Updated December 22, 2022
Different scholars and historians have their own opinions about the nature of 1857 Struggle of Independence. You will appreciate the fact, that the difference of opinions had largely to do with the side they kept on themselves. A British commander described the movement as sepoy rebellion, only because he saw sepoys as their permanent subject. On the contrary, an Indian individual desirous of Independence viewed it as the first freedom movement.
Bhagat Singh was was a conspirator to British Govt. However, to the Indians, he was a true nationalist fighting for motherland. So, its all about convenience of choice. Possibly, one more reason of viewing things differently was the lack of a common leadership to carry on the movement. This had however to do with the poor modes of transport & communication back then.
Again, even in India there was two different class of society, the one who was loyal to British and other thought that the British rule was illegitimate. There was yet another class to whom fighting with British was not in sync with their philosophy of life. They believed that all human kinds are equal and the geographic distinction wasn’t any important. While, the heroes of 1857 were our first freedom fighters let’s check different views as well.
Varied Perspectives on The Nature of 1857 Struggle
There is whole lot of perspectives to describe the Nature of 1857 Struggle, but there are two major perspectives. Where a British scholar treated 1857 movement as great uprising in Sepoy Mutiny, on other hand, some Indian Nationalist and Patriotic historian considered the war of 1857 as the first war of Indian independence.
There is also the arguments that assume the nature of a third kind. It can be thus, safely concluded that the truth lies somewhere in between. Also, it is quite difficult to judge a perspective as right or wrong one. In “Discovery of India” Jawahar Nehru regards the 1857 Struggle much more than a Sepoy Mutiny. Moderate historians have similar perspective.
Yet, there are some more views which describe the revolt of 1857 as Religious clash, war between races for the supremacy between white and colored one, struggle between Feudalism and Imperialism, conspiracy of Hindu and Muslims to overthrow British rule etc. Here are different sorts of opinions about 1857 struggle:
1. Movement of 1857 a Sepoy Mutiny
British historian like Sir John Lawrence and Seeley regard the war of 1857 as sepoy mutiny. Any other section of society then although joined the rebellion by sepoys but only sepoys were at the centerstage. These two historians make their point by quoting the immediate cause of rebellion, which was use of cartridges greased with fat of cow & Pig.
Even though Hindus and Muslims joined the movement but only for religious reasons. They term these this participating Hindus & Muslims as orthodox. So, the overall Nature of 1857 Struggle wasn’t supported by all cross sections of society which otherwise requires for a general movement.
They also contend that some states also joined the sepoy rebellion was were successfully suppressed. In support to their contentions, Seeley maintains that the Revolt of 1857 was a wholly unpatriotic and selfish sepoys mutiny with no native leadership and no popular support.
2. A Hindu-Muslim Conspiracy to Overthrow the British Rule
Other historians like Sir James Outram, describes the Revolt of 1857 as the result of the Hindu- Muslim Conspiracy to overthrow the British Establishment.
British Officer Malleson opines that that Maulavi Ahmadulla of Faizabad Nana Sahib, and the Rani of Zansi had entered into negotiations before the uprising of 1857.
The said British Officer refers wide circulation of chapatis, as important evidence in favor of the organized conspiracy. Historical mentions are there, which mark the ordinary chapatis and chapati runners to substantiate a mysterious awareness that was being caused by majority of police chowkidars subjugate to higher British officers.
The chapatis in increasing quantity were reaching far and wide and from one place to another by way of passing on. This mysterious mission was uncovered by Mark Thornhill, magistrate of the town of Mathura.
Since 1970, the historical perspective has shifted from the study of ‘sepoy mutiny’ or ‘national revolt’ to the examination of social roots of the revolt by understanding specific area studies. As a result of such studies, it is now established that the relationship between land revenue settlement and the revolt is very minimum.
Further, it is now suggested that the roots of the revolt are traceable to the pockets of relative poverty due to ecological factors such as less fertile soil and severe revenue assessments imposed on arable land caused undue misery to the cultivator.
3. The Revolt was a War between Feudalism & Imperialism
Jawahar Lal Nehru portrays Revolt of 1857 as a feudal outburst headed by feudal chiefs and their fanatic followers and aided by the widespread anti foreign sentiments. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the people and the sepoys had a number of grievances against the British rule.
However, their response was not uniform because of some factors such as lack of medium of communication and everyone has their own goal to score. That is why it was varied from region to region especially in the urban centers of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta where the intellectual ferment had its impact were generally less affected than the areas where the landed interest were predominant.
These are the causes which reflects that The Revolt of 1857 can be seen as a conflict between a feudalism and strong imperialism.
4. It was the First War of India Independence
Some Indian historians like V.D. Savarkar and Ashok Mehta describe the Revolt of 1857 as a planned war of national independence in their books “The Indian War of Independence” and “1857 The Great Rebellion”. The sepoys were the chief players in the rebellion.
A large number of Indians participated in this struggle of independence from an alien rule. Several national leaders further elaborated the perfect accord and harmony between the Hindus and the Muslims for freedom from the British domination.
5. 1857 Mutiny was Example of the Struggle for Freedom without any Communal Bias
According to Maulana Azad, “Two facts stand out early in the midst the tangled story of the Rising of 1857. The First is the remarkable sense of unity among the Hindus and the Muslims of India in this period.
The other is the deep loyalty which the people felt for the Mughal Crown’. The ‘Friendly relationship’ exhibited by the Hindus and Muslims during the uprising of 1857 was a significant phenomenon, in India at that time. Loyalty to Bahadur Shah II as the emperor of India and issued all orders in his name as his suhhdar.
6. The Revolt was not wholly a National War of Independence
Dr. Mujumdar and Dr. Sen have a different perspective on the Revolt of 1857.They agree that, in the middle of the nineteenth century, the concept of nationalism in India was yet to born. There was no feeling of nationalism among people in India.
In 1857, the Bengalis, the Punjabis, the Marathas the Madrasis, and Rajputs never felt even for a movement that they all belonged to one and the same nation. Dr. Sen, in fact went to the extent of saying: “India in the first half of the nineteenth century was a geographical expression. This is proved by the few facts.
- Bahadur Shah II was not a national King. He was in fact, ‘the king of no land”. He was compelled by the Indians sepoys to assume their leadership.
- Nana Sahib raised the banner of revolt only when his envoy, failed to get for him the pension, which had been sanctioned to Baji Rao II, the Maratha Peshwa
- Nawab of Oudh could never think of assuming national leadership. He stooped so low that he placed his turban at the feet of the English.
7. The Revolt was More than a Mere Sepoy Mutiny.
S.N. Sen and Dr. R.C. Mujumdar have given an objective and balanced view on the Nature of 1857 Struggle that the sepoy mutiny assumed the character of a revolt and assumed a political dimension when the mutineers of Meerut after proceeding to Delhi declared the restoration of the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II, and the landed aristocracy and civil population declared their loyalty in his favor.
What began as a right for religion ended in a war of independence, for there is not the slightest doubt that the rebels wanted to get rid of the alien government and restore the old order of which the Mughal emperor was the rightful representative.
Prof. Bipan Chandra is of the view that the revolt of the sepoys was accompanied by a rebellion of the civil population particularly in the Northwestern Provinces and Oudh, the two regions from which the sepoys of the Bengal army were recruited.
The civil rebellion had a broad social base embracing all sections of the society and the revolt of the sepoys thus, resulted in a popular uprising in spite of the limitations and weaknesses the effort of the sepoys to liberate the country from foreign rule was a patriotic act.
8. Movement of National in Character
Ashok Mehta in his book “The Great Rebellion” expressed the view that the revolt was national in character. Bishewswar Prasad observes “the Movement as the end of the alien rule was the essential object and the chief purpose and in this sense the revolt of 1857 may be termed a national war for freedom, though the sentiment of nationalism in the modern sense had not taken deep roots in the soil of India at that movement”.
Thus, it is concluded from above view that according to Ashok Mehta the struggle of 1857 was more or less a Movement of National in Character just because the Struggle was for the end of British rule.
9. War of Nation’s Independence
There are some more Scholars and Historian who have different perspective on the Nature of 1857 Struggle. One among them is Tara Chand who painted the Revolt of 1857 as “War of Nation’s Independence” in his book “History of Freedom Movement in India”.
But some Indian historian like R.C. Majumdar Contradicted the above views of nationalist motivated perceptions and concluded that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the so-called first national war of independence of 1857 is neither the first, nor national, nor a war of independence as it was not preplanned and was limited to certain pockets in North India.
India wouldn’t has been independent in any case even if the Revolt of 1857 succeeded in driving out the British from this country, they would have been replaced by the feudal class under the nominal emperor of Delhi.
The Indian feudal order was the first to challenge, and declare war upon, the British trading company when it started assuming the imperialist role. During the Revolt of 1857 also those among the ruling princes who were adversely affected by the application of the Doctrine of Lapse. The landed aristocracy, who were affected by the land laws introduced by the British, became active during the Revolt of 1857.
10. Nature of 1857 Struggle assumed Political in Character
According to Surender Nath Sen the 1857 movement was an incident where the mutiny became a revolt and assumed a political character when the mutineers of Meerut placed themselves under the king of Delhi and a section of the landed aristocracy and civil population declared, in his favour.
What began as a fight for religion ended as a war of independence for there is not the slightest doubt that the rebels wanted to get rid of the alien government and restore the old order of which the king of Delhi was the rightful representative.
On an interesting note, the historical perspective on the Nature of 1857 Struggle has shifted from the study of ‘sepoy mutiny’ or ‘national revolt’ to the examination of social roots of the revolt by understanding specific area of studies.
As a result of such studies, it is now established that the relationship between land revenue settlement and the revolt is very minimum. Further, it is now suggested that the roots of the revolt are traceable to the pockets of relative poverty due to ecological factors such as less fertile soil and severe revenue assessments imposed on arable land caused undue misery to the cultivator.
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