Dr. Shamsul Islam teaches Political Science in Satyawati College (University of Delhi). As an author, columnist, and street theatre activist, he is known for his unrelenting opposition to religious intolerance, dehumanization, imperialism and persecution of women, Dalits and minorities. He regularly writes in English, Hindi and Urdu and many of his works have been translated into many Indian languages. For more than a decade he has been collecting rare documents (in Persian, Urdu, English and Hindi) of the period of 1857 rebellion from India and outside.
Very little is known about the Revolt of 1857 from the point of view of the rebels as there is not a single detailed account of the events telling their version of the rebellion. But there is a large body of documents from the time: British official documents, records, diaries and personal narratives of the British officials and others who witnessed the 'Mutiny'. Even though these mainly contain the subjective British version of the uprising and are heavily biased towards the British imperial project in India, they also contain significant details about the rebels and their cause. Surprisingly, this material has been left almost unexplored in the research work done on the Revolt even 150 years after the events and more than 60 years of Indian independence from the British.
In the last several years of searching for these documents I have found a goldmine, leaving me to wonder why no one has as yet examined these sources. To give just one example, in my research, I came across the original letters of spies from Delhi who were employed by the British during their siege of Delhi in May- September 1857. The letters presented here tell a startling story. Despite being outnumbered and out maneuvered by the rebels in Delhi, the British army was able to capture Delhi on September 20, 1857. This was made possible only with the help of spies and British stooges present in. Delhi. These letters not only throw light on the intrigues of the British rulers but also on rebel opposition and their strategies. The rebels appear as victors even though they lost Delhi. These letters along with many other important documents of the 1857 period were obtained from a second hand book store in the Anarkali bazaar of Lahore. I will always remain grateful to a journalist friend, Jawed Mouzzam from Lahore who guided me to this great book bazar.
It is heartening to note that scholars like Mr. Salim Qureshi in Pakistan have done pioneering work on this aspect of1857 but Indian scholars have largely remained indifferent to it, only exception being Mr Safadar Imam Qadri who has written about some of these letters.
Most of these letters are with India Office Library London. It is strange that these letters which were the property of Indian state were not handed over to the Indian archives on the eve of independence but were taken to England. I hope the Indian scholars will realize the importance of such primary material and demand that the files containing these letters should come back to the country to which these legitimately belong.
I am immensely grateful to my wife, Neelima Sharma, who not only helped me in the procurement of rare documents but also in organizing them. I am also thankful to my daughter, Shirin and son-in-law, Sameer Dossani who as always enrich me with their critical comments.
I am grateful to Professor Randhir Singh, Dr. 1. K. Shukla, Mr. Shyam Chand, Dr. John Dayal, Dr. Amar Farooqi, Dr. P. K. Shukla, Mr. Praveen Upadhyay, Dr. G. D. Gulati, Dr. Shakil A. Khan, Dr. Anurag Sharma, Dr. Z. 1. Khan, Dr. Khalid Ashraf, Mr. Pankaj Chaturvedi, Dr. Pragya and Dr. Rakesh, Mr. Braham Yadav, Dr. Badrul Islam, Dr. Goura Kudesia, Dr. Qamrul Hasan, Ms. Sunita Yadav, Dr. Prem Singh, Dr. Suresh Mishra, Mr. Sharfudheen M. K., Dr. Qudsia Qureshi, Dr. S. N. Khan Shahid, Mr. Vageesh Jha and Mr. Ted Svensson for their valuable suggestions.
I am also greatly indebted to the ever helpful staff of Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, Ratan Tata Library, Ajoy Bhawan Library, Qaumi Ekta Kendra Trust Library, Gandhi Memorial Library, Vallabh Bhai Patel Memorial Library, National Archives, Central Secretariat Library, Jamia Millia Islamia Library, Satyawati College Libraries, both evening and morning classes (all in Delhi), Salzburg Seminar Library (Austria), Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library (Patna), L. Durga Sah Thulgharia (Nainital), National Library (Calcutta) and Shibli Academy Library (Azamgarh), Rampur Raza Library (Rampur), Kerala State Archives (Thiruvanathapuram), Dayal Singh College Library (Lahore), Library of Advanced Studies and Municipal Library (both in Simla) for meeting my ever increasing request for material.
This book as part of the series, 'Startling Documents of 1857' would not have materialized without the creative suggestions of Mr. Arun Maheshwari of Vani Prakashan. I am indebted to him and his team.
I also thank Mr. Sandeep Joshi, Mr. Varun Jain, Mr. Udit for organizing the manuscript and Mr. Shishupal Prajapati and Ms. Bhavna Prajapati for the secretarial work which they have done ably.
The British historians who defend the British colonial project in India believe that the 1857 rebels were no match to the British power. For them the British were immensely superior in terms of war strategy, war machinery, commitment and bravery and thus were destined to be victors. This could be seen in the writings of many contemporary British civil and military officials who went out to crush the rebellion. They constantly denigrated the 'Mutiny' as an uprising which was instigated and kept going by the budmashes (rascals/persons involved in evil professions), Poorbeahs (inhabitants of eastern India; used as a derogatory term to identify the rebels most of whom came from this region) and Pandies (rebels named after Mangal Pan de whose hanging set into motion the 1857 rebellion) who were only interested in loot, plunder and anarchy.
Unfortunately, such a perception found favour with many Indians too. Syed Ahmad Khan (generally known as Sir Syed), Rajnarain Basu and R. C. Majumdar were three prominent Indians who believed that rebels were devoid of any nationalist ideals and consisted of mainly lower-classes, lower-castes and anti-social elements who were interested only in rapine. Sir Syed (1817-1898) and Basu (1826-1899) lived during the 'Mutiny' times. Syed Ahmad Khan who got the tide of , Sir' and many other monetary benefits for rendering invaluable assistance to the British in suppressing the 'Mutiny' in Bijnor district as Sadr Ameen (Deputy Magistrate), described the Bijnor rebels as 'ganwar' (a derogatory term used to describe uneducated, bad mannered and persons with loose character).' He went to the extent of describing all rebels in north- western India as "robbers and dacoits" who "belonged to some of the lower classes".2 According to him, the Muslims who joined the rebellion, were vagabonds and ill conditioned men. They were wine drinkers and men who spent their time in debauchery and dissipation. They were men floating without profession or occupation on the surface of the society.
Rajnarain Basu who is regarded as the father of Hindu nationalism in Bengal, too, did not feel "any sympathy for the mutinous sepoys or the cause they represented," on the contrary, "looked upon them as evil-doers" who had nothing to do with the freedom of the country,
Majumdar, a noted historian white deliberating on the causes of failure of the 'Mutiny' wrote that from the very beginning the goonda elements of the population, and particularly the marauding tribes like Gujars, Ranghars etc. took a prominent part in the local risings and these were the people who indulged in plunder, rapine, massacre on a large scale, directed against the Europeans as well as Indians. In addition to these, personal vendetta, a desire to gain by force what was lost by legal process, setting old scores, and satisfying personal grudge played a large part in the popular upsurge almost wherever it occurred.
So according to Majumdar the rebellion was doomed to be a failure as such an anarchic lot was no match to the highly professional military leadership and efficient war machinery of the British.
However, there are British documents and narratives of pre-Mutiny and of the times of rebellion which present an altogether a different picture. A major reason for the defeat of Indians to the British was because the latter were able to organize networks of spies and turncoats. They knew whom .and when to bribe to get work deceitfully done. It was through such methods that they were able to defeat Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula in the Battle of Plassey which heralded the 'process of subjugation of the Indian sub-continent by the British.
Colonel G. B. Malleson who with John William Kaye was the official British historiographer of this period of British Empire building in India while describing the significance of the battle of Plassey in the history of British imperialism wrote: Plassey [June 23, 1757] was a very decisive battle. There never was a battle in which the consequence was so vast, so immediate and so permanent. From the very morrow of the victory the English became virtual masters of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. During the century which followed ... it gave them, a base resting on the sea and, with proper care, unassailable they were able to extend their authority beyond the Indus.
However, Malleson admitted that it was through highly pervert and foul means that British secured victory. Yes! As a victory, Plassey was, in its consequences, perhaps the greatest ever gained. But as a battle it is not, in my opinion, a matter to be proud of. In the first place, it was not a fare fight. Who can doubt that that if the three principal generals of Sirajuddaulah [sic} had been faithful to their master Plassey would not have been won?. It was only when treason had done her work, when treason had driven the Nuwab [sic] from the field, when treason had removed her army from its, commanding position, that Clive was able to advance without the certainty of being annihilated.
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