Tag Archives: 1857 War of Independence

Swarajya, Swadharma and Swadeshi – The Key Issues of 1857 War of Independence –

May 10th, 1857 War of Independence began in Meeruth.

This war was fought all over the country on the issues of Swarajya, Swadharma, Swadeshi and Goraksha. Kamal (lotus)—the symbol of Hindu Dharma—and roti (bread)—the symbol of the basic needs of common man—were used as war symbols and people participated in large numbers from urban, rural, forest and hill areas. Precisely for this reason, the then British government had perpetrated heinous atrocities on common people along with freedom fighters.

The British derided this war as an ordinary and localised ‘Sepoy mutiny’ and an attempt to protect kingdoms and feudal states, so that the ordinary masses would not get any inspiration from it. Unfortunately, a section of our countrymen joined this chorus and started describing it as merely a ‘Sepoy mutiny’. Even our history textbooks too present it in the same manner. In spite of all this, the scintillating image of this war as a glorious War of Independence remained intact in the hearts of the people.

Swatantryaveer Savarkar authored a well-researched treatise on this War of Independence and threw light on its popular and countrywide character and its impact on the freedom struggle that followed. It played a very important role during the Independence Movement despite the British imposing a ban even before its publication. The post-1857 history is a standing testimony to the fact that on one hand the revolutionaries and other freedom fighters drew inspiration from the narratives of sacrifices and valour of this great war until the time of Independence, while on the other hand, it provided a major source of inspiration in the struggle for the liberation of Goa and Puducherry (Pondicherry) after Independence.

Some people interpret this war as a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity. While there is nothing objectionable about it, it cannot be kept in the category of the efforts for Hindu-Muslim unity based on mindless appeasement that took place in the latter part of our freedom struggle. It should be kept in mind that all these efforts had culminated in the tragic Partition of our country in 1947. The participation of the Muslims in the 1857 war was based on positive grounds rather than on religion-based separatist mindset. Honouring the Hindu sentiments, the then Muslim leadership agreed on matters like ban on cow-slaughter, death penalty to the slaughterers of cows, handing over the Ramjanmabhoomi in Ayodhya to Hindus etc. This dimension of Hindu-Muslim co-operation of 1857 should always be kept in mind.

Sacred memories of the freedom struggle and its martyrs are ever-inspiring.

  • From RSS ABPS 2007 

 

Related articles

1857 War – British Holocaust 

 

1857 War and the British holocaust where millions disappeared…’

The battle of Cawnpore, India

The battle of Cawnpore – the entire British garrison died at Cawnpore (now Kanpur), either in the battle or later massacred with women and children. Their deaths became a war cry for the British.

A controversial new history of the Indian Mutiny, which broke out 150 years ago and is acknowledged to have been the greatest challenge to any European power in the 19th century, claims that the British pursued a murderous decade-long campaign to wipe out millions of people who dared rise up against them.

In War of Civilisations: India AD 1857, Amaresh Misra, a writer and historian based in Mumbai, argues that there was an “untold holocaust” which caused the deaths of almost 10 million people over 10 years beginning in 1857. Britain was then the world’s superpower but, says Misra, came perilously close to losing its most prized possession: India.

Conventional histories have counted only 100,000 Indian soldiers who were slaughtered in savage reprisals, but none have tallied the number of rebels and civilians killed by British forces desperate to impose order, claims Misra.

The author says he was surprised to find that the “balance book of history” could not say how many Indians were killed in the aftermath of 1857. This is remarkable, he says, given that in an age of empires, nothing less than the fate of the world hung in the balance.

“It was a holocaust, one where millions disappeared. It was a necessary holocaust in the British view because they thought the only way to win was to destroy entire populations in towns and villages. It was simple and brutal. Indians who stood in their way were killed. But its scale has been kept a secret,” Misra told the Guardian.

His calculations rest on three principal sources. Two are records pertaining to the number of religious resistance fighters killed – either Islamic mujahideen or Hindu warrior ascetics committed to driving out the British.

The third source involves British labour force records, which show a drop in manpower of between a fifth and a third across vast swaths of India, which as one British official records was “on account of the undisputed display of British power, necessary during those terrible and wretched days – millions of wretches seemed to have died.”

There is a macabre undercurrent in much of the correspondence. In one incident Misra recounts how 2m letters lay unopened in government warehouses, which, according to civil servants, showed “the kind of vengeance our boys must have wreaked on the abject Hindoos and Mohammadens, who killed our women and children.”

Misra’s casualty claims have been challenged in India and Britain. “It is very difficult to assess the extent of the reprisals simply because we cannot say for sure if some of these populations did not just leave a conflict zone rather than being killed,” said Shabi Ahmad, head of the 1857 project at the Indian Council of Historical Research. “It could have been migration rather than murder that depopulated areas.”

Many view exaggeration rather than deceit in Misra’s calculations. A British historian, Saul David, author of The Indian Mutiny, said it was valid to count the death toll but reckoned that it ran into “hundreds of thousands”.

“It looks like an overestimate. There were definitely famines that cost millions of lives, which were exacerbated by British ruthlessness. You don’t need these figures or talk of holocausts to hammer imperialism. It has a pretty bad track record.”

Others say Misra has done well to unearth anything in that period, when the British assiduously snuffed out Indian versions of history. “There appears a prolonged silence between 1860 and the end of the century where no native voices are heard. It is only now that these stories are being found and there is another side to the story,” said Amar Farooqui, history professor at Delhi University. “In many ways books like Misra’s and those of [William] Dalrymple show there is lots of material around. But you have to look for it.”

What is not in doubt is that in 1857 Britain ruled much of the subcontinent in the name of the Bahadur Shah Zafar, the powerless poet-king improbably descended from Genghis Khan.

Neither is there much dispute over how events began: on May 10 Indian soldiers, both Muslim and Hindu, who were stationed in the central Indian town of Meerut revolted and killed their British officers before marching south to Delhi. The rebels proclaimed Zafar, then 82, emperor of Hindustan and hoisted a saffron flag above the Red Fort.

What follows in Misra’s view was nothing short of the first war of Indian independence, a story of a people rising to throw off the imperial yoke. Critics say the intentions and motives were more muddled: a few sepoys misled into thinking the officers were threatening their religious traditions. In the end British rule prevailed for another 90 years.

Misra’s analysis breaks new ground by claiming the fighting stretched across India rather than accepting it was localised around northern India. Misra says there were outbreaks of anti-British violence in southern Tamil Nadu, near the Himalayas, and bordering Burma. “It was a pan-Indian thing. No doubt.”

Misra also claims that the uprisings did not die out until years after the original mutiny had fizzled away, countering the widely held view that the recapture of Delhi was the last important battle.

For many the fact that Indian historians debate 1857 from all angles is in itself a sign of a historical maturity. “You have to see this in the context of a new, more confident India,” said Jon E Wilson, lecturer in south Asian history at King’s College London. “India has a new relationship with 1857. In the 40s and 50s the rebellions were seen as an embarrassment. All that fighting, when Nehru and Gandhi preached nonviolence. But today 1857 is becoming part of the Indian national story. That is a big change.”

What they said

Charles Dickens: “I wish I were commander-in-chief in India … I should proclaim to them that I considered my holding that appointment by the leave of God, to mean that I should do my utmost to exterminate the race.”

Karl Marx: “The question is not whether the English had a right to conquer India, but whether we are to prefer India conquered by the Turk, by the Persian, by the Russian, to India conquered by the Briton.”

L’Estaffette, French newspaper: “Intervene in favour of the Indians, launch all our squadrons on the seas, join our efforts with those of Russia against British India …such is the only policy truly worthy of the glorious traditions of France.”

The Guardian: “We sincerely hope that the terrible lesson thus taught will never be forgotten … We may rely on native bayonets, but they must be officered by Europeans.”

Courtesy : The Guardian; Author : Sri Randeep Ramesh

A leaf from the Economic History of India during 19th century

  • Khandavalli Satya Deva Prasad

(Source: Chapter 12 of Operation Red Lotus: A Strategic Reassessment, by Prarag Tope, Rupa and co., 2010).

In Aug of 1857, the war in India had shaken the world. England was mobilizing tens of  thousands of their soldiers in other parts of the world for deployment in India. This needed  large amounts of funds.

An American businessman called George Francis Train, who later ran for the president, in his  book published in 1857, asks:

“England says they are short of funds. Where are the hundreds of millions of silver that have  been shipped there, disturbing the currency of the world?”(George Francis Train, Young America in Wall Street, pp.198-200, Sampson Low and Son, London, 1857).

During the summer of 1857, in the month of June and July, the English discreetly withdrew hundreds of millions of dollars of their investments from US banks and trusts, creating a massive liquidity crisis.

On 24th Aug 1857 the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company in the United States filed for bankruptcy. This failure was the beginning of what is known as the ‘panic of 1857’, a severe economic crisis that the US faced, and spread into Europe. India was a major supplier of cotton to Britain in this period. The disruption of cotton supply to Britain encouraged the English to look elsewhere for cotton- including the southern colonies of the United States. The panic of 1857, in combination with the dynamics related to cotton trade with Britain, led to the dramatic clash between the northern and the southern colonies of the US.

***********

Comments: The above extract not only points to the major role played by the Indian economy in the global economy but also its life line role in the British economy. The 1857 First war of Independence waged by the Indians not only shook the British economy to the core but also contributed to far reaching crises in the United States’ such as the panic of 1857 and the Civil War. These facts are in stark contrast to what the run of the mill text books on Indian History and Economy teach. They never present the global reach and decisive importance of Indian economy even during the misrule of the British imperialists. This kind of selective blindness in our history, both general and subject specific like economic, scientific needs to be corrected in order to know our true past so that we can use it as the foundation to build our future.