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Posted April 2, 2007
This book is a useful start to studying the events of 1857, when the people of India fought for their national sovereignty and for independence from the British Empire. The Empire¿s servants called, and some still call, the revolt a `Mutiny¿, defining it as illegitimate. But it was the foreign rule that was illegitimate, because it denied India democracy and self-rule. As G. B. Malleson, Adjutant-General of the Bengal Army and the revolt¿s first historian, wrote, what was ¿at first apparently a military mutiny ¿ speedily changed its character and became a national insurrection.¿ Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs all played a full part. The Raj was a despotic regime dependent on military power. From the 1780s, the Imperial dogma was, ¿we acquired our Influence and Possessions by force, it is by force we must maintain them.¿ As Lord James Bryce wrote in 1912, ¿The government of India by the English resembles that of her possessions by Rome in being virtually despotic.¿ General Henry Rawlinson, India¿s Commander-in-Chief, said in 1920, ¿You may say what you like about not holding India by the sword, but you have held it by the sword for 100 years and when you give up the sword you will be turned out. You must keep the sword ready to hand and in case of trouble or rebellion use it relentlessly. Montagu calls it terrorism, so it is and in dealing with natives of all classes you have to use terrorism whether you like it or not.¿ In 1793, the Empire¿s rulers had imposed a `Permanent Settlement¿ on India which privatised the land and dispossessed the peasants. The Empire took 50-60% of the peasants¿ income in tax, more than the Mughal Emperors had taken, forcing the peasants into debt and then to sell their land to the bunyahs, the moneylenders. India¿s wealth was pillaged and her agriculture starved, in order to rack profit and rent up. The profits went to British investors, the rents to the Empire¿s allies, the landlords and princes. The British enquiry commission of 1832 admitted, ¿The settlement fashioned with great care and deliberation has to our painful knowledge subjected almost the whole of the lower classes to most grievous oppression.¿ Charles Ball, a historian of the revolt, wrote, ¿in Bengal an amount of suffering and debasement existed which probably was not equaled and certainly not exceeded, in the slave-sates of America.¿ The Empire¿s rule was vicious. Governor-General Lord Dalhousie wrote in 1855, ¿torture in one shape or other is practised by the lower subordinates in every British province.¿ The Report of the Commission for the Investigation of Alleged Cases of Torture at Madras, 1855, admitted `the general existence of torture for revenue purposes¿. Torture was also normal police practice. The revolt was violent, though nowhere near as bloody as its suppression. Karl Marx noted of Britain¿s newspapers, ¿while the cruelties of the English are related as acts of martial vigour, told simply, rapidly, without dwelling on disgusting details, the outrages of the natives, shocking as they are, are still deliberately exaggerated.¿ A British officer said, ¿We hold court-martials on horseback, and every nigger we meet with we either string up or shoot.¿ Although the revolt was defeated, it did overthrow the East India Company¿s rule and its regime of robbery and corruption the Company was wound up in 1874. After suppressing the revolt, India¿s British rulers used the old tactic of divide and rule to crush India¿s strivings for democracy and self-rule. ¿Divide et impera was the old Roman motto and it should be ours¿, Lord Elphinstone advised in 1859. The British state promoted Muslim separatism and set up separate electorates, a sure way to tear people politically apart. In the Punjab, the British won over the Sikhs by reminding them of the injuries and insults they had suffered under the Mughal Emperors. Sir Henry Lawrence, Chief Commissioner of Oudh, spread false rumours that Muslim rebels had desecrated Hindu temples.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.