Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Sepoy Rebellion of 1857-59 (contd-1)

Namboodiripad in his book "History of Freedom Struggle of India:" wrote

THE British had once propagated that what took place during the years 1857 to 1859 in India was only a sepoy mutiny and that it did not have any support from the people of India.
 Later on, when the national movement for independence gathered momentum, historians came forward with facts claiming that it was a freedom struggle and that it had widespread support of the people. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who had actively participated in the freedom struggle and who was convicted to a long term of imprisonment, had even written a book, entitled The Indian War of Independence in which he brought out several facts and authoritative documents that had not yet seen the light of the day.
 Following Savarkar, several other political activists and scholars of history basing themselves on the stand of the nationalists, tried to evaluate the struggle of 1857-59. As a result of extensive research conducted by them, it came to light that the British officials who had either directly participated in those incidents or had witnessed them, were themselves divided on the character of the so-called Sepoy Mutiny. Col. G.B. Malleson, Sir John William Kaye, Charles Ball, Rev. Alexander Duff and many others had cited several instances of mass support that the insurrectionists had. According to Keye, there was none among the Hindus and Muslims from Ganga to Yamuna who was not against the British.
 Malleson expressed the opinion that the majority of the people in Oudh (Ayodhya) Rohilkhand, Bundelkhand, Sagar and Narmada were against the British.
 What is more, Disraeli, who later became the prime minister of England, participating in the deliberations in the House of Commons on July 27, 1857, disagreed with the official view that the Indian struggle was merely a “military mutiny.”
 By 1947, as in the case of many other matters, a new impetus was given to research into the Indian freedom struggle. The centenary of the “freedom struggle” which the British authorities called “Sepoy Mutiny”, was celebrated under the auspices of the government itself. As a part of the celebrations extensive research work was organised. Committees were constituted under the direct leadership of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who was then the Union minister of Education.
 Prof Tara Chand’s History of the Freedom Movement in India, from which several quotations were given in the earlier chapters, was the result of this work. This was prepared under official auspices. A series of monographs was also published non-officially under the supervision of Dr R. C. Majumdar. Several other books, pamphlets and theses were also brought out. Yet although not in the same from as in the earlier days, two fundamentally differing approaches remained with the historians on the nature and contents of the struggle of 1857-59.
 Although it is not correct to characterise it as a mere “Sepoy Mutiny” as the British administration had done earlier, it is not correct either to maintain that the sepoys or the civilians took up arms and fought against the government with the aim of liberating the country from the yoke of the British; their aim was selfish --- this was one opinion. In the view of another section of scholars, what took place in 1857-59 was a people’s revolt.
 The most vociferous advocate of the former opinion was Dr Majumdar and of the latter Dr S B Choudhury. In between these two was Dr S N Sen, the author of Eighteen Fifty Seven published with an introduction by Maulana Azad. He opined that in Oudh and in the surrounding areas it was a people’s rebellion; while in other places it was merely a sepoy mutiny.
 But it is important to note that even Dr Majumdar, who was opposed to the characterisation of 1857-59 as a freedom struggle, was not prepared to consider it as a mere sepoy mutiny. The very title of his book was “Sepoy Mutiny and the Revolt of 1857” justifying this title, he wrote: “I have selected the title ‘the Sepoy Mutiny and the Revolt of 1857’ as in my opinion it correctly describes the essential nature of the movements, whatever we might take of it. The word ‘revolt’ is used in its normal sense of casting off allegiance to the rulers, and does not convey any moral judgement such as disapproval or odium.”
 Thus, it can be seen that even right from the British officials and historians referred to above to the Indian scholars of history like Dr Majumdar who have no sympathy for the objectives of the struggle, do concede the popular support to it.
 One can say without hesitation that it was a rebellion in which millions of people in areas covered by the present Uttar Pradesh, and some parts of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh participated. At the same time, it was a movement without popular support in the entire South India, eastern India including Bengal, and in Punjab. Even scholars like Dr Choudhury who characterise it as a people’s struggle do accept this fact