The Significance of 1857 in our Independence

1857, The First War Of Independence... what was its true significance and importance in our freedom struggle?

To understand this, we first have to understand the sequence of events leading upto and during 1857...

Until we really colonise India, and raise up a European element in the population... Edward Humphreys, Manual of British Government In India, 1857

..May be no dilatoriness on any account in continuing in the country the grand work of making India Christian - Mr Mangles, Chair, EEIC, in the house of Commons, Early 1857

The whole land has been shaken by missions to its innermost centre... the Hindu trembles for his religion, and the Muslim for his... Rev M A Sherring, The Indian Church During The Great Rebellion, 1858

Areas covered by the proclamation of Bahadur Shah Zafar: Taxation (I commit to lower taxes, to preserve the dignity...); Trade and Commerce (Open trade of every article, both by land and water, to all Indian Merchants, access to Capital, lower costs); Public Servants Industry; Personal Freedom... 1857 in India - Mutiny, Or War Of Independence, Ainslee T Embree, 1963

The documented evidence above will suffice for this write-up; it should raise a few pertinent points in the readers' mind: firstly, there was a massive agenda of colonisation, Europeanisation, as well as conversion that was organised right from the top. This existed right from the Early 1830s onwards, and was steadily gathering steam.This was a direct attack on every Indians complete lifestyle, an attempt to change everything. 

This was playing havoc in Indian Society and its framework, assiduously built up over centuries, The point of Muslim Rule does not hold, for the perfectly simple reason that large parts of India were under continuous Hindu or Sikh Rule throughout. The central authority may have been Muslim, but over the years even there an element of Hindu support and power and grown due to adjustments, as the Mughals became Indian. Thus, an equilibrium was reached. 

The disturbance of this equilibrium had far reaching effects -right upto the caste scenario, as previously soft caste distinctions became rigid. This was a direct attack on the complete societal framework. 

This, in combination with the destruction of India's industrial background through various means - like denial of raw material as well as market access in combination with 80% duties, as well as the destruction of Agriculture formed the backdrop for the war. Opium, Indigo replaced food crops, leading to food shortage; Farmers were not paid even for these crops (documented fact), leading to further erosion of sustenance and wealth. Agriculture was not developed, and supported - this combined with land tax of 60 - 90% and refusal to allow farmers to keep a part of their own produce for food and seeds led to famine. 

This is the backdrop - the complete backdrop to the War, which was a planned war, planned in detail. British Strategies were studied in various theatres of War, even the Russians were visited. Fact.. but that is another story, to be taken up in another post. It was not a mutiny; it was a planned and mass-supported effort..., and has been documented as such by several reputable sources

There was massive support to the War, with hundreds of villages, towns and cities rising in en-masse to expel the Brits. The reason was simple - every facet of life in India was under attack - from religion to livelihood, from beliefs to vocations. Everything was under attack. Something had to give, and it did. Big time - and it scared the Brits out of their wits, Had it not been for timely help from some Indian Princes,. it would have been over in 1857 itself... and it scared the the British to the roots of their existence, for perhaps the first time - and the only time before, or since. 

1857 told the Brits that they were not invincible, that they could be conquered - if India ever united again as one. And they were right; when India rose again - the Brits were chucked out - when the entire people and the Armed Forces rose in revolt during the INA trials. 

During quelling the war, the sequence of events hold further hints and learnings for us, which tend to support the belief that 1857 led to 1947; without 1857, 1947 would not have happened. 

First, two dastardly acts - Act No XI (30/5/1857) and Act No XIV (6/6/18557) gave local commissioners to impose the death penalty on all persons - military or not - whether amenable to the articles of war or not. Then came Act XVI which empowered executionary powers to civilian officers, military officers as well as trustworthy people not connected with the Government, In short, a licence to kill. 

A list of persons tried by the commissioner at Allahabad showed that anything from rebellion, to desertion, to possessing money for which  the accused has no explanation - was punished by death. 

Point to be noted - The so-called Cawnpore incident had not yet occurred yet! By the way, an interesting aside - The Great English Army used non-combatants as defensive shields during the seige... their own families! Documented records show officers being reprimanded for wanting to shift families to safety. In the ensuing war, these gallant English soldiers are known to have abandoned their own families to save their own skin - the families were saved by Indians, and initially escorted to safety, and treated with honour - unlike the brits, who used them! And this is despite the massacres of Indians already taking place at the hands of the Brits! THAT is the truth of the so-called Cawnpore incident and its complete picture, True Blue gallantry in classic English style, hiding behind a petticoat to win a war! What awesome bravery, it has to be said!

But more was to come - as entire villages and towns were exterminated... like Jhansi : Again, the massacres started before Kanpur - on the way to Kanpur, in fact. Village after village was raped and razed to the ground, empowered by those 3 acts enacted by the great Parliament of the UK....

Destroyed the village of Goura... CW Moore...

All the villages were burnt... an English officer in Russells' company

Some young boys, who had flaunted rebel colours, were hanged

Certain Guilty villages marked for destruction; all men inhabiting them to be slaughtered; ----- orders to the Army

Finished off in an artistic manner with Mango trees for giblets and elephants for drops... an English - aah - civilised Gentleman

The facts above tell the tale: it was a popular uprising, involving both military as well as mass civilian support. I shall go into greater detail in subsequent posts- or read the references mentioned. The massacre and genocide that cut across all of India between 1857 - 1859 was specifically due to this. The English are on record in innumerable documents, praising these massacres and their salutary impact. 

But coming to the question, 1857 established a few  things to the Brits - one, colonisation of India by the White Man was impossible. Next, it also made clear to them that conversions and religious attacks were also a recipe for certain disaster. And that is why 1857 is the first War of Independence: we protected out way of life, and our society - which is 100% brown and pure. We protected our religion, and our country. Had this not happened, who knows what the future held? Look at other esp African countries...

Next, the wave of massacre and genocide perpetrated by the Civilised British made one thing clear to Indians - armed resistance was futile. It also made clear that the way forward was uniting India; it also made clear that the way forward for the foreseeable future was negotiation... which led to the events leading to the formation of the Congress. {} The intelligentsia were also clear of the role of traitors who supported the British - and understood that it required a different approach. That is why, after 1857, riots and armed uprisings reduced to a substantial extent. In  simple terms, the entire population was bludgeoned into hopeless surrender. This was not a surprise, given that an entire population was subjected to mindless murder and genocide-  those 3 acts of parliament of the Great UK are silent proof of the inhumanity and brutality of the English. 

It also made clear to the English that if India united as one ever again - they would be chucked out. This led to divide and rule, leading to Pakistan...

The First War Of Independence was thus, central to Indian Independence; we won the right to live our own way, and gave our future leaders of 1880-1940s the road to proceed... without it, we would not have been what we are today. 

Let us all join together to thank those heroes who gave their all - everyone, including the massacred civilians. May you rest in peace; India / Bharat / Hindustan owes what it is today to your supreme sacrifice... you gave your todays for your children's today... for that, All India is thankful to you... 

  1. Operation Red Lotus - Parag Tope
  2. India's Independence Struggle - Bipin Chandra Pal et al
  3. Bengal Divided - Sengupta (For divide and rule policy)
  4. The Discovery of India - Jawaharlal Nehru
  5. The Real Story Of The Great Uprising - Vishnu Bhatt Godse Versaikar


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