Are right-wing Indians against learning about 1857?

Oct 2015
899
India
Mutiny, Rebellion, & War for Independence:

1. Began as a Mutiny

Mutiny is defined as "an open rebellion against the proper authorities, especially by soldiers or sailors against their officers." It focuses soldiers.

The 1857 events certainly began as a mutiny in which Indian sepoys employment in the British Indian Army mutinied, often killed their officers & other British nationals.

2. Conflict Became Bigger than a Mutiny within a Day or Two

Once others - who are not employed in British Indian Army take up leadership or arms, then it conflict converts into something larger than a mutiny. Since the leaders - Bahadur Shah, Nana Sahib, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Begum Hazrat Mahal; were not employees of the british Indian Army; it became more than a mutiny. Additional fighting men were recruited to join the mutineers.

3. It was definitely a Rebellion

The word rebellion was applied to the events in 1857 itself in the British parliament.

Rebellion is defined as "an act of armed resistance to an established government or leader."

So the answer boils down to the fact whether one regards EIC's colonial government as the "established government" of India. British definitely did but that is a euro-centric view unless it can be demonstrated that Indians princes & public also did.

4. It was also a War for Independence

'War for Independence' was a term applied to the events for first time by Savarkar in 20th century.

Today, technically, the phrase "War for Independence" is proposed to be applied only when such war was successful. Here is the line of thought proposed in Wikipedia:

"A war of independence or independence war is a conflict occurring over a territory that has declared independence. Once the state that previously held the territory sends in military forces to assert its sovereignty or the native population clashes with the former occupier, a separatist rebellion has begun. If a new state is successfully established, the conflict is usually known as a 'War of Independence'."

Did any territory declare independence in India? Yes, written 'Proclamations of Independence' were issued by at least Bahadur Shah Zafar, Rani Lakshmi Bai, and Begum Hazrat Mahal.

Was the war successful? Well, the East India Company was thrown out - may a little later, but it was. The Government of the Honourable East India Company was eclipsed. In the end, Indians did not win but but East India Company also vanished.

Even by this modern post-facto definition, one can't deny the title of War for Independence to the 1857 conflict.
 
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Oct 2015
899
India
Thanks for the book list. The article is very good. It mentions Indian leaders who believe that glorifying Sepoy Mutiny as the war of independence was/is not correct.
Modern scholarship often adds new evidence but it also dry-cleans the past - consciously or otherwise. So I personally prefer remaining close to contemporary narratives (in this case narratives written in 1857 or around that time).

EIC Army is portrayed as an honorable force and the Indian as barbarous. See the following two reports in 1857 by Karl Marx (of the Das Kapital fame) which show that British Armies were, by default, equally, if not more barbarous:
....

"The outrages committed by the revolted Sepoys in India are indeed appalling, hideous, ineffable — such as one is prepared to meet – only in wars of insurrection, of nationalities, of races, and above all of religion; in one word, such as respectable England used to applaud when perpetrated by the Vendeans on the “Blues,” by the Spanish guerrillas on the infidel Frenchmen, by Servians on their German and Hungarian neighbors, by Croats on Viennese rebels, by Cavaignac’s Garde Mobile or Bonaparte’s Decembrists on the sons and daughters of proletarian France." - Karl Marx, Published in New-York Daily Tribune on September 16, 1857. [1]
...

"To find parallels to the Sepoy atrocities, we need not, as some London papers pretend, fall back on the middle ages, not, even wander beyond the history of contemporary England. All we want is to study the first Chinese war, an event, so to say, of yesterday. The English soldiery then committed abominations for the mere fun of it; their passions being neither sanctified by religious fanaticism nor exacerbated by hatred against an overbearing and conquering race, nor provoked by the stern resistance of a heroic enemy. The violations of women, the spittings of children, the roastings of whole villages, were then mere wanton sports, not recorded by Mandarins, but by British officers themselves." - Karl Marx, Published in New-York Daily Tribune on September 16, 1857. [1]
....

Till 1947, British colonial historiography controlled the narrative thru (i) syllabus in educational institutions & prescribed textbooks and (ii) other ways. After 1947 this is changing but the process is slow.

[1] Marx and Engels. First Indian War of Independence 1857-58
 
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Nov 2008
1,218
England
You are not advancing your argument by quoting Marx and Engels, both of whom can hardly be described as unbiased.

Modern scholarship often adds new evidence but it also dry-cleans the past - consciously or otherwise. So I personally prefer remaining close to contemporary narratives (in this case narratives written in 1857 or around that time).
I disagree strongly. Modern scholarship often adds new insights and is better placed by distance and so can be objective whereas contemporary writers who witnessed the events they described were susceptible to subjectivity.

Once others - who are not employed in British Indian Army take up leadership or arms, then it conflict converts into something larger than a mutiny. Since the leaders - Bahadur Shah, Nana Sahib, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Begum Hazrat Mahal; were not employees of the british Indian Army; it became more than a mutiny. Additional fighting men were recruited to join the mutineers.

3. It was definitely a Rebellion

The word rebellion was applied to the events in 1857 itself in the British parliament.

Rebellion is defined as "an act of armed resistance to an established government or leader."
This is really an exercise in semantics, but let us regard the event as a mutiny largely by sepoys of the Bengal Army who were joined by some disgruntled princes who had lost, or were about to lose their title and pensions because of Dalhousie`s "Doctrine Of Lapse". The mutiny, or rebellion if that is what you want to call it, did not raise the Punjab, hardly affected the Bombay Army, and did not affect the Madras Army. It cannot be called an Indian War of Independence. it was a complex affair to be sure, but not a rising on a national scale.

'Proclamations of Independence' were issued by at least Bahadur Shah Zafar,
He did not want any part of it, but was intimidated by the mutineers to act as a figurehead against his will, and there is a lot of evidence to prove it. Bahadur Shah II, the last Mogul emperor, then King of Delhi, was a relic of times past, a puppet of the British as his forbears had been puppets of the Marathas. He was a man supported by a British pension, aged 82, fairly content to enjoy his poetry, cook, play with his pet birds and animals, and at least try to - given his age - enjoy himself with his concubines.

I`ve actually, Rajeev, been reading about what happened in Delhi when the mutineers from Meerut reached the city, and the slaughter of innocents, both British and Indians, really surpassed the awful events at Cawnpore. I can describe that "time of terror" in graphic detail if you want, but it will make grim reading: grim reading, indeed .No wonder the British exacted retribution, and they did it savagely, aided by Indian, Afghan, and Gurkha soldiers, and we can add to that list the levees provided by princes who remained loyal to the Raj. A further point, there were rather more of them than rebel princes. None of the viciousness, from both sides, however, would be excused or tolerated today, but as I once quoted earlier in this thread: "The past is a foreign country they do things differently there".
 
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kandal

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,527
USA
See, that's the problem. Its Either/Or with you. Why are these terms mutually exclusive?
The Great Revolt comprised many different groups. Each of these groups had different ambitions. Ambitions could overlap across groups, and ambitions were also specific to each group. For the Sepoys it was about pay, about religious identity and their customs being infringed upon, and also about political legitimacy. For sepoys and and people from places such as Awadh and Punjab, it was also about independence. For the Indian Princes and Rulers? They were hardly a single homogenous class. For Bahadur Shah Zafar it was about being dragged into the Rebellion, but for his court and family, it was about the authority and symbolic sovereignty that the British and the EIC, by treaty and even Parliamentary dictate, owed to them. It was about the Peshkash which had been denied since the 18th century, about the promises of Wellesley and Lake not kept by their successors, about the nominal sovereignty denied by Lord Hastings and successors.

For Lakshmibai it was about securing her own state, which the EIC officials looked to try and absorb, contrary to the principles of Indian Sovereignty. For Nana Saheb, it was about regaining the Peshwai which had been stripped from him and denied to him by the British but which was legitimately theirs and was recognized as such by his retainers, and by the local population. The latter two were also reluctant joiners, having attempted to achieve their aims through negotiation prior to the Rebellion. But in all of this, the blatant bad faith with which EIC officials acted cannot be overlooked. For example the outright lies of Metcalfe in the early part of the 19th century when dealing with Akbar Shah for example did not go unnoticed in the Delhi Court.

For the Talukdars of Awadh, it was about the illegitimate annexation of their territories, and their own community ties with the Rebels, most of whom came from upper class landed communities. For the Punjabis it was about the Military Occupation they existed under, and the recent memories of their hostile annexation following the death of Ranjit Singh.

Are you going to put a single label to all of these different motivations? Mutiny is a military term. Were the ordinary people of Punjab, the Talukdars of Awadh, the regular people of Gwalior and Jhansi, the crown princes of Delhi mutineers? How could they be? They were not in the military employment of the British. I can rebel against my country today. But I cannot mutiny. Were all parties uniformly seeking independence from British Rule? The Sepoys in Delhi certainly seem to have been. But Lakshmibai in her early days appears to not have been. Zafar certainly wasn't but his sons perhaps were.

The very fact that you want to reduce this event to a single motivational binary speaks to your refusal to understand the complexities of the event. The fact that you think it can only be a Sepoy Mutiny or A War of Independence suggests that you aren't interested in understanding it, just in labeling it.
I like reading your extensive analysis on many topics, as is the case here too. The issue though is that you get into this 'paralysis by analysis', and can't make up your mind at the end. That is the most frustrating thing I have about your posts. That is also the case here. For once, stop sitting on fence and make up your mind.
 

tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,332
India
I like reading your extensive analysis on many topics, as is the case here too. The issue though is that you get into this 'paralysis by analysis', and can't make up your mind at the end. That is the most frustrating thing I have about your posts. That is also the case here. For once, stop sitting on fence and make up your mind.
Lol. You think my mind isn't made up? Hilarious. I'm trying to show you the Mutiny is many things, and you're so determined to close your eyes that you actively refused to engage and want to specifically boil it down to a single characterization. Sadly human history is not simplistic and cannot be always be reduced to elementary school level simplicity.
 
Oct 2015
899
India
You are not advancing your argument by quoting Marx and Engels, both of whom can hardly be described as unbiased.
If we limit primary evidence to only the official or demi-official British sources, then there is no need for any new research or book, and we can just repeat the conclusions of Colonel Malleson: [1] Nothing significantly new would be found.

....

"But before I proceed to this summing up, I am anxious to say a word or two to disabuse the minds of those who may have been influenced by rumours current at the period as to the nature of the retaliation dealt out to the rebels by the British soldiers in the hour of their triumph. .... But beyond the deaths he inflicted in fair fight, the British soldier perpetrated no unnecessary slaughter. He merited to the full the character given to his predecessor in the Peninsular War by Sir William Napier. He proved by his conduct that, ' whilst no physical military qualification was wanting, the fount of honour was still full and fresh within him.' - Page 406

"The gradual conquest of India by a company of merchants inhabiting a small island in the Atlantic has ever been regarded as one of the most marvellous achievements of which history makes mention. ... But great, marvellous even, as was that achievement, it sinks into insignificance when compared with the reconquest, with small means, of that magnificent empire in 1857-8." - Page 407

"Western system of representation is hateful to the Eastern races which inhabit the continent of India ; that it is foreign to their traditions, their habits, their modes of thought. The people of India are content with the system which Akbar founded, and on the principles of which the English have hitherto mainly governed. Our Western institutions, not an absolute success in Europe, are based upon principles with which they have no sympathy. The millions of Hindustan desire a master who will carry out the principles of the Queen's proclamation of 1858. - Page 413

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Primary Evidence: Acceptance & Rejection

In re-constructing the past, it is essential to prima facie accept all available primary evidence and then argue why a particular source may be biased.

In addition to the British sources there are few more. These include three texts of proclamations of independence. Records available in Urdu archives in Delhi, some of which, as @tornada had pointed out, are pre-selected, because British decided to preserve some as part of court proceedings. William Dalrymple has worked on them. [2], [3]. There is a book by an Australian lawyer who was representing Rani Lakshmi Bai in case against EIC in Privy Council, there is a book by an Indian Brahmin who was travelling at that time [4].

Similarly, I do not find enough reason to outright reject the statements of Karl Marx. In fact, being a 'stateless' man, living in London in 1857/1858, and commenting on a emotionally charged issue to his host country; his freedom to deviate from the official version of war must have been limited. New York Tribune, which published his articles, was a respectable paper as it was the largest daily in New York.

We need to have an open mind, howsoever contrary to our POV, or even painful, the new evidence be. Rejecting contrary primary evidence is an easy way of holding on to uni-polar view and it is psychologically cozy also.

References:

[1] The Indian Mutiny of 1857 by Colonel G.B. Malleson, 10th Edition, London, 1912.

[2] The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, by William Dalrymple. Delhi 1857.

[3] Besieged: Voices from Delhi 1857.by Mahmood Farooqui. Selections from Urdu and Shikastah sources.

[4] Vishnu Bhatt Godse.Maza Pravas: 1857 cya Bandaci Hakikat (Marathi "My journey: the truth about the 1857 rebellion")
 
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Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,117
New Delhi, India
Lol. You think my mind isn't made up? Hilarious. I'm trying to show you the Mutiny is many things, and you're so determined to close your eyes that you actively refused to engage and want to specifically boil it down to a single characterization. Sadly human history is not simplistic and cannot be always be reduced to elementary school level simplicity.
His mind is already been made up. Anything that denigrates Indians, Hinduism and brahmins and anything which eulogizes Europeans and Christianity is correct. He has been very clear-headed about it. He is here for no other purpose.
 
Nov 2008
1,218
England
We need to have an open mind, howsoever contrary to our POV, or even painful, the new evidence be. Rejecting contrary primary evidence is an easy way of holding on to uni-polar view and it is psychologically cozy also.
I agree, and that is what the modern historians I have studied and consulted have done. To mention just three: Julian Spilsbury, Saul David, and Andrew Ward. G. B. Malleson whom you cite could be partisan to a degree, but not totally so. He served in India prior to and during the Mutiny, witnessing the drama; but he was also critical of the actions of Dalhousie, the Governor General, zealously implementing the Doctrine of Lapse, and also removing the king of Oudh and implementing direct rule in such a high handed manner. It obviously needed to be done because Oudh was awash with corruption and badly ruled, but "old Indian hands" wanted reform to be done slowly and cautiously, but their advice was ignored.

Karl Marx is a poor source for information, because he wasn`t there, and his views were coloured by his extreme, biased political theories. And those theories inspired the likes of Lenin and Pol Pot.

The Rani of Jhansi was actually praised by her nemesis, General Rose, who regarded her as a formidable foe, and in India today she has heroic status. However, we must understand that she threw her lot in with the mutineers with a view to retain for her adoptive son, and rule on his behalf, the state of Jhansi. Now, she would have ruled Jhansi as a feudal domain with all that entails, not with altruism, and certainly not as a liberal constitutional monarchy. She would have had the power of life and death over her subjects, and she would have exercised that power if anyone had dissented. So too would have been the behaviour of the Nana Sahib. It can be argued that like the King of Delhi, the Ran and Nana Sahib were, at least to a certain extent, victims of circumstance, being forced and bullied to throw their lot in with the mutineers . However, when they did, they were complicate indirectly with the atrocities committed, guilty of rebellion, and there was no way back for them.
 
Oct 2015
899
India
It can be argued that like the King of Delhi, the Ran and Nana Sahib were, at least to a certain extent, victims of circumstance, being forced and bullied to throw their lot in with the mutineers . However, when they did, they were complicate indirectly with the atrocities committed, guilty of rebellion, and there was no way back for them.
Hello @Aelfwine

As you said King of Delhi may have been forced / pushed / tempted by mutineers into declaring independence.

Rani Lakshmibai, it seems to me, was 'hunted' down by General Rose. She offered peace to him, which he ignored / rejected, and she did not have much option left after that but to fight. She fought daringly - that is what her opponents have recorded for us.

Nana Sahib/Tatya Tope and Begum Hazrat Mahal were the true rebels. In others words, these two groups had option not to rebel. Both decided to throw their hat in the ring, staked their lives, and fought to see whether they could come out victors against the British.

Finally, as it turned out, Nana Sahib did not want to die in war. He fled and spent rest of his life incognito as a mendicant. same applies to Begum Hazrat Mahal. It was Tatya Tope who kept fleeing from a pursuing army who kept the blood pressure of British for many months even after the rebellion / war had been suppressed.
 
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Nov 2008
1,218
England
Finally, as it turned out, Nana Sahib did not want to die in war. He fled and spent rest of his life incognito as a mendicant.
Well, that is one claim, and another is that he died of fever, probably in Nepal, in September 1859. There were imposters and others whom it was claimed to be Nana Sahib arrested from time to time. All of these individuals were examined and they were all released. Indeed, the longer time passed it would have been exceedingly difficult to prove if any of these people was the Nana Sahib, and to be honest the British began to loose interest in the man. In 1895 an exited British official telegraphed Calcutta, "Have arrested the Nana Sahib", and he received the reply, "Release at once".