolt. As they cannot shout like others, tiny microphones have been mounted on the wheel chairs to join the frenzied patriotic sloganeering.
Rihasat Ali, another physically challenged participant, relates what he feels about 1857, a path breaking event in colonial India’s history.
“A full 150 years after the uprising, we are going to recreate history,” Ali told IANS. “Indian youths can build a better India. And all of us must take a pledge to do that at the Red Fort.”
The Meerut-Delhi march includes a tableau of the court of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, followed by 85 horses of the Remount Veterinary Corps, 500 cadets of National Cadet Corps as well as young men and women from all over India.
Anuj Sharma is also on the wheelchair and has this to say: “Being a handicap is no hindrance to patriotism. One may be physically challenged but nothing can come in the way of success.
“This rally has whipped up my patriotism and helped me understand our history better,” added Sharma, 24.
Following him closely is Izaz, 22: “Youth power, if united, can do wonders for India. We must forget our religious differences and join hands for the country’s betterment.”