The British called its battles of 1857 in the Indian sub-continent, waged by native people, as “Sepoy Mutiny” or terms as dismissive, more or less : rebellion, revolt, uprising or subaltern war ( by sepoy cadres and junior officers in their own military ) ! For long now, after I came across compelling evidence of it being a far more concerted and coordinated affair, the historical lies and half-truths that continue to be taught in our schools and colleges has seemed so shocking and shameful to me. But that streaming propaganda flows unabated over the young minds to this day, despite corrections since suggested by very eminent minds and respectable historians. Why ? Are our people so naive, gullible, stupid or fast brainwashed ? Let me know …
The First War For India’s Independence : 1857
Academics have detailed the economic, socio-political and religious causes behind the war, and this essay would not recount them. What needs to be recalled is that the War was a continuation of British – Maratha hostilities that formally ended with Peshwa Bajirao II’s banishment to Bithoor, near Kanpur, but burned informally among close associates of Nanasaheb, the adopted but rightful heir to Maratha leadership. That circle included Tatya Tope and the Rani of Jhansi, leading generals behind the widespread uprising against British rule.
In January 1856, James Outram crossed the Ganges to depose the King of Oudh and take over the principality. Nana Saheb is reported to have travelled from Bithoor and met representatives of the Begum of Oudh, who was nursing her hurt and was well aware of the angst among the people against the British takeover.
Situationally, the British invincibility was proving to be a myth and the seething simmer among the native people was palpable. The colonialists had suffered very heavy losses in the 1st Afghan War (1838) in north-west, in battles waged by Santhal tribes eastern provinces, and the Crimean War in Europe. It was also exactly a hundred years after the battle of Plassey (1757) with which victory the British had gained their status to power; the timing had filled the people with the hope that the end of alien occupation was near.
The British had forged very powerful alignments with select native rulers in the country such as the Scindias in Central India, the Sikhs in North, and the Nizam in South. But they had also antagonised very many others through their policies especially framed for reneging on treaties, denying agreed upon priviledges to heirs of erstwhile ruling families and not honouring grants conferred by them. They had pretexts for annexing independent principalities and taking over smaller fiefs of elite nobles, courtiers and commanders.
On a yet wider scale, the people were extremely agitated by aggressive State policy for propagating Christianity and material reward to natives for conversion of faith. There were social and educational reforms that people resented being imposed upon. Money gathering from the smallest of farmers and traders through adhoc announcements were steep and economic depredation were putting vast numbers out of business. To sum, the vortex unleashed by the white men had disaffected the common people everywhere.
Historical Records And The Untold History
It is strange therefore that India’s post – colonial history remains a mere refurbished form of the same propagated by the British before the country’s independence. Considering the fact that the War was spread over 18 months, upto 36 in places, and involved hundreds of thousand of men, how would it have been waged as mere coincident local disruptions, without money and leadership distribution to a plan ? How does a march of millions of man – miles happen without food, horses and carts, armaments to fight with arguably the most powerful nation then on the earth ? The official account and event sketch by aquiescent historians fail to answer the questions.
At the outset, the officially stated cause triggers like greased cartridge, banishing Sati and Thuggee, abolition of female infanticide and child marriage … do not seem reason enough to start dozens of disparate armed battles against the occupiers at the same time over most of the northern half of the subcontinent. The mutinies had been going on for long but ruthlessly suppressed and completely hushed. Discontent had been brewing for several decades before the First war of Indian Independence over lack of respect shown by British officers to natives in the same army units.