In This Article India 'Mutiny' and 'Revolution,' 1857-1858

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Biographies
  • Diversities
  • Sepoys and the Colonial Army
  • Nationalist Historiography
  • Postscript

Military History India 'Mutiny' and 'Revolution,' 1857-1858
by
Biswamoy Pati
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0040

Introduction

“The Rani who is our mother, strikes repeatedly at the British. / She is the chief of the jungles. / She sent letters and bangles to other (rulers, chieftains) and aligned them to the cause. / She vanquished and pushed the Britishers out, / in every street she made them panic, / so that they ran away wherever they could find their way. / Whenever she entered the battleground on horseback,/she fought bravely and swords and spears ruled the day. / O, she was our Rani mother” (quoted in Rag 2010, cited under Popular Memory). This folk song of the Gonds (a tribal community) locates Rani Awanti Bai of the Ramgarh estate as its inspirational figure. The estate had been taken over by the British during 1851–1853. This was strongly resented not only by the Rani but also by the Gonds. Rani Awanti Bai challenged the British during the Rebellion of 1857–1858, and this folk song clearly depicts elements of popular anger among the Gonds, as well as the logic of elite–popular and tribal–non-tribal interaction. Nevertheless, such aspects of the Rebellion remain largely erased in discussions that focus on whether 1857 was a “mutiny” or a “revolution.” In fact, it is perhaps vital for a historian to have a holistic understanding of the 1857 Rebellion and to interrogate received wisdom that has been dominated by imperialist, nationalist, and subaltern historiographical traditions.

General Overviews

Imperialist historiography focused on the “mutiny” theme, developing the religious angle. This was obviously intended to project 1857 as a phenomenon that was restricted to the military cantonment. Some of the writings of Marx and Engels in the New York Daily Tribune critiqued imperialist exploitation and expansion, even as they detailed accounts related to the development of the 1857 Rebellion. Sayyid Ahmad Khan was the first Indian to write about 1857 (see S. A. Khan). His Asbab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind (“The Causes of the Indian Revolt,” 1858; see Khan 2000, cited under S. A. Khan) connected British policy to the Rebellion of 1857.

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