The mysterious chapati deliveries of 1857

Written by Alok Mohan on March 17, 2017. Posted in Uncategorized

Rumours about the anomalous chapati chain resulted in an uneasy atmosphere prevailing all over the country in 1857. When the revolt broke out that year, with the first armed rebellion at Meerut on May 10, it was widely believed that the circulation of the chapatis had been planned by an underground movement that had put it into motion.The harmless Chapati freedom movement had. once terrified the British in 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, whether it 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 Hadow was describing the bizarre and inexplicable distribution of many thousands of chapatis that were passed from hand to hand and from village to village throughout the country in 1857.

As can be seen by his words, the freckled, round and harmless looking chapatis had British officials in quite a tizzy during the mutiny of 1857. In 1857, tensions in British-occupied India were at an all-time high. Discontented Indians, sick and tired of an exploitative British rule, were quietly planning a rebellion. In February of that year, a strange thing began to occur.

Thousands of unmarked chapatis were distributed to homes and police outposts throughout India by runners at night, and the people who accepted the offerings would quietly make more batches and pass them on.

The movement was uncovered by Mark Thornhill, magistrate of the town of Mathura, who did some investigating and found that chapatis were travelling up to 300 kilometres every night – everywhere from the Narmada river in the south to the border with Nepal several hundred miles to the north. This mysteriously rapid distribution of the humble chapati was enough to convince him that something was going on.

Extensive enquiries into the meaning of this bizarre distribution produced plenty of theories but few facts. As there was not a word written on or sign made on the chapatis, the British were livid at being unable to find grounds for stopping or arresting the chapati runners who were quite often police chowkidars themselves!

Oddly enough, when the chapati runners were later questioned about the significance of carrying the bread from one home to another, they were absolutely clueless as to the purpose of their actions. The chapatis were real but no one, not even the runners, knew for sure what they were for. The police chowkidars would bake and hand over the chapatis, two inches each in diameter, to their colleagues. The colleagues would, in turn, make some more and pass them on to their counterparts in neighbouring villages.

Rare documents of the revolt of 1857 indicate that by March 5, 1857, the chapatis had reached far and wide – from Avadh and Rohilkhand to Delhi.

Panic spread among British officers when they found that the chapatis had made their way into every police station in the area and that around 90,000 policemen were participating in the activity. The fact that the chapatis were moving more swiftly than the fastest British mail was particularly disconcerting to them.

Even though there was no conclusive evidence, the baffled British suspected that the chapatis were some kind of a code, heralding a call to revolt against colonial rule. Opinions were divided as to whether the bread came from the east, near Calcutta (Kolkata), or from Avadh in the north, or from Indore, in the centre of the country.

All in all, the entire chapati ‘movement’ left the British Empire shaken to the core. The British controlled India with a relatively small number of men (100,000 in all), subjugating a huge population of 250 million, so they were well aware of just how inadequate these numbers would be in the event of a serious rebellion. Perpetually on the edge as a result, they regarded any type of communication by the locals they could not understand with deep suspicion, bordering on paranoia.

W Sherar a famous historian  admitted that if the objective behind the strategy was to create an atmosphere of mysterious restlessness, the experiment had been very successful.

The mysterious chapati deliveries of 1857 that put the British into such a tizzy turned out to be an effective weapon of psychological warfare against colonial rule.

It is said that chapatis were also a staple in the army of Tantia Tope and Lakshmi Bai when they moved around during the revolt. Kunwar Singh, the doyen of guerrilla fighting, also travelled with a handful of soldiers and would only stop at villages to fill his sacks with ghee laden chapatis & gur.


Alok Mohan

The admin, Alok Mohan, is a graduate mechanical engineer & possess following post graduate specializations:- M Tech Mechanical Engineering Production Engineering Marine engineering Aeronautical Engineering Computer Sciences Software Engineering Specialization He has authored several articles/papers, which are published in various websites & books. Studium Press India Ltd has published one of his latest contributions “Standardization of Education” as a senior author in a book along with many other famous writers of international repute. Alok Mohan has held important positions in both Govt & Private organisations as a Senior professional & as an Engineer & possess close to four decades accomplished experience. As an aeronautical engineer, he ensured accident incident free flying. As leader of indian team during early 1990s, he had successfully ensured smooth induction of Chukar III PTA with Indian navy as well as conduct of operational training. As an aeronautical engineer, he was instrumental in establishing major aircraft maintenance & repair facilities. He is a QMS, EMS & HSE consultant. He provides consultancy to business organisations for implimentation of the requirements of ISO 45001 OH & S, ISO 14001 EMS & ISO 9001 QMS, AS 9100, AS9120 Aero Space Standards. He is a qualified ISO 9001 QMS, ISO 14001 EMS, ISO 45001 OH & S Lead Auditor (CQI/IRCA recognised certification courses) & HSE Consultant. He is a qualified Zed Master Trainer & Zed Assessor. He has thorough knowledge of six sigma quality concepts & has also been awarded industry 4, certificate from the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation Knowledge Hub Training Platform  He is a Trainer, a Counselor, an Advisor and a Competent professional of cross functional exposures. He has successfully implimented requirements of various international management system standards in several organizations. He is a dedicated technocrat with expertise in Quality Assurance & Quality Control, Facility Management, General Administration, Marketing, Security, Training, Administration etc. He is a graduate mechanical engineer with specialization in aeronautical engineering. He is always eager to be involved in imparting training, implementing new ideas and improving existing processes by utilizing his vast experience.