Chapati Movement: A lesser-known aspect of the Indian Freedom Struggle

Have you ever wondered how an everyday food item can cause restlessness among people? Or how the transfer of an essential food item from one place to another can become a mystery?

The struggle for Indian Independence has seen numerous mass movements. From the first freedom struggle of Indian Independence called ‘Revolt of 1857’ or ‘Indian Mutiny’ to the non-cooperation movement, Civil Disobedience movement, and the quit India movement, India has fought many battles to reach where it is today.

While many of them are known to people, some are still hidden somewhere in the past, whereas other movements are known yet unknown. It is because they are not mentioned in great detail in history; thus, very little information is available about them. 

One such struggle is the Chapati Movement which took place in 1857. It was a mysterious movement that created unrest among the colonial rulers. It is because they could not decode the main objective behind this movement.

Let’s know more about the Chapati Movement:

A few months before the first war of Independence began, a mysterious transfer of Chapati’s (flatbread) was taking place in different villages of India. A lot of minimum of four to five chapatis, each of a palm’s size and weighing about 20 grams, were received by people in some villages.

Those who received them were then asked to make a new lot and send it to the other village. Village Chowkidars were chosen to deliver these chapatis to the nearest villages creating a chain. 

This distribution of chapatis among the villages was undertaken at night. Each village watchman hid them and transferred them to the other town by travelling approximately 160 to 200 miles a night. This speed was more than that of the mail services during that time.

They travelled ad reached various places in India, including Indore, Gwalior, Rohilkhand, Awadh, and Allahabad (Prayagraj). There were times when, along with chapatis lotus and goat flesh.

 How was the movement uncovered?

It was in February 1857 when this unusual distribution came to the notice of Mark Thornhill. He was the Magistrate of Mathura who investigated the matter further and found the distribution of chapatis in distant parts of India at an alarming speed.

When he informed the Britishers, they became restless as they thought it might be the beginning of a mass rebellion. When the people were questioned about the same, they had no answer except someone handed over chapatis to them and asked them to make a new lot and send it further.

Opinions on the mass movement

Although there is no evidence that states what was the actual reason behind this movement. Everyone was unaware of its cause, but people have different opinions regarding the same. 

While some believe it was done out of fear that breaking this distribution chain would lead to a mishap, others believe it was a way to communicate. Many thought it was an underground movement that began the Revolt of 1857.

However, the fact that it created huge restlessness among the colonial rulers cannot be ignored. In his book ‘Life During the Indian Mutiny’, J W Shrehar also mentioned that if the chapati movement was started to create a stressful atmosphere for the Britishers, then this movement would have successfully done that.