In Indian History, the mutiny of 1857 is an important event. It may be called a watershed in History. In Geography, a watershed means the land which separates two river valleys. So in History, the time prior to 1857 and the time after 1857 is totally different. India was under British rule. By 1848 almost all of India was under British Occupation In 1857 Suddenly a mutiny broke out and it became a profound shock to British complacency. The Indians started revolting against the British.
The mutiny began on 10 May 1857 by the Sepoys in the garrison town of Meerut, 64 Kms Northeast of Delhi. And then it spread to the upper Gangetic plain and central India. The revolt ended on 20 June 1858 in Gwalior. The result of mutiny was manifold.
1. British Victory.
2. Formal end of the Mughal empire.
3. End of company rule in India.
4. Transfer of rule to the British crown. The British Queen took over the charge of the administration of India.
The British felt the sensitivity of Indian religion and culture. After 1857 the British did not interfere in religious matters. Of course during company rule also the British were lovers of Indian tradition and culture. They were called Indologists. First Indologist was Sir William Jones, a judge of the supreme court of India; but interested in the Sanskrit language and its antiquity. At that time warren Hastings was governor-general of India. In 1784 He founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta. Sir Charles Wilkins translated Bhagavad Geeta into English. So the Britishers were lovers of Indian Culture whatever significant research was done, was done by the British. So it is surprising why they hurt the sentiments of Hindus and Muslims, which became the immediate cause of the 1857 mutiny. And it became the nemesis of company rule.
The mutineers in 1857 declared the 81-year-old Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Jafar as their leader. Mughal Suzereinty was still there in 1857. The Indians had accepted the Mughal emperor as their ruler of course many landlords, Zamindars sided with the British. Punjab was on the side of the British. On many occasions, the British were defeated by Indians like the Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan, and Marathas. Still, then they could conquer India. So the Historians say – The British conquered India in a fit of absence of mind. British were cool and expert in Seizing the opportunity.
But in 1857 Indian valor was not absent. General Hugh Rose praised – Rani Laxmi Bai as the bravest of the rebels. In 1857 Hindu Muslim unity was also remarkable. By the side of the dead body of Laxmi Bai, there was the dead body of, her best friend, a Muslim girl. Anyhow the revolt failed. The eminent historian K. M. Panikar said – Had it been a success, the British might have withdrawn to their earlier coastal fortifications.
Any how British were taught a lesson in 1857.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)
Radhakanta Seth is a former Income tax officer in Sambalpur. He is a freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri, and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolkata.
He can be reached at [email protected]