Every morning one witnesses a plethora of youth swarming the ground adjacent to St. Luke’s Church in Danapur Cantonment. These youngsters with a dream of joining the defence forces align themselves to the glorious yet forgotten legacy of the cantonment and state in general.
Bihar since time immemorial has been home to warriors. During British rule, Danapur ‘s proximity to Calcutta and Patna made it an ideal cantonment location, compelling the British to develop Asia’s second oldest Cantonment here. The oldest is Barrackpore in Bengal.
But how mainstream is the role and struggle of sepoys who bore the brunt of punitive actions against the colonisers? How mainstream is the State’s contribution to the country’s first war of Independence? The sepoy regiments are mentioned in passing with a few lines dedicated to Babu Kunwar Singh while people like Pir Ali from Patna are hardly mentioned in the mainstream narratives. The role of sepoys from Danapur cantonment and Bihar at large go unnoticed and sidelined with general amnesia about its legacy.
Through this article, we try to acquaint the masses with the rich history and legacy of Danapur Cantt. Owing to their strength and valour, Bihari youth were much sought after by the East India Company with areas like Bhojpur, Shahabad and Munger amongst their favourite recruiting zones. Hence, it is no surprise that the 34th sepoy regiment formed in 1758 by Robert Clive was raised entirely from Bhojpur District.
Victories of regiments raised in Danapur included the Maratha Wars and the Battle of Buxar at home as well as laurels won by the warriors in Malay, Sumatra, and Egypt. However, the Revolt of 1857 changed the dynamics when Bihari troops were amongst the first to revolt. On 25 July 1857, sepoys from the three regiments revolted against the company and joined Babu Kunwar Singh and his followers in Arrah. Later, as a punitive action, the British disbanded the Bengal Native Infantry consisting largely of Bihari troops by calling it “non-martial”. The recruitment of Biharis who were once the company’s favourite due to their valour and strength was stopped by the British Army. It was not until 1941 that soldiers from Bihar were once again recruited in 19 Hyderabad regiments. 1 Bihar Regiment which owes its origin to the 11/19 Hyderabad regiment was awarded battle honours namely ‘HAKA’ and ‘GANGAW’ and was also bestowed with the ‘Theatre Honour’ of BURMA for its gallantry and contribution in World War II.
More than 250 years old Danapur cantonment that sits on the banks of the Ganges, came into existence on 5 August 1765. The cantonment presently is the headquarters of Bihar Regimental Centre. The legacy of the cantonment and the bravehearts it fostered stands firmly uncontested, enriched and unchallenged.
The Bihar Regiment post-independence further enriched the legacy of the cantonment and state. Post-independence 10 BIHAR was awarded the Theatre Honour of `AKHAURA’ for its gallant action in the Battle of Akhaura in East Pakistan in 1971. 1 BIHAR participated in ‘OPERATION VIJAY’ in the Batalik Sub Sector and was responsible for the recapture of Jubar Hill and Tharu.
Such has been the contribution of Bihar and Biharis in the Indian Army that for its valour, the unit was honoured with the Chief of the Army Staff Unit Citation, Battle Honour ‘BATALIK’ and Theatre Honour ‘KARGIL’. The unit was awarded a total of 26 gallantry awards. A sculpture demonstrating an important juncture of the operation at a crossing in the Danapur cantonment is a standing testimony to its success. The Bihar Regiment with all its battalions further participated in ‘Operation Parakram’ in 2001.
The cantonment houses two very old and huge churches, one of them being St. Luke’s Church was established in 1830. It is a bustling centre of attraction of the cantonment on Christmas. The Cantonment also acts as a bird sanctuary and is an abode to migratory birds called “Open Bill Stokes”, popularly known as “Jhangils”. These birds are not poached or hunted but are well fed. Within the Cantonment is situated the Army Public School, Danapur Cantt.
Though the school now flaunts its newly built beautiful campus buildings, it was established on 02 April 1993 under the aegis of AWES in Re-appropriated Arrah Brk No 03. The historical Arrah Barracks are one of the longest Barracks in the world. Historically used by troops, the Barracks with long corridors, arched doors, and high roofs supported by massive Burma teak wood beams are now riddled with nostalgia and the glory of the historical past. The defence aspirants in Barik (which comes from the word barrack itself) pour their heart and soul into their self-training. These aspirants along with the students in the Barracks turned classrooms, with similar yearnings, hustle hard to enrich the legacy of Asia’s second oldest Cantonment.