Thursday, May 17, 2007

"Jai Hind!" -- India Commemorates 1857 Uprising

From The Times, 12 May 2007:
Thousands of flag-waving patriots flocked to the Mughal-built Red Fort in Delhi yesterday [Friday, 11 May] to kick off a year-long celebration of the bloody uprising 150 years ago by Indian rebels against British occupation.

The Indian Mutiny, or the First War of Independence as it is known in India, brought to an end the Mughal empire and the rule of the British East India Company, and led to direct governance by Britain for 90 years.

What was subsequently played down in some British textbooks as a small insurrection by a faction of disaffected, underpaid Indian soldiers – dubbed sepoys by their British commanders – is now widely accepted as a much more significant event, sowing the seeds of nationalism that eventually led to independence in 1947.

India’s leaders have chosen to use the anniversary as a unifying event for a country still riven by religious and caste divisions.

“The fight for freedom united people from different religions and speaking different languages,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “Hindus and Muslims stood together shoulder to shoulder. We cannot forget the Hindu-Muslim unity that 1857 represented and held out as an example for subsequent generations.”

A Government-sponsored march this week by 30,000 young people covering the 50 miles (80km) from Meerut to Delhi highlighted how Muslims fought determinedly in military units that were 85 per cent Hindu.

The soldiers were galvanised initially by reports that the British were using cow and pig fat – offensive to both Hindus and Muslims – to grease the cartridges of their rifles, but their dissatisfaction became a popular revolt because of the close ties between the army and civilians.

“While the sepoys were in the vanguard, the people of the country were behind them,” said Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the ruling Congress Party.

Mindful not to idolise one of the bloodiest chapters in Indian history, the Government has also tried to use the mutiny to focus public attention on the seminal moment of independence – won 60 years ago – without the use of force.

“As a nation inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s message of nonviolence, India has consciously abjured violence as an instrument of social and political change,” Dr Singh said in a speech to parliament.

[At Red Fort, colorful floats and a huge demon-shaped balloon with the Union Jack printed on it (shown here) depicted scenes from the conflict that glorified the mutineers' courage in the face of the might of the country's British masters.]

Tens of thousands on both sides were slaughtered in the uprising that was suppressed savagely in Delhi. The British took four months to quell the revolt and exiled Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor, to Burma.

William Dalrymple, the British historian and author of The Last Mughal, is in no doubt that the anniversary is worth celebrating. “For all that it was a failure and accompanied by some of the most ghastly bloodshed, it was undoubtedly the largest anti-colonial revolt in the nineteenth century – the high point of imperialism – and unequivocally a significant event.”


Several related news stories are available online at World News Network.

There's a great discussion of 1857 over at chapati mystery.

International Herald Tribune, 10 May 2007: "Letter from India: India's commemoration of 1857 mutiny overcomes some problems," by Amelia Gentleman

Read a dissenting view of the celebration by Tarun Vijay (Times of India): "That the Prime Minister forgot Mangal Pandey, the hero of 1857, in his Parliament speech but remembered Karl Marx shows the pressures and the stress he is working under to keep his government afloat. Most of the MPs and MLAs stayed home glued to their TV channels for the UP results rather than attending the 1857 function at Red Fort. It's a shame to see how the 150th anniversary has been turned into a sham sarkari jholawala function devoid of any life and vibrancy."


Laban said...

For a different take of the Mutiny to Dalrymple's read Charles Allen's Soldier Sahibs - the remarkable stories of the remarkable men, and their Sikh and Muslim allies, who suppressed it.

If I find any original Victorian sources on the web I'll drop you the links.

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails