Did You Know About The Chapati Movement?
Image Credit: Chapatis are the symbol of food and nourishment in North India | Freepik

Food in India is not just a means to fill stomachs. It has love, emotions and meanings beyond the comprehension of people who do not know the symbolism associated with every single morsel of food. For centuries, rice grains have been treated as sacred, and wasting even one bite is frowned upon by our elders. Sweets have been associated with good news. Chapati or roti, in North India, is seen as the basic food that everyone deserves. The famous dialogue in pop culture that calls, “roti, kapda makaan” as essential for living puts the famous, humble, easily accessible roti as the first priority for everyone. But do you know this chapati was associated with India's struggle for independence? Let us know about the unique and almost forgotten Chapati Movement. 

In the early months of 1857, there was a strange development in the entire of North and Central India. Chapati, the most commonly eaten Indian flatbread was being passed at a lightning speed during the night time, sometimes well into the day as well. Now, 1857 is remembered in history as the year of The First War of Independence – the year India revolted against the Britishers for the first time on a large, united scale. But the Chapati movement happened before the revolt, in the months of February and March and it caught the British by surprise. Chapatis were being distributed at a speed which was far greater than the British mail system during that time. The watchman of a village would carry 4 chapatis on his head and run through the forests at night. He would hand over these chapatis to the watchman in another village, ask him to prepare 4 chapatis and pass it on to the next village. This process continued and soon, there were hundreds of chapatis being delivered to every village, especially in the areas near Mathura and Agra. Eventually, people stopped asking the reason for this exchange and there were men running through forests to other villages in different provinces even without why they were doing what they were doing. They thought that it was a symbol, a sign of something bigger about to happen and continued to make and pass chapatis.

People made chapatis and passed them on without knowing the reason to do so | Picture credit - Freepik

 This movement was a cause of concern for the Britishers, who were perplexed as to what the people were conspiring about. Till then, there had been no big uprisings against the East India Company’s rule, but they were sure something was about to happen when several hundred chapatis were being passed daily. They tried to get hold of the potli of chapatis to look for secret messages but to no avail. Some even said that a revolution was being planned on a large scale, as the chapatis had reached the Central province and till Bengal too. They thought the local kings were planning to revolt against the British Raj. Meanwhile, some Indians started believing this was indeed the work of Britishers, who made these chapatis mixed with bone and flesh of animals to pollute the religion of Indians and turn them into Christians. So, the Movement was mysterious to both the British and the Indians and they were equally suspicious of it. 

Eventually, the Revolt of 1857 or the Sepoy mutiny, as the Britishers called it, happened later that year. Many historians have linked the Chapati Movement to the revolt, calling it a rehearsal for the big war that was to happen. But none of these claims are supported by any evidence. Anyway, the myth, mystery and the tales around the chapati movement remain, with different versions claiming different things. The main point still remains that the mighty Britishers were spooked by something as inconspicuous as a Chapati and went on to conduct meetings and write letters about the movement. They knew the value Indians attached with food and had an inkling that this was building up to something major. One chapati sent the British empire into tizzy and possibly led to a united movement against their rule.