How Did The 'harmless chapati' Scare The British? The Mysterious Chapati Movement Of India

What's Cooking? March 1857


"There is a most mysterious affair going on throughout the whole of India at present. No one seems to know the meaning of it. It is not known where it originated, by whom or for what purpose, is supposed to be connected to any religious ceremony or whether it has to do with some secret society. The Indian papers are full of surmises as to what it means. It is called the Chapati Movement."


--- Dr Gilbert Hadow, an army surgeon in the employment of East India Company in a letter to his sister in Britain.

chapati movement 1857

The 'Movement'


Chapatis (Rotis) started making their way across villages.


Reportedly, a 'messenger' would appear with the Roti(s) and give it to the village head. The latter would then dispatch a new batch on to the next village, and so on.


Rumour has It....


The British reportedly suspected the chapatis were a code of sorts to instigate a rebellion against their cartridges rumoured to be greased with cow and pig fat, which did not sit well with both the Hindu & Muslim people of colonial India.


Bake the 'cake'


Mark Thornhill, magistrate of the city of Mathura at the time, wrote:


' A man had come to a village and given a 'cake' to the watchman, with injunctions to bake four like it, to distribute them to the watchmen of adjacent villages, and to desire them to do the same...after being a nine-day, wonder, the matter ceased to be talked about.'


NOT BIRBAL's KHICHDI


As estimated by British military leaders, the chapatis were travelling up to 160-200 miles/night, a speed that would have reportedly outstripped the mail service at the time.


A DOMESTIC REBELLION?


According to a colonial history expert, the chapatis "bore the mark of sedition for colonial officials and anti-colonial nationalist resistance for Indians" and "began to be seen as instruments of political mobilization and rebellion."


NOT SO EASY TO DIGEST


The British controlled India with a relatively small number of men (100,000), subjugating a huge population of 250mn, which meant, these numbers would be inadequate in the event of a serious rebellion.


The entire chapati movement left the British Empire shaken to the core.