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British officials in a tizzy over chapatis during the mutiny

Chapati As harmless as it might look, the freckled brown, round chapati -- an eternal Indian culinary favourite -- caused fear and loathing among the British officers in 1857.

'Chapati running' adopted by the police chowkidars was used as an effective psychological warfare against the British officers. The police chowkidars handed over chapatis, two inch in diameter to other colleagues. They would, in turn, ask them to make some more and pass it on to their counterparts in neighbouring villages. There were around 90,000 policemen who participated in the activity.

It was also discovered that the chowkidars obtained receipts after handing over the chapatis. Every chowkidar was told that the chapatis were to be given to the hakims (officers) in case they asked for them.

The first mention of this novel strategy was made by G F Harvey, the then commissioner of Agra. While recounting the incidents of 1857-58, he revealed that once while passing through the Mainpuri district of Uttar Pradesh, the village zamindars told him about this mysterious phenomenon.

The Friend of India,an English newspaper in its March 5, 1857 issue, reported that panic spread among British officers when they found that the chapatis had made their way into every police station in the area.

The newspaper wrote that all possible conjectures were made regarding the purpose behind the phenomenon. Some even thought it could be a new system of parcel mail.

Inquiries made in the Avadh area about the mysterious distribution of chapatis revealed that they were being sent from the east to the west, and right up to Delhi.

The exercise baffled the Britishers to a great extent. The then collector of Gurgaon, M R Ford, wrote an official letter to the commissioner of Delhi, Simon Frazer, pointing out that this was some sort of a signal being sent from village to village in his district. The objective of which, however, could not be ascertained.

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

The chapati rumour resulted in an uneasy atmosphere and prevailed all over the area. The police and the administration were left clueless as the Indian soldiers staged the first armed revolt in Meerut on May 10, 1857. The commissioner of military police, northwest region, W H Kerry, in his report on the uprising quoted the then tehsildar of Meerut, Ganga Prasad, as saying that the mysterious chapatis had reached the southeastern region early that year.

Much later, in his book Life during the Indian mutiny, published in 1910 from London, J W Sherar drew some conclusion about chapati running. He admitted that if the objective behind the strategy was to create an atmosphere of mysterious restlessness, the experiment has been successful.