Skip to main content

Great War of 1857: How our rulers allowed British lackeys 'slip' to RSS, Muslim League

By Shamsul Islam* 

Now it is almost 170 years that people of this country, men, women, children belonging to all religions, regions and strata, rose in revolt, from Kashmir to Madras, and from Sylhet to the borders of Afghanistan. Today if Indians have forgotten about this glorious saga of commitment and sacrifices for the liberation of India can be forgiven in absence of the contemporary narratives.
But what independent India did to obliterate the memories of this Great War immediately after independence on August 15, 1947, when only 90 years had elapsed to this Great War, could only be described as criminal.
It is true that we spent crores of rupees in celebrating the 100th and the 150th anniversaries of the War, but did not bother to revive the common heritage of the joint martyrdoms of this glorious struggle. Earlier, the first education minister of the independent India, Abul Kalam Azad, organized a team of renowned historians to compile the list of pan-Indian martyrs of the War but it was abandoned. On the eve of 150th anniversary Indian Council of Historical produced volumes with details of martyrs which unfortunately not available now.
True, these were worthy deeds but the issue was not only of chronicling the sacrifices, but how to undo the injustice done to the liberation warriors who not only lost their lives but all their properties were confiscated and given to Indian stooges who helped the foreign rulers with all kinds of human and non-human resources for suppressing the mutiny.
We cannot overlook the fact that Indians lost this War despite mass upsurge and support. The perusal of the contemporary documents makes it clear that it was due to the Indian stooges that we lost this war. Reasons are not difficult to find out. Kaye was forthright in his conclusion that these were princes who helped the British in recapturing India after 1857 revolt. According to him:
“It was one of the most curious characteristics of the mutiny-war, that although the English were supposed to be fighting against the native races, they were in reality sustained and supported by the Natives of the country, and could not have held their own for a day without the aid of those whom we hated as our national enemies.”
William Russell, war correspondent in one of the dispatches (May 9, 1858), wrote:
“Our siege of Delhi, would have been quite impossible, if the rajahs [sic] of Patiala and of Jhind (now known as Jind in Haryana) had not been our friends, and if the Sikhs had not recruited (in) our battalions, and remained quite in Punjab. The Sikhs at Lucknow did good service…as our armies were attended and strengthened by them in the field.”
It is to be noted here that when Russell referred to Sikhs, it did not mean common Sikhs but the Sikh rulers of Punjab. Moreover, these were not the only rulers who came to sub-serve the interest of the British masters when the latter were on the verge of losing India. The rulers of Kashmir, Hyderabad, Gwalior, Nabha, Kapurthala, Udaipur, Jaipur, Alwar, Kota, Bhopal, Pataudi and hundreds others joined the bandwagon of the British imperialism in the War.
Sir Charles Aitchison, who played a leading role in suppressing the ‘mutiny’ not only hailed the crucial contribution of such stooge princes in winning India in the following words:
“The Native States rendered priceless service in the day of our distress… Speaking in the fullness of his gratitude; Lord Canning [the Governor General] described them as ‘breakwaters to the storm, which would otherwise have swept over us in one great wave.’ ‘The safety of our rule is increased,’ he wrote, ‘not diminished, by the maintenance of Native Chiefs well affected to us…And should the day come when India shall be threatened by an external enemy, or when the interests of England elsewhere may require that her Eastern Empire shall incur more than ordinary risk, one of our best mainstays will be found in these Native States.’”
Nana Saheb, the great commander of the revolutionary army who continued fighting till 1858 in the Terai (foothill) region between India and Nepal and died there, in a letter [dated 7th Sudi of Kartik, Samvat 1915 (1858)] addressed to the Indians wrote:
"This was the defeat of the entire country not mine (alone)... I lived and fought for the country's freedom. These wicked princes for their own selfish ends have handed over the country to the British otherwise the Firanghis [sic] were no match for us."
The post-1857 era witnessed an India in which only those princely states survived which either had worked as the stooges of the colonial masters in this War or were pardoned by the British. The entire lot of nationalists who challenged the foreign rule was ruthlessly suppressed. Most of them died fighting or were hanged; their families banished and their estates confiscated and handed over to the loyal princes.
On the eve of independence the first decision which independent India’s sovereign government should have taken must have been to return the properties of the families of the martyrs which were confiscated and given as rewards to the Indian stooges. The whole nation knows how the descendants of these revolutionaries including those belonging to princely families lived life of penury, hunger and died miserable deaths, unknown. Out of thousands, here are few examples of gross and criminal injustice which needed immediate redressal but we kept mum as a State and nation.
According to the contemporary British gazetteers the estates of Raja of Gonda and Rani of Tulsipur “were confiscated and conferred as rewards upon Maharaja Drigbijai Singh of Balrampur and Sir Man Singh of Ajodhya.”
Scindhia of Gwalior helped the British greatly in defeating Rani Laxmi Bai and Nana and their killings, as per the contemporary British gazetteer:
“For his services in the mutiny lands worth 3 lakhs a year revenue were made over to him, while he was allowed to increase his infantry from 3,000 to 5,000 men and his artillery from 32 to 36 guns."
We come to know again through a contemporary British gazetteer that:
"Wazir Muhammad Khan, who, during the Mutiny, repulsed with comparatively few men an attack made on the Tonk fort by the combined forces of Nawab of Banda and Tantia Topi [sic]. For these services, his salute was raised from 15 to 17 guns…"
Ruler of Patiala who as an ally of the British played a prominent role in crushing rebellion in Haryana, Delhi, Oudh received huge ‘inaam’:
"After 1857 Narendra Singh’s splendid services were rewarded with the gift of sovereign rights in the Narnaul division of the forfeited State of the Jhajjar Nawab, assessed at a revenue of two lakhs on condition of political and military support in times of general danger or disturbance. He was also permitted to purchase the Kanaud pargana of Jhajjar and the taluka of Khamaon in perpetual sovereignty in liquidation of loans advanced to the British Government during the Mutiny. 
"In addition, the Maharaja was granted administrative jurisdiction over Bhadaur, and the right of escheats and reversion to lapsed estates therein, receiving the annual sum of Rs. 5,265, previously paid into the Imperial treasury by the Bhadaur Sardars. Narendra Singh was made a K.C.S.I., in 1861…”
Likewise, Raja Randhir Singh of Kapurthala State who helped the British to crush rebellion in Delhi and Oudh “was rewarded with a grant of the two confiscated estates of Bundi and Bithauli, in the Bharaich and Bara Banki districts in Oudh, yielding a rental of Rs. 4,35,000. His brother, Kunwar Bikrama Singh, who had accompanied the Raja to Oudh, was given a portion of the Akauna estate in Bharaich, yielding Rs. 45,000 a year. The Raja of Kapurthala stood fifth in order of precedence among the chiefs of the Punjab. He was entitled to a salute of eleven guns, and to receive a return visit from the Viceroy.”
The Pataudi family too was rewarded for services rendered during the mutiny:
"He [nawab of Pataudi] also took an active part in the suppression of a rising in the Bahora pargana of Gurgaon, organized by one Tula Ram, grandson of Rao Tej Singh of Rewari; and his troops were present on the side of order at the action outside Jaurasi, which lasted for two days… Pataudi ranks seventeenth in order of precedence amongst the Native States of the Punjab, and the chief is entitled to be received by the Viceroy."
The sovereign Republic of India shamed itself on the eve of independence and continues to do so by not remembering the 13 women 'sheroes'
The British rulers were grateful to Jodhpur Raja when stated:
"The Maharaja [Takht Singh of Jodhpur] did good service during the Mutiny. He was entitled for a salute of 17 guns. Takht Singh died in 1873, when he was succeeded by eldest son, Jaswant Singh…He was created a GCSI in 1875 and subsequently his salute was raised first to 19, and next to 21 guns."
The Pawayan [in Shahjahanpur] was ruled by a notorious British stooge, Raja Jagannath Singh when 1857 happened. In a gut-wrenching treachery he invited the leading commander of the rebellion Maulvi Ahmedullah Shah posing as supporter of the War. However, when Maulvi reached his palace in the evening he was beheaded by Jagannath’s brother Baldeo Singh. The British had announced a prize of 50 thousand pieces of silver for beheading the Maulvi. He presented Maulvi’s severed head same night to the British commander of the area and received cash ‘inaam’ as reward.
In his absence the rebel forces including under the command of Nana and Hazrat Mahal lost important battle and revolutionary rule in Rohilkhand came to an end. The decadents of this criminal family became legislators, ministers both at the Stat and central levels. This is how we paid homage to 1857 martyrs!
Apart from these stooges, rulers of Dhar, Bhopal, Nizam, Ratlam, Alwar, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jammu, Rewa, Ayodhya, Rampur and hundreds other were rewarded for suppressing the mutiny. It must be noted that in 20th century most of these pro-British native rulers became patrons and financiers of communal-fascist organizations like Hindu Mahasabha, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Muslim League. They provided sanctuaries to these anti-national organizations. 
Many of these kept on ruling free India; we saw the spectacle of the family members of the stooges enjoying power as chief ministers, ministers, Governors in an independent India. They continued enjoying the benefits of estates which were confiscated from the rebels and awarded to their families by the British.
The sovereign Republic of India shamed itself on the eve of independence and continues to do so by not remembering the 13 women sheroes [I am using the term ‘shero/sheroes for female martyrs of the liberation War as according to the dictionaries word ‘hero’ means a “man who exhibits great bravery” which is not gender neutral and conveys the faulty wisdom that only man can be brave] from Thana Bhawan, situated in Muzaffarnagar district (now in western Uttar Pradesh about 130 kms from Delhi) belonging to different religions and castes who hanged together or burnt alive for taking up arms against the repressive British rule.
The rulers showed criminal indifference to the women martyrs, namely, Asghari Begum, Asha Devi, Bhagwati Devi, Habeeba, Mam Kaur, Umda, Raj Kaur, Inder Kaur, Bkhtawari, Jamila, Rahimi, Bhagwani and Beebee. All these names were available in the contemporary British gazetteers.
The Indian rulers did not bother to save as memorial the trees known as Kaka Amb [black mango], these trees spread in almost every part of India, specially, North India, had nothing to do with fruit mango but were the trees where the British rulers hanged thousands of revolutionaries for joining the liberation War during 1857-1859. Most of these have been removed or withered away. In fact, not only rulers but we all joined hands in obliterating these symbols of great resistance and sacrifices against the white rule.
By forgetting the heritage of the War of 1857, the heritage of religious unity and unity of all the struggling masses against loot and imperialism, the ruling classes, acting criminally, let the polity slip down to the present sorry state of affairs when India is devastated by the forces of religious bigotry, intolerance, casteism and ruthlessness.
How heartless was independent India that we even did not try to locate the final resting places of heroes and sheroes of the War of 1857 like, Rani of Tulsipur, Zeenat Mahal, Azeemullah Khan, Nana Saheb, General Bakht Khan and many of their comrades who died in Nepal.
---
*Formerly with Delhi University, click here for Prof Islam’s writings and video interviews/debates. Facebook: https://facebook.com/shamsul.islam.332. Twitter: @shamsforjustice. Blog: http://shamsforpeace.blogspot.com/

Comments

TRENDING

What's behind public sector banks showing huge profits in 2nd quarter of 2022-23?

By Thomas Franco*  The quarter two results of the public sector banks (PSBs) appear to be noteworthy compared to a few years ago. All these banks showed good profits in the financial year 2021-22. Twelve PSBs made a net profit of Rs 25,685 crore in quarter 2 of FY23 and a total of Rs 40,991 crore in the first half of 2023. The combined profit of 12 banks in March 2022 was Rs 66,539 crore which was 110% more than 2021 – Rs. 31,816 crore. The Asset Quality Review of 2015 saw a surge in NPAs of PSBs jumping to Rs 8.96 lakh crore in March 2018 from Rs 2.17 lakh crore in March 2014. This was simply because the norms for NPAs were changed from 180 days to 90 days, and all restructuring of even genuine accounts was done away with. In 2018 NPA of SBI was 5.73% which has come down to 0.8% in Q2 of FY23. The NPA of Canara Bank has come down to 2.19% from 7.48% in Mar 2018. The same trend is seen in all public banks. Now SBI has seen a jump of 74% in its net profit, while Canara Bank’s profit is

Economist-editor's allegations on Narmada defamatory, baseless: Medha Patkar

Counterview Desk  In a reply directly addressed to well-known economist, journalist and columnist Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar’s two articles in the Times of India (republished here and here ), calling them defamatory and wondering whether they were borne out of “ignorance or a conspiracy through political alliance”, Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Pakar has said that the Narmada Sardar Saravar Project and the people's movement by adivasis, farmers, labourers, fish workers, potters and all the generations’ old communities from the river valley have suddenly come to be focused on, since the Gujarat elections are in the doorstep. She believes that while the “defamatory accusations with baseless conceptions such as ‘urban naxals’ are to be laughed at as the electoral strategic moves, one gets shocked to read the articles by a known old columnist like Swaminathan Ankalesaria Aiyar, published in a reputed daily like the Times of India." According to her, Aiyar’s two articl

Business back to normal? IIM-A survey says, sales expectations have sharply improved

By Our Representative  The Indian Institute of Management’s Business Inflation Expectations Survey (BIES), which polls a panel of business leaders to find out their perception of slack in economy, including their inflation expectations, year-ahead cost expectations and the factors influencing price changes, such as profit and sales levels, etc., has said that the cost perceptions data indicates signs of moderation in price pressures. Carried out for September, the survey says, the cost pressure of the reporting firms has shifted from “very significant increase (over 6%) to moderate increase (3.1% to 6%).” It adds, “The percentage of firms perceiving over 10% cost increase y-o-y has declined. Over 21% of the firms in September 2022 round of the survey perceive that costs have increased very significantly (over 10%) – down from 26% recorded in August 2022.” Claiming to be a unique survey, in that it goes straight to businesses -- the price setters -- rather than to consumers or household

Hindutva groups threat to peace, freedom: US diaspora groups tell FBI, other govt depts

By Our Representative  The Islamophobic and neo-Nazi ideology of Hindutva is a clear and present danger to peace and freedoms in the United States, a coalition of civil rights organizations told key officials of the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, the US Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at a recent event in Edison, New Jersey. At the event titled United Against Hate, activists from American Muslims for Democracy (AMD), Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) and Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) made detailed presentations on this ideology of Hindu supremacism that is committing mass persecution of India’s Muslims and Christians and is rearing its ugly head in New Jersey as well as across the US. Attending the event were David S Leonardis, Special Investigator from the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety; Michael E Campion, Chief of the Civil Rights Division for the US Attorney General's Office; and Jonathan R Norbut of the U.S. Dep

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

GoI's productivity linked incentives to corporates 'without independent analysis'

Counterview Desk  Wondering how prudent is the Government of India's (GoI's) Productivity Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, EAS Sarma, former secretary, GoI, in a representation to Nirmala Sitharaman, Union finance minister, has said it appears to be nothing more than subsidy to the private sector without any responsibility. Giving a specific example against the backdrop of announcement of 50% subsidy covering the project cost of the Vedanta Group's decision to set up a semiconductor fabrication plant in Gujarat, in collaboration with Foxconn, Sarma says, "The total cost of this project is reported to be Rs 1,54,000 crore. 50% of this works out to Rs 77,000 crore." Stating that this creates the impression that the entire subsidy allocation for the semiconductor manufacturing sector would be appropriated by this company, Sarma says, "The Gujarat government did not lag behind in liberally announcing similar incentives for the Vedanta-Foxconn project. It offered 7

As polls approach, electorate 'failing to realise': Gujarat model is in a shambles

By DN Rath*  Gujarat assembly elections, scheduled to be held on 1 and 5 December 2022, is viewed by many as dress rehearsal for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. When the suffering people have been pointing towards redressal of some local issues like absence of cleanliness, sewage problem, shortage of water supply, troubles created by stray cattle, insufficiency of streetlights, etc., it is evident that they are not fully aware that assembly elections are being fought on ideological standpoints and policy decisions. Nor is there the realisation that the state is in a shambles and the much-trumpeted ‘Gujarat model’ of development has proved to be a hoax. Like other states, the people of Gujarat are also back-broken by steep rise in prices to the tune of 400% in last 20 years. It is not that the government cannot control the spurt in prices if it so wants. Apart from the fact that price rise is an inevitability in a capitalist economy, artificial shortage triggered by massive hoarding, b

BJP poll gimmick? Bilkis Bano rape case 'pardon' vs Rajiv assassins' release

By Sandeep Pandey*  Supreme Court has released six convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. This was bound to happen as earlier AG Perarivalan was released in the same case, setting a precedent. Even though four of them are Sri Lankans but a popular Tamil sentiment favoured the release of these convicts which is why Tamil political parties supported this and resolutions were passed by different governments in Tamil Nadu to his effect.  Rajiv Gandhi paid the price of sending Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka where it got entangled with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and eventually the whole operation ended up is a fiasco.  However, most importantly Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi and probably Rahul too do not have any objections to the release of these convicts. In fact, Sonia Gandhi played an important role in getting the death sentence of the only lady among the convicts Nalini commuted to life term through the Tamil Nadu Governor. Priyanka visited Nalini in Vellore Jail and

Amit Shah accused of inciting communal passion: Demand to postpone Gujarat polls

Counterview Desk  In an email representation to the Election Commission of India (ECI), Dr EAS Sarma, former secretary to the Government of India, has objected to the statement reported to have been made by Union home minister Amit Shah, who allegedly justified the 2002 Gujarat riots stating that certain sections of people “taught a lesson” to the rioters. Noting that the statement, if correct, “in effect implies those other than the law enforcement authorities had taken law into their hands”, Sarma says, “Shah's statement needs to be viewed by the ECI in conjunction with the reported fact that it was the Union Home Ministry that cleared the release of the eleven rape convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, directly related to the infamous Godhra incidents in 2002, which triggered the shameful sequence of events that shook the nation's conscience.” According to Sarma, if the statement is true, “I am constrained to draw the inevitable inference that it would have already impacted th