In the modern history of India, the independence struggle against the British Raj was as traumatic as it was glorious. A new India took shape through its trials and tribulations. Here, we study (1) The 1857 Mutiny, (2) India after 1857, and (3) The Indian National Congress.
A. The 1857 MUTINY (FIRST WAR OF INDEPENDENCE)
The British East India had confiscated large amount of land from the land-holders and redistributed them to the peasants. However, they had also imposed heavy land revenues on the peasant community. This angered both the peasants and the landlords. Oudh was particularly volatile because there were a large number of sepoys from Oudh and it directly impacted their families.
- The British reformist zeal also had a contribution in fomenting trouble. The East India Company forbade certain religious practices and traditions, including Sati or widow-burning, to the outrage of many Hindus. The company also tried to undermine the caste system, which seemed inherently unfair to post-Enlightenment British sensibilities. In addition, British officers and missionaries began to preach Christianity to the Hindu and Muslim sepoys and conversions had started happening. The Indians believed, quite reasonably, that their religions were under attack by the East India Company.
- Finally, Indians regardless of class, caste or religion felt oppressed and disrespected by the agents of the British East India Company. Company officials who abused or even murdered Indians were seldom punished properly; even if they were tried, they were rarely convicted, and those who were could appeal almost indefinitely. A general sense of racial superiority among the British angered Indian across the country. Economic policies of the British East India Company were also a cause for widespread and popular discontent. The peasants suffered due to high revenue demands and the strict revenue collection policy.
- Artisans and craftsmen were ruined by the large-scale influx of cheap British manufactured goods into India which, in turn, made their hand-made goods uneconomical to produce. People who made a living by following religious and cultural pursuits lost their source of livelihood due to the withdrawal of royal patronage caused by the displacement of the old ruling classes. A corrupt and unresponsive administration added to the miseries of the people.
Hence the reasons can be summarized as under:
- Economic exploitation by the British
- British Land Revenue laws, and Law and Order systems
- British tendency to prove themselves superior as compared to Indian history
- British policy of regional capture - Awadh's annexation and merger made the rulers angry
- One of the immediate reasons was the poor state of the soldiers in the Army
- The inclusion of the Enfield Rifle whose cartridges had animal fat thereby upsetting the religious sentiments of both Hindus and Muslims, and
- The fear of spread of Christianit>y
A.3 The beginning of the Revolt
A.4 Spread of the Revolt
At Kanpur Nana Sahib, the adopted son of Baji Rao II, the last Peshwa, led the revolt. He expelled the English from Kanpur with the help of the sepoys and proclaimed himself the Peshwa. At the same time he acknowledged Bahadur Shah as the Emperor of India and declared himself to be his Governor. The chief burden of fighting on behalf of Nana Sahib fell on the shoulders of Tatya Tope, one of his most loyal servants. During the siege of Kanpur, forces loyal to Nana Saheb launched an attack on the British forces holed up in the area. Eventually, many British army personnel were taken prisoner or killed (These killings later on became an excuse for the British to commit large-scale massacres of civilian populations in several centres of revolt, including Delhi). By the time British forces reached Kanpur, Tatya Tope and Nana Saheb had left the city. But the 1857 rebellion was not over yet. Tatya Tope continued to fight against a far superior British army. By November 1857, he had gathered a substantial force, many of them rebels from Gwalior, and tried to re-take Kanpur in an audacious bid. It was a bloody fight but the East India Company's forces emerged victorious. The Kanpur phase of the rebellion was effectively over.
Tatya Tope regrouped, at one stage joining hands with the legendary queen of Jhansi Rani Laxmi Bai, who was finally killed in battle.
- In 1842, Manikarnika as she was named by her parents was married to the Maharaja of Jhansi Raja Gangadhar Rao and was thereafter named Lakshmibai, a name which would go down in history and earn great respect. In 1851, the couple had a baby boy who they named Damodar Rao, but unfortunately the baby died when he was only four months old. Following the death of their infant son, the Raja and Lakshmibai adopted the son of Gangadhar Rao's cousin, named Anand Rao and renamed him Damodar Rao.
- This adoption was witnessed by a British political officer. Raja Gangadhar Rao also gave a letter to the British officer requesting them to give Lakshmibai the government of Jhansi for the rest of her life. The Raja died in November 1853 and the British, under Governor General, Lord Dalhousie applied the Doctrine of Lapse, stating that they would not recognize the adopted child as the legal heir of the Raja and would hence annex Jhansi to British territory.
- In reaction of the unfairness on the part of the British regarding her territory, Lakshmibai consulted a British lawyer and appealed for the hearing of her case in London. This appeal was turned down. The British seized the state jewels of Jhansi and, in 1854, gave Lakshmibai a pension of Rs.60,000 and ordered her to leave her palace and the fort. She moved into a place called Rani Mahal, which has now been converted into a museum.
A.5 Various uprisings, mutinies, revolts
A.6 Weaknesses and the final end
- The modern educated Indians were repelled by the rebels appeals to superstitions and their opposition to progressive social measures. The educated Indians wanted to end the backwardness of their country. They mistakenly believed that the British rule would help them accomplish these tasks of modernisation while the rebels, led by zamindars, old rulers and chieftains and other feudal elements, would take the country backward. It took them many more decades to realize that foreign rule was incapable of modernising the country and that it would instead impoverish it and keep it backward. The revolutionaries of 1857 proved to be more far-sighted in this respect and had a better and better instinctive understanding of the evils of foreign rule and of the necessity to get rid of it. However unlike the educated intelligentsia they could not realize that the country had fallen prey to foreigners precisely because it had stuck to rotten and outmoded customs, traditions and institutions.
- They failed to see that national salvation lay not in going back to feudal monarchy but in going forward to a modem society, a modern economy, scientific education and modern political institutions. In any case, it cannot be said that the educated Indians were anti-national or loyal to a foreign regime. As events after 1858 were to show, they were soon to lead a powerful and modern national movement against British rule. The lack of unity among Indian's was perhaps unavoidable at this stage of Indian history. Modern nationalism was yet unknown in India. Patriotism meant love of one's small locality or region or at most one's state. All-India interests and the consciousness that these interests bound all Indians together were yet to come. In fact, the Revolt of 1857 played an important role in bringing the Indian people together and imparting to them the consciousness of belonging to one country.
- In the end, British imperialism, with a developing capitalist economy and at the height of its power the world over, and supported by most of the Indian princes and chiefs, proved militarily too strong for the rebels. The British Government poured immense supplies of men, money and arms into the country, though Indians had later to repay the entire cost of their own suppression.
By the end of 1859, British authority over India was fully re-established, but the Revolt had not been in vain. It is a glorious landmark in our history. Though it was a desperate effort to save India in the old way and under traditional leadership, it was the first great struggle of the Indian people for freedom from British imperialism. It paved the way for the rise of the modem national movement.
A.7 Subaltern Movements of 19th and 20th Centuries
Caste and Peasant Movements
A.9 The India of those times
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Lecture continues here ...
B. INDIA AFTER 1857
B.2 Statutory changes in British administration
In other words, the Legislative Council had no control over the executive. Moreover, no bill passed by it could become an Act till it was approved by the Governor-General. On top of all this, the Secretary of State could disallow any of its Acts. Thus, the only important function of the Legislative Council was to ditto official measures and give them the appearance of having been passed by a legislative body. In theory, the non-official Indian members were added to the Council to represent Indian views. But the Indian members of the Legislative Council were few in number and were not elected by the Indian people but were nominated by the Governor-General whose choice invariably fell on princes and their ministers, big zamindars, big merchants, or retired senior government officials. They were thoroughly unrepresentative of the Indian people or of the growing nationalist opinion. The Government of India remained, as before 1858, an alien despotism. This was, moreover, no accident, but a conscious policy. Charles Wood, the Secretary of State for India, while moving the Indian Councils Bill of 1861, said: "All experience teaches us that where a dominant race rules another, the mildest form of government is despotism".
B.3 Provincial administration
B.4 Local bodies
- Local bodies were first formed between 1864 and 1868, but almost in every case they consisted of nominated members and were presided over by District Magistrates. They did not, therefore, represent local self-government at all. Nor did the intelligent Indians accept them as such. They looked upon them as instruments for the extraction of additional taxes from the people.
- A step forward, though a very hesitant and inadequate one, was taken in 1882 by Lord Ripon's Government. A government resolution laid down the policy of administering local affairs largely through rural and urban local bodies, a majority of whose members would be non-officials. These non-official members would be elected by the people wherever and whenever officials felt that it was possible to introduce elections.
- The resolution also permitted the election of a non-official as Chairman of a local body. But the elected members were in a minority in all the district boards and in many of the municipalities. They were, moreover, elected by a small number of voters since the right to vote was severely restricted. District officials continued to act as Presidents of district boards though non-officials gradually became chairmen of municipal committees.
The Government also retained the right to exercise strict control over the activities of the local bodies and to suspend and supersede them at its own discretion. The result was that except in the Presidency cities of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, the local bodies functioned just like departments of the Government and were in no way good examples of local self-government. All the same, the politically conscious Indians welcomed Ripon's resolution and worked actively in these local bodies in the hope that in time they could be transformed into effective organs of local self-government.
B.5 Changes in the army
- Discrimination on the basis of caste, region and religion was practiced in recruitment to the army.
- A fiction was created that Indians consisted of 'martial' and 'non-martial' classes.
- Soldiers from Awadh, Bihar, central India, and south India, who had first helped the British conquer India but had later taken part in the Revolt of 1857, were declared to be non-martial. They were no longer taken in the army on a large scale.
- On the other hand, Punjabis, Gurkhas, and Pathans who had assisted in the suppression of the Revolt, were declared to be martial and were recruited in large numbers.
- By 1875, half of the British Indian army was recruited from Punjab. In addition, Indian regiments were made a mixture of various castes and groups which were so placed as to balance each other.
- Communal, caste, tribal and regional loyalties were encouraged among the soldiers so that the sentiment of nationalism would not grow among them. For example, caste and communal companies were introduced in most regiments.
"I never wish to see again a great Army, very much the same in its feelings and prejudices and connections, confident in its strength, and so disposed to rise in rebellion together. If one regiment mutinies, I should like to have the next regiment so alien that it would be ready to fire into it."
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The Indian army became in time a very costly military machine. In 1904 it absorbed nearly 52 per cent of the Indian revenues. This was because it served more than one purpose. India, being the most prized colonial possession of the time, had to be constantly defended from the competing imperialisms of Russia, France and Germany. This led to a big increase in the size of the Indian army. Secondly, the Indian troops were not maintained for India's defence alone. The Indian army was the chief instrument for the expansion and consolidation of British power and possessions in Asia and Africa. Lastly, the British section of the army served as an army of occupation. It was the ultimate guarantee of the British hold over the country. Its cost had, however, to be met by the Indian revenues; it was in fact a very heavy burden on them.
B.6 Public Services
B.7 Relations with the Princely States
It was, therefore, decided to use the princely states as firm props of British rule in India. As the British historian P.E. Roberts remarked: "to preserve them as a bulwark of the Empire has ever since been a principle of British policy".
- Their perpetuation was, however, only one aspect of the British policy towards the princely states. The other was their complete subordination to the British authorities. While even before the Revolt of 1857 the British had in practice interfered in the internal affairs of these states, in theory they had been considered as subsidiary but sovereign powers. This position was now entirely changed.
- As the price of their continued existence, the princes were made to acknowledge Britain as the paramount power. In 1876, Queen Victoria assumed the title of the Empress of India to emphasize British sovereignty over the entire Indian subcontinent. Lord Curzon later made it clear that the princes ruled their states merely as agents of the British Crown.
- The princes accepted this subordinate position and willingly became junior partners in the Empire because they were assured of their continued existence as rulers of their states.
B.8 Administrative policies
B.9 Divide and Rule
B.10 Hostility to educated Indians
B.11 Attitude towards the Zamindars
B.12 Attitude towards Social Reforms
B.13 Extreme backwardness of social services
B.14 Labour legislation
The condition of workers in modern factories and plantations in the 19th century was miserable. They had to work between 12 and 16 hours a day and there was no weekly day of rest. Women and children worked the same long hours as men. The wages were extremely low, ranging from Rs. 4 to 20 per month. The factories were overcrowded, badly lighted and aired, and completely unhygienic. Work on machines was hazardous, and accidents very common.
- The Act dealt primarily with the problem of child labor. It lay down that children between 7 and 12 would not work for more than 9 hours a day. Children would also get four holidays in month. The Act also provided for the proper fencing off of dangerous machinery. The second Indian Factories Act was passed in 1891. It provided for a weekly holiday for all workers. Working hours for women were fixed at 11 per day; whereas daily hours of work for children were reduced Hours of work for men were still left unregulated.
- Neither of the two Acts applied to British-owned tea and coffee plantations. On the contrary, the Government gave every help to the foreign planters to exploit their workers in a most ruthless manner. Most of the tea plantations were situated in Assam which was very thinly populated and had an unhealthy climate. Labour to work in the plantations had therefore to be brought from outside. The planters would not attract workers from outside by paying high wages.
- Instead they used coercion and fraud to recruit them and then keep them as virtual slaves on the plantations. The government of India gave planters full help and passed penal laws in 1863, 1865, 1870, 1873 and 1882 to enable them to do so. Once a labourer had signed a contract to go and work in a plantation, he could not refuse to do so. Any breach of contract by a laborer was a criminal offence, the planter also having the power to arrest him.
B.15 Restrictions on the press
B.16 Racial antagonism
B.17 Foreign policy
- Burma and British India developed a common frontier at the close of the 18th century when both were expanding powers. After centuries of internal strife, Burma was united by King Alaungpaya between 1752-60. His successor, Bodawpaya, ruling from Ava on the river Irrawaddi, repeatedly invaded Siam, repelled many Chinese invasions, and conquered the border states of Arakan (1785) and Manipur (1813) bringing Burma's border up to that of British India. Continuing his westward expansion, he threatened Assam and the Brahmaputra Valley. Finally, in 1822, the Burmese conquered Assam. The Burmese occupation of Arakan and Assam led to continuous friction along the ill defined border between Bengal and Burma.
- In 1824, the British Indian authorities declared war on Burma. After an initial setback, the British forces drove the Burmese out of Assam, Cachar, Manipur and Arakan. The British expeditionary forces by sea occupied Rangoon in May 1824 and reached within 72 km of the capital at Ava. Peace came in February 1826 with the Treaty of Yandabo. The Govemment of Burma agreed: (1) to pay one crore of rupees as war compensation; (2) to cede its coastal provinces of Arakan and Tenasserim; (3) to abandon all claims to Assam, Cachar, and Jamtia; (4) to recognise Manipur as an independent state; (5) to negotiate a commercial treaty with Britain; and (6) to accept a British Resident at Ava while posting a Burmese envoy at Calcutta. By this treaty the British deprived Burma of most of its coastline, and acquired a firm base in Burma for future expansion.
Lecture continues here ...
C. THE INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS
C.2 What came before
C.3 The INC arrives
The aims of the National Congress were declared to be the promotion of friendly relations between nationalist political workers from different parts of the country; development and consolidation of the feeling of national unity irrespective of caste, religion or province, formulation of popular demands and their presentation before the Government, and most important of all, the training and organization of public opinion in the country. It has been said that Hume's main purpose in encouraging the foundation of the Congress was to provide a 'safety valve' or a safe outlet to the growing discontent among the educated Indians. He wanted to prevent the union of a discontented nationalist intelligentsia with a discontented peasantry.
C.4 Early nationalists
C.5 Economic imperialism's review
- They believed that the employment of foreign capital posed a serious economic and political danger not only to the present generation but also to the generations to come. The chief remedy they suggested for the removal of India's poverty was the rapid development of modern industries. They wanted the Government to promote modern industries through tariff protection and direct government aid. They popularized the idea of Swadeshi or the use of Indian goods, and the boycott of British goods as a means of promoting Indian industries. For example, students in Poona and in other towns of Maharashtra publicly burnt foreign clothes in 1896 as part of the larger Swadeshi campaign.
- The nationalists complained that India's wealth was being drained to England, and demanded that this drain be stopped. They carried on persistent agitation for the reduction of land revenue in order to lighten the, burden of taxation on the peasant. Some of them also criticized the semi feudal agrarian relations that the British sought to maintain. The nationalists also agitated for improvement in the conditions of work of the plantation laborers. They declared high taxation to be one of the causes of India's poverty and demanded the abolition of the salt tax and reduction of land revenue. They condemned the high military-expenditure of the Government of India and demanded its reduction. As time passed more and more nationalists came to the conclusion that economic exploitation and impoverishment of the country and the perpetuation of its economic backwardness by foreign imperialism more than outweighed some of the beneficial aspects of the alien rule.
Thus, regarding the benefits of security of life and property, Dadabhai Naoroji remarked: "The romance is that there is security of life and property in India; the reality is that there is no such thing. There is security of life and property in one sense or way - i.e., the people are secure from any violence from each other or from Native despots ... But from England's own grasp there is no security of property at all and, as a consequence, no security for life. India's property is not secure. What is secure, and well secure, is that England is perfectly safe and secure, and does so with perfect security, to carry away from India, and to eat up in India, her property at the present rate of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 a year... I therefore venture to submit that India does not enjoy security of her property and life... To millions in India life is simply 'half-feeding', or starvation, or famine and disease."
C.6 Political work of early nationalist leaders
C.7 The partition of Bengal
C.8 The anti-partition movement
C.9 Swadeshi and Boycott
C.10 Role of students, women, Muslims
C.11 All India nature of the movement
C.12 The growth of militancy
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C.13 Growth of revolutionary nationalism
C.14 The INC - 1905-1914
C.15 The INC - Surat Split
C.16 Effects of the INC Surat Split
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