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The Nature of the Revolt of 1857

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  The Revolt of 1857 was a major anti-colonial movement which shook the foundations of British rule in India. Diverent views have !een e #ressed reardin the nature of the out!reak of 1857. Theseviews can !e !roadl$ divided into two classes. %ome think that the out!reak was #rimaril$ and essentiall$ a mutin$ of se#o$s& thouh in certain areas it drifted into arevolt of the #eo#le. 'thers hold that it was reall$ a re!ellion of the #eo#le rather thanmerel$ a mutin$ of the soldiers. (harles Ball and ).*. +a$e were amon the #ioneers who wrote a!out 1857 from the,se#o$s mutin$ #ers#ective. Both Ball and +a$e attached tremendous im#ortance tocaste status& which the se#o$s thouht were undermined in the cantonments. The$ alsore#resent the out!reak of 1857 as an oranied cam#ain to drive awa$ the British fromIndia.British historians who took to hihlihtin the ,cons#irac$ theor$ include /.B. 0allesonand +a$e. 0alleson& in his !ook the Indian 0utin$ of 1857& e #lains the entire re!ellionas an outcome of the #remeditated desins of a handful of leaders. 0alleson also !rouhtout the differences of race as the reason for the re!ellion. +a$e& 0alleson and other mention Bahadur %hahs corres#ondence with the %hah of ersia detailin his rievances aainst the British in su##ort of the cons#irac$ theor$. Butthis cannot lead us to conclude that there was a #re#lanned cons#irac$. R.(. 0ajumdar states that the utmost that can !e said is that ersian alliance was desired !$ Bahadur %hah who ho#ed that such an alliance would hel# them drive out the British $et in viewof the international situation little im#ortance should !e iven to the so-called cons#irac$.2urthermore& there is little evidence of #remeditated cons#irac$ !ecause the variousout!reaks durin the revolt were uncoordinated and unoranied and the se#o$s once freeof British authorit$ rarel$ knew what to do ne t. The wide circulation of cha#attis just !efore the out!reak is rearded !$ man$ as anim#ortant evidence in favour of an oranied cons#irac$. 3owever& it should !e concededthat at the time of the out!reak no!od$ knew an$thin definite a!out the oriinal sourcefrom which the cha#attis oriinated. %ome #eo#le !elieve that it was intended as a #reventive measure aainst some calamities. 'thers took it to !e as a #re#aration for anout!reak. To 4uote R.(. 0ajumdar& even if it is to !e taken for ranted that the cha#attiswere deli!eratel$ desined !$ some as a sinal for the out!reak& we ma$ safel$ assert thatit was not understood !$ the #eo#le as such.6*ith the rise of nationalism& nationalist historians and freedom fihters !ean to look u#on the u#risin as a #art of the countr$s strule for freedom. The revolt came toassume the character of a strule for inde#endence. This view was stronl$ #ut forward !$ .D. %avarkar who in 19 titled his !ook on the revolt as The olcano or the 2irst*ar of Indian Inde#endence. 3e arues that #eo#le rose u# in arms in 1857 for   safeuardin swadharma :their reliion; and for winnin !ack swaraj :their inde#endence;. The nationalist inter#retation of the revolt ained further su##ort from the 0ar ist schoolof historians who rearded it as a t$#ical national li!eration u#risin of the #easantr$.+arl 0ar as a corres#ondence of the <ew =ork Dail$ Times wrote a series of articlesdurin 1857-58 descri!in it as such. .(. )oshi in an article on the Revolt of 1857claimed that the #easantr$ was the s#earhead of #o#ular revolutionar$ movement.3owever& to read the events of 1857 as a #easant revolt do not ive a com#lete #ortra$alof the whole #icture. In recent $ears leadin Indian historians have turned awa$ from the nationalist historiansviews. %en& in his !ook >ihteen 2ift$-seven& focused on the towns as centres of re!ellion. 3e narrated the course of the u#risin !$ descri!in the manner in which there!els struck at the British #ower in these towns and their encounters with the counter-insurenc$ forces. 3e also deals with the issue of whether the revolt was a reliious war or a racial strule and whether moral issues were involved. %en arues that the mutin$ was inevita!le as no de#endent nation can for ever reconcileitself to forein domination. 3e writes& *hat !ean as a fiht for reliion ended as a war of inde#endence& for there is not the slihtest dou!t that the re!els wanted to et rid of thealien overnment and restore the old order of which the +in of Delhi was the rihtfulre#resentative.6 %en arues that in the a!sence of #atriotism reliion served as the most #otent force in unitin #eo#le from all walks of life. %en also states that in ?wadh therevolt assumed nationalistic dimensions !ut the term national must !e used in a limitedsense for the conce#t of Indian nationalit$ was $et an em!r$o. 3e writes the #atriots of ?wadh fouht for the kin and the countr$ !ut the$ were not cham#ions of freedom for the$ had no conce#tion of individual li!ert$. 'n the contrar$ the$ would if the$ couldrevive the old order. %.B. (haudhuri& in his !ook (ivil Re!ellion in the Indian 0utinies& em#hasies the !ifurcation of 1857 into two distinct historical as#ects @ the militar$ mutin$ and the civilre!ellion. ?ccordin to him& whereas the se#o$s struck the first !low& the$ did not #roduce the leadershi# necessar$ to canalie the activities of the re!ellious troo#s. These#o$s in such a circumstance came to !e led !$ leaders from the aristocratic and rulinfamilies which chaned the militar$ character of the revolt and saw the merin of themilitar$ u#risin into a #o#ular re!ellion. (haudhuri states that the fact that overnmentesta!lishments were destro$ed& records !urnt and telera#hic lines cut off& show that itwas !oth a mutin$ and a re!ellion. (haudhuri arues that the out!reak was an anti-British and anti-colonial movement thathad definite #recedents in earlier u#risins and which antici#ated the later strule for national freedom. The civil u#risin in 1857 was led !$ feudal lords who !rouhttoether diverse #eo#le of all classes and the outcome was the creation of a national front.3e feels the insurenc$ was essentiall$ an e #ression of a national out!urst aainstBritish rule caused !$ intense reliious and economic discontent.  R.(. 0ajumdar refutes the views of %avarkar& %en& and %.B. (haudhuri in his !ook titled%e#o$ 0utin$ and the Revolt of 1857. 3e does not reard the revolt as the first nationalwar of inde#endence. 3e states that it would !e a travest$ of truth to descri!e the revoltof the civil #o#ulation as a national war of inde#endence. <ational it certainl$ was not&for& the u#sure of the #eo#le was limited to a com#arative narrow reion of India&com#risin at !est the reater #art of Anited rovinces and a narrow one to its east westand south. The whole of Benal& ?ssam& 'rissa& Rajasthan and reater #art of unja!&Bihar and 0adh$a radesh as well as the whole of India south of the <armada valle$witnessed no act of re!ellion on the #art of the #eo#le. 3e further arues that even withinthis narrow one where the civil #o#ulation revolted there were considera!le sectionswho were friendl$ to the >nlish. 3e ives the e am#les of certain rulin chiefs certainsections of the landed aristocrac$ who remained lo$al or did not !reak out into o#enre!ellion. R.(. 0ajumdar is thus dou!tful a!out the national character of the 1857 re!ellion.?ccordin to him& even thouh the se#o$s and local #eo#le fouht toether aainst the>nlish& one misses that real communal amit$ which characteries a national effort. 3ewrites that there was communal tension in Delhi& in some #arts of A and that some of the #roclamations issued also show that 0uslims were e ertin themselves to the utmostwhile the 3indus were lukewarm. 0ajumdar also feels that communal discord wassu##lemented !$ racial animosit$. The 0uslims in 3$dera!ad were e cited !$ anti-British feelins $et were hostile towards the 0arathas. The Raj#uts& 0arathas and the%ikhs were aainst the 0uhals and did not favour the restoration of the 0uhals.0ajumdar also denies that the leaders and re!els were im!ued with nationalistic feelins.3e feels that the re!els fouht aainst the British !ecause the latter constituted a rulinauthorit$ !ut the$ did not take u# arms with the conscious and definite o!jective to freeIndia from forein rule. R.(. 0ajumdar is critical of the motive uidin the civil #o#ulation and the leaders. ?sreards the civil #o#ulation& he writes that #eo#le in each localit$ revolted onl$ when theBritish authorit$ had left it and the administrative machiner$ had !roken down. 3e statesthat& >ach rou# or individual leader fouht for self-interest and had no alleiance to acommon cause.6 0ajumdar !rins u# the false #erce#tion of #eo#les role in the u#risinand the wron !elief that #revailed in the dominant circles that 1857 re!ellion was anattem#t to drive out the British #ower. There is a consensus amon the historians that the revolt was not the first of its kind. Itwas also not an isolated out!reak rather it was the culmination of accumulated discontentamon various classes due to different factors. %econdl$& the re!el leaders fouht for the #reservation of their rihts and #rivilees. The$ all fouht for the status 4uo $et thestrule in 1857 took on a wider conte t without chanin its feudal character. The historians of the revolt have tended to move awa$ from the nomenclature de!ate of the %en-0ajumdar da$s to a more s#ecific serious 4uestion a!out the ararian roots&social com#osition and detailed area-wise !reakdown.  %ome historians have looked at the revolt from the view#oint of the #easants. To them the #easants were the revolutionar$ #otential for the re!ellion. The se#o$s who inited theflame of revolt came from the societ$ of #easants. >ric %tokes& in his !ooks easant andthe Raj and The easant ?rmed& has tried to answer 4uestions relatin to the historical #ro!lems concernin the #rocess !$ which militar$ mutin$ was converted into civilre!ellion and how the landed class came to #rovide leadershi# to !oth se#o$s mutin$ andcivil re!ellion. %tokes writes that the #easantr$ formed the vital link !etween militar$mutin$ and rural tur!ulence. 3e em#hasied that the re!ellion of 1857 was& in asinificant sense& a #easant revolt. Ranajit /uha& in his !ook >lementar$ ?s#ects of easant Insurenc$ in (olonial India&discovered elements of conscious hostilit$ in the Revolt of 1857. 3e arues is that theviolence !$ the #easants durin the revolt was directed at #articular tarets. The #easantsaner was directed towards the !ankers and mone$lenders #articularl$ in A. /uha feelsthis taret s#ecific violence shows how the #easants were a!le to distinuish !etweenenemies and allies. /uha states that there were attacks on overnment #ro#ert$& British #ersonnel and also on Indian colla!orators of the Raj. In some areas a revolt aainst thewhite #eo#le was turned into violence aainst local landlords and vice versa. Therefore&the #easants out!reak durin the revolt were directed as much aainst the overnment asaainst the mone$lenders. %tokes states that #easant risins aainst the 0ahajans and auction #urchasers weremotivated more !$ #olitical and less !$ economic considerations. %tokes also comes u#with the arument that the rural revolt in 1857 was essentiall$ elitist in character& that isthe leadershi# was definitel$ in the hands of the landed manate class. 3e calls the revoltas the last major traditional resistance movement. %ome of the elements which define itstraditionalit$ are the revolt was com#osed of heteroeneous elements held toether loosel$ !$ anti-forein sentimentsC leadershi# was in the hands of the landlordsCleadershi# made use of reliion to enlare its a##eal. %tokes also #oints out that the ruralleadershi# was motivated !$ !oth economic and #olitical reasons. =et not man$ ruralleaders were a!le to look !e$ond their local horions.0ukherjee& in his !ook ?wadh in Revolt& has hihlihted the role #la$ed !$ the #easantr$. 3e writes that resistance in ?wadh was not alwa$s elitist in character and ivese am#les to show that the #easantr$ did take inde#endent initiative on man$ occasions.%u!altern studies have a s#ecial #lace in the historiora#h$. /autam Bhadra has tried tohihliht the role of four ordinar$ leaders namel$ %hah 0al& small landlord of Baraut&Devi %inh& a hih caste cultivator of 0athura& /onoo& a tri!al of (hota <a#ur&?hmaddula %hah& a maulvi in ucknow. 3e writes that even thouh their leadershi# wasshort lived !ut their contri!ution was not incidental and formed an interal #art of therevolt. *e ma$ conclude after a stud$ of the events of 1857 that the revolt was somethin morethan a se#o$ mutin$ and less than national revolt. The re!el leaders fouht aainst the

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Jul 24, 2017
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