While the 150th anniversary of India's First War of Independence was observed with much fanfare, the tragedy is that the heirs of Tantya Tope, a frontline leader and martyr of the 1857 Mutiny, are languishing in squalour and anonymity.
The Centre has finally woken up to their plight with Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal announcing a Rs 1 lakh grant from his personal fund and assuring them of suitable arrangements for higher education and employment.
Taking action on a plea initiated by Bismillah: The Beginning Foundation, Jaiswal said he would personally visit the home of Vinayak Rao Tope (the third generation descendant of Tatya Tope) at Lav-Kush Nagar, Bithur in Kanpur next week.
"I will also urge Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to release suitable amount from the PM's Relief Fund and provide government jobs, if the family members desire," he said.
The minister said he was releasing Rs 1 lakh right away to Vinayak Tope and his wife from his personal account to give the couple immediate succour.
Hailing the efforts initiated by a Delhi-based couple Neena Jha and Shivnath Jha who had launched a nationwide movement called Andolan Ek Pustak Se two years ago to protect those who brought laurels to the nation, Jaiswal said, "My first priority is to make the family financially stable, get their children admitted for higher education and provide them employment."
Residing in Kanpur, Tantya Tope's heirs are now struggling to eke out a living. They claim that they could not get his pension even after giving bribes. Due to poverty, daughters in the family were deprived of higher education.
In a letter to the Home Ministry, the Jha couple had urged the government to rehabilitate the family in view of the ongoing celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the 1857 Uprising.
"We have also decided to provide monthly financial support to Vinayak Rao Tope and his wife Saraswati Devi to protect their family and provide higher education to their daughters, Pragati and Pravriti, and their son Ashutosh through the sale proceeds of the books," they said.
The couple will also extend financial support for the weddings of Pragati and Pravriti. "It will be a great tribute to late Ustad Bismillah Khan and a way to promote his secular philosophy," they said.
Vinayak Rao Tope, a third generation descendant of Tantya Tope, sells groceries and earns a pittance -- not enough for the sustenance of the entire family.
Vinayak Tope opened a small grocery shop in January last year. Earlier, he was able to get some food by conducting religious ceremonies. Expressing concern, Jaiswal said, "It is unfortunate that Vinayak Rao Tope's wife Saraswati Devi had to pay a bribe to secure sanction of pension in 1995 which is yet to see the light of the day.''
Saraswati Devi reportedly paid Rs 500 as bribe for pension.
Daughter Pragati is a teacher earning only Rs 600 a month. Her elder sister Pravriti, a graduate, is still unemployed.
In May 1857, when the political storm against British rule was gathering momentum, Tantya Tope won over the Indian troops of the East India Company stationed at Kanpur, established Nana Saheb's authority and became the commander-in-chief of his revolutionary forces.
Tantya Tope, whose real name was Ram Chandra Pandurang, was born in 1814 in Gola, Maharashtra. His father, Pandurang Rao Tope was an nobleman in the court of Peshwa Baji Rao II.
He shifted his family with the ill-fated Peshwa to Bithur, where his son became the most intimate friend of the Peshwa's adopted son, Nana Dhundu Pant, known as Nana Saheb.
After the reoccupation of Kanpur and separation from Nana Saheb, Tantya Tope shifted his headquarters to Kalpi to join hands with Rani Lakshmi Bai and led a revolt in Bundelkhand.
He was routed at Betwa, Koonch and Kalpi, but reached Gwalior and declared Nana Saheb as Peshwa with the support of the Gwalior contingent.
Before he could consolidate his position, General Hugh Rose defeated him in a memorable battle in which Rani Lakshmi Bai died.
After losing Gwalior to the British, he launched a successful guerilla campaign in the Sagar and Narmada regions and in Khandesh and Rajasthan.
The British forces failed to subdue him for over a year. He was, however, betrayed into the hands of the British by his trusted friend Man Singh, chief of Narwar, while asleep in his camp in the Paron forest.
He was captured and taken to Sipri where he was tried by a military court and despatched to the gallows on April 18, 1859.