Showing posts with label Modern India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Modern India. Show all posts

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Formation of Muslim League

The Muslim League

The foundation of Indian National Congress in 1885 was an attempt to narrow the Hindu-Muslim divide and place the genuine grievances of all the communities in the country before the British. But Sir Sayed and other Muslim leaders like Ameer Ali projected the Congress as a representative body of Hindus and thus, thwarted the first genuine attempt in the country for Hindu-Muslim unity. Poor participation of Muslims in Congress proves it. "Of the seventy-two delegates attending the first session of the Congress only two were Muslims". Muslim leaders opposed the Congress tooth and nail on the plea that Muslims' participation in it would create an unfavorable reaction among the rulers against their community.
Muslim orthodoxy or its patrons in elite sections in the community with the sword of 'religious identity' and slogan - 'Islam is in danger' continuously challenged the political awakening in Indian society if it directly or indirectly affected their superior status and influence. They therefore viewed the democratic and secular movement launched by the Congress - as challenge to their supremacy over the Hindus. Acceptance of Devanagari script and Hindi as an official language of United Province now Uttar Pradesh in place of Persian in 1900 by Lieutenant Governor A. Macdonnel was another significant development to stir the Muslims on communal line. No such aggressive resistance was made when the British replaced Persian with English in late thirties of nineteenth century. Sir Sayed Ahmed died in 1898 but his followers in defense of Urdu language launched agitation against the decision of the representative of British power in United Province.

On first October 1906 a 35-member delegation of the Muslim nobles, aristocracies, legal professionals and other elite section of the community mostly associated with Aligarh movement gathered at Simla under the leadership of Aga Khan to present an address to Lord Minto. They demanded proportionate representation of Muslims in government jobs, appointment of Muslim judges in High Courts and members in Viceroy's council etc. Though, Simla deputation failed to obtain any positive commitment from the Viceroy, it worked as a catalyst for foundation of AIML to safeguard the interests of the Muslims.
Under the active leadership of Aligarhians, the movements for Muslim separatism created political awakening among the Muslims on communal line. This ideology of political exclusivism in the name of religion gave birth to AIML in the session of All India Mohammedan Educational Conference held in Dacca (December 27-30, 1906). Nawab Salimullah, Chairman of the reception committee and convener of the political meeting proposed the creation of AIML. A 56-member provisional committee was constituted with prominent Muslim leaders from different parts of the country. Even some Muslim leaders within Congress like Ali Imam, Hasan Imam, Mazharul Haque (All Barristers from Bihar) and Hami Ali Khan (Barrister from Lucknow) were included in the committee. Mohsin-ul-Mulk and Viqar-ul-Mulk were jointly made the secrearies. After the death of Mohsin-ul-Mulk in 1907, Viqar-ul-Mulk was in full control of the League. First session of the League was held at Karanchi on December 29 & 30, 1907 with Adamjee Peerbhoy as its President.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a prominent leader of the Congress did not join the AIML till 1913 though, he supported the League movement for separate electorate for Muslims. He even successfully contested against the League candidate for the election of Viceroy's Legislative Council. Within the Congress he however always tried to bargain for one-third reservation for his community.

Formation of All India Muslim League:

The formation of AIML was a major landmark in the history of modern India. The first formal entry of a centrally organized political party exclusively for Muslims had the following objectives:
  • To promote among the Muslims of India, feelings of loyalty to the British Government, and remove any misconception that may arise as to the instruction of Government with regard to any of its measures.
  • To protect and advance the political rights and interests of Muslims of India, and to respectfully represent their needs and aspirations to the Government.
  • To prevent the rise among the Muslims of India of any feeling of hostility towards other communities without prejudice to the afore-mentioned objects of the League.
Initially AIML remained a pocket organization of urbanized Muslims. However, the support of the British Government to the political Islamists in their non-secular intention as well as contemptuous attitude towards majority rule helped the League to become the sole representative body of Indian Muslims. To confront the challenge of modern political system, the AIML successfully achieved the status of separate electorates for the Muslims within three years of its formation. It was the first big achievement of the party, which granted separate constitutional identity to the Muslims. Lucknow Pact in 1916 put official seal on the separate identity of Muslims, which was another landmark in the separatist movement launched by the AIML.

Delhi Durbar & The Presidency of Benga

Delhi Durbar

Delhi Coronation Durbar was held on 12 December 1911 before an assembly of about 80,000 select people of British India and the princely states apparently to mark the accession of King George V to the throne of Great Britain on the death of Edward VII. But the real intention behind holding the Durbar in the presence of the King and Queen was to pacify the Bengal agitators who were becoming increasingly militant in realizing their manifold demands, such as, annulment of the partition of Bengal, having Governor-in-Council for Bengal, releasing political prisoners, reform of the local government and education system, and liberalizing recruitment and promotions in the army and the bureaucracy.
Being unable to contain the ever-growing agitation of the Bengali nationalists, who were joined in by the militants of other provinces, the India Council and the Governor General-in-Council and Viceroy had resolved secretly to meet many of the nationalist demands. But they were anticipating that concessions made in the face of resistance might encourage further agitation on the one hand and create new opposition fronts from the affected Muslims on the other. Faced with the dilemma, the Secretary of State persuaded the cabinet members to agree on the idea of taking advantage of the coronation of the new king and staging a hallowed and awe-inspiring imperial Durbar in India in the presence of His Majesty with all oriental splendor and exuberance and announcing the concessions as royal favors.
The Coronation at Westminster Abbey took place on June 22, 1911. On the advice of the cabinet, the King George V had resolved to create a new precedent by proceeding himself with the Queen to India at the close of the year, in order to preside over the projected Durbar which was, for political reasons again, to be held at Delhi, and not at calcutta, the capital of India. The grand Durbar was held with all the trappings of the imperial Mughal Durbar. The King was to play the Great Mughal at the Durbar, which he did well by endowing every interest group with what it looked for. The King announced for the generality some imperial boons and benefits, which included land grants, a month's extra pay for soldiers and subordinate civil servants, establishment of a new university at Dhaka and allotment of five million Taka for it, declaration of the eligibility of the Indians for the Victoria Cross, and so on. Bestowing of honours on the elite with the aristocratic titles of Sirs, Rajas, Maharajas, Nawabs, Roybahadurs and Khanbahadurs followed the distribution of benevolence.
Finally came the royal announcement of changes of far greater magnitude. These were the transference of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi, the annulment of the 1905-Partition of Bengal, the creation of a Governor-in-Council for united Bengal, separating Bihar, Orissa and Chhotanagpur from Bengal's jurisdiction and integrating them into a new Lieutenant Governor's province, and the reduction of Assam once more to a Chief-Commissionership. The King then pronounced that henceforth the Viceroy would be progressively concerned with imperial interests only and the Governor-in-Council and elected bodies should progressively run the provincial concerns autonomously.
These changes were deeply constitutional and political and undoubtedly very striking and dramatic. The agitators, in fact, did not expect that the King would at all raise the constitutional and political issues, which were the preserves of parliament. Subsequent to the Durbar, George V made a visit to Calcutta where he got hero's receptions. However, the contemporary public opinion in Britain had received the royal edicts with considerable suspicion and cynicism. It was argued in the press that if the King made all these constitutional and political concessions on his own, he had encroached upon the rights of the parliament very grotesquely and dangerously, and if the politicians used His Majesty's dignity to implement their own secret plans without taking the parliament into confidence, it was again unconstitutional.
Delhi Durbar had achieved its purpose almost entirely. The Durbar declarations, which were soon incorporated into statutes, made the militant nationalists return back to constitutional politics, and the Muslim leaders, though disturbed and disgruntled, remained loyal to the Raj by and large. The Bengal nationalists had no regret for the transfer of the capital because the loss was more than compensated by the gain of the status of the Governor's province, the absence of which had been affecting so long its political, economic and administrative developments. Bombay and Madras had been enjoying the constitutional status of the Governor-in-Council from the beginning of the British rule.

Lord Curzon becomes Governor

Lord Curzon

George Curzon, the eldest son of Baron Curzon, was born on 11th January, 1859. A brilliant student, at Eton College he won a record number of academic prizes before entering Oxford University in 1878. He was elected president of the Oxford Union in 1880 and although he failed to achieve a first he was made a fellow of All Souls College in 1883.
A member of the Conservative Party, Curzon was elected MP for Southport in 1886. It was a safe Tory seat and Curzon neglected his parliamentary duties to travel the world. This material provided the material for Russia in Central Asia (1889), Persia and the Persian Question (1892) and Problems of the Far East (1894).
In November, 1891, Marquis of Salisbury appointed Curzon as his secretary of state for India. Curzon lost office when Earl of Rosebery formed a Liberal Government in 1894.
After the 1895 General Election, the Conservative Party regained power and Curzon was rewarded with the post of under secretary for foreign affairs. Three years later the Marquis of Salisbury granted him the title, Baron Curzon of Kedleston, and appointed him Viceroy of India.
Curzon introduced a series of reforms that upset his civil servants. He also clashed with Lord Kitchener, who became commander-in-chief of the Indian Army, in 1902. Arthur Balfour, the new leader of the Conservative Party, began to have doubts about Curzon and in 1905 he was forced out of office.
Curzon returned to England where he led the campaign against women's suffrage in the House of Lords. In 1908 he helped establish the Anti-Suffrage League and eventually became its president.
In 1916 the new prime minister, David Lloyd George, invited Curzon into his War Cabinet. Curzon served as leader of the House of Lords but refused to support the government's decision to introduce the 1918 Qualification of Women Act. Despite Curzon's objections, it was passed by the Lords by 134 votes to 71.
Curzon was appointed foreign secretary in 1919 and when Andrew Bonar Law resigned as prime minister in May, 1923, Curzon was expected to become the new prime minister. However, the post went to Stanley Baldwin instead. He continued as foreign secretary until retiring from politics in 1924. George Curzon died on 20th March, 1925.

First Partition of Bengal

Bengal Partition

Partition of Bengal, 1905 effected on 16 October during the viceroyalty of lord curzon (1899-1905), proved to be a momentous event in the history of modern Bengal. The idea of partitioning Bengal did not originate with Curzon. Bengal, which included Bihar and Orissa since 1765, was admittedly much too large for a single province of British India. This premier province grew too vast for efficient administration and required reorganisation and intelligent division.
The lieutenant governor of Bengal had to administer an area of 189,000 sq miles and by 1903 the population of the province had risen to 78.50 million. Consequently, many districts in eastern Bengal had been practically neglected because of isolation and poor communication, which made good governance almost impossible. Calcutta and its nearby districts attracted all the energy and attention of the government. The condition of peasants was miserable under the exaction of absentee landlords; and trade, commerce and education were being impaired. The administrative machinery of the province was under-staffed. Especially in east Bengal, in countryside so cut off by rivers and creeks, no special attention had been paid to the peculiar difficulties of police work till the last decade of the 19th century. Organised piracy in the waterways had existed for at least a century.
Along with administrative difficulties, the problems of famine, of defence, or of linguistics had at one time or other prompted the government to consider the redrawing of administrative boundaries. Occasional efforts were made to rearrange the administrative units of Bengal. In 1836, the upper provinces were sliced off from Bengal and placed under a lieutenant governor. In 1854, the Governor-General-in-Council was relieved of the direct administration of Bengal, which was placed under a lieutenant governor. In 1874 Assam (along with Sylhet) was severed from Bengal to form a Chief-Commissionership and in 1898 Lushai Hills were added to it.
Proposals for partitioning Bengal were first considered in 1903. Curzon's original scheme was based on grounds of administrative efficiency. It was probably during the vociferous protests and adverse reaction against the original plan, that the officials first envisaged the possible advantages of a divided Bengal. Originally, the division was made on geographical rather than on an avowedly communal basis. 'Political Considerations' in this respect seemed to have been 'an afterthought'.
The government contention was that the Partition of Bengal was purely an administrative measure with three main objectives. Firstly, it wanted to relieve the government of Bengal of a part of the administrative burden and to ensure more efficient administration in the outlying districts. Secondly, the government desired to promote the development of backward Assam (ruled by a Chief Commissioner) by enlarging its jurisdiction so as to provide it with an outlet to the sea. Thirdly, the government felt the urgent necessity to unite the scattered sections of the Uriya-speaking population under a single administration. There were further proposals to separate Chittagong and the districts of Dhaka (then Dacca) and Mymensigh from Bengal and attach them to Assam. Similarly Chhota Nagpur was to be taken away from Bengal and incorporated with the Central Provinces.
The government's proposals were officially published in January 1904. In February 1904, Curzon made an official tour of the districts of eastern Bengal with a view to assessing public opinion on the government proposals. He consulted the leading personalities of the different districts and delivered speeches at Dhaka, Chittagong and Mymensigh explaining the government's stand on partition. It was during this visit that the decision to push through an expanded scheme took hold of his mind. This would involve the creation of a self-contained new province under a Lieutenant Governor with Legislative Council, an independent revenue authority and transfer of so much territory as would justify a fully equipped administration.
The enlarged scheme received the assent of the governments of Assam and Bengal. The new province would consist of the state of Hill Tripura, the Divisions of Chittagong, Dhaka and Rajshahi (excluding Darjeeling) and the district of Malda amalgamated with Assam. Bengal was to surrender not only these large territories on the east but also to cede to the Central Provinces the five Hindi-speaking states. On the west it would gain Sambalpur and a minor tract of five Uriya-speaking states from the Central Provinces. Bengal would be left with an area of 141,580 sq. miles and a population of 54 million, of which 42 million would be Hindus and 9 million Muslims.
The new province was to be called 'Eastern Bengal and Assam' with its capital at Dhaka and subsidiary headquarters at Chittagong. It would cover an area of 106,540 sq. miles with a population of 31 million comprising of 18 million Muslims and 12 million Hindus. Its administration would consist of Legislative Council, a Board of Revenue of two members, and the jurisdiction of the Calcutta High Court would be left undisturbed. The government pointed out that the new province would have a clearly demarcated western boundary and well defined geographical, ethnological, linguistic and social characteristics. The most striking feature of the new province was that it would concentrate within its own bounds the hitherto ignored and neglected typical homogenous Muslim population of Bengal. Besides, the whole of the tea industry (except Darjeeling), and the greater portion of the jute growing area would be brought under a single administration. The government of India promulgated their final decision in a Resolution dated 19 July 1905 and the Partition of Bengal was effected on 16 October of the same year.
The publication of the original proposals towards the end of 1903 had aroused unprecedented opposition, especially among the influential educated middle-class Hindus. The proposed territorial adjustment seemed to touch the existing interest groups and consequently led to staunch opposition. The Calcutta lawyers apprehended that the creation of a new province would mean the establishment of a Court of Appeal at Dacca and diminish the importance of their own High Court. Journalists feared the appearance of local newspapers, which would restrict the circulation of the Calcutta Press. The business community of Calcutta visualised the shift of trade from Calcutta to Chittagong, which would be nearer, and logically the cheaper port. The Zamindars who owned vast landed estates both in west and east Bengal foresaw the necessity of maintaining separate establishments at Dhaka that would involve extra expenditure.
The educated Bengali Hindus felt that it was a deliberate blow inflicted by Curzon at the national consciousness and growing solidarity of the Bengali-speaking population. The Hindus of Bengal, who controlled most of Bengal's commerce and the different professions and led the rural society, opined that the Bengalee nation would be divided, making them a minority in a province including the whole of Bihar and Orissa. They complained that it was a veiled attempt by Curzon to strangle the spirit of nationalism in Bengal. They strongly believed that it was the prime object of the government to encourage the growth of a Muslim power in eastern Bengal as a counterpoise to thwart the rapidly growing strength of the educated Hindu community. Economic, political and communal interests combined together to intensify the opposition against the partition measure.
The Indian and specially the Bengali press opposed the partition move from the very beginning. The British press, the Anglo-Indian press and even some administrators also opposed the intended measure. The partition evoked fierce protest in west Bengal, especially in Calcutta and gave a new fillip to Indian nationalism. Henceforth, the indian national congress was destined to become the main platform of the Indian nationalist movement. It exhibited unusual strength and vigour and shifted from a middle-class pressure group to a nation-wide mass organisation.
The leadership of the Indian National Congress viewed the partition as an attempt to 'divide and rule' and as a proof of the government's vindictive antipathy towards the outspoken Bhadralok intellectuals. Mother-goddess worshipping Bengali Hindus believed that the partition was tantamount to the vivisection of their 'Mother province'. 'Bande-Mataram' (Hail Motherland) almost became the national anthem of the Indian National Congress. Defeat of the partition became the immediate target of Bengalee nationalism. Agitation against the partition manifested itself in the form of mass meetings; rural unrest and a swadeshi movement to boycott the import of British manufactured goods. Swadeshi and Boycott were the twin weapons of this nationalism and Swaraj (self-government) its main objective. Swaraj was first mentioned in the presidential address of Dadabhai Naoroji as the Congress goal at its Calcutta session in 1906.
Leaders like surendranath banerjea along with journalists like Krishna Kumar Mitra, editor of the Sanjivani (13 July 1905) urged the people to boycott British goods, observe mourning and sever all contact with official bodies. In a meeting held at Calcutta on 7 August 1905 (hailed as the birthday of Indian nationalism) a resolution to abstain from purchases of British products so long as 'Partition resolution is not withdrawn' was accepted with acclaim. This national spirit was popularised by the patriotic songs of Dwijendralal Roy, Rajanikanta Sen and Rabindranath Tagore. As with other political movements of the day this also took on religious overtones. Pujas were offered to emphasise the solemn nature of the occasion.
The Hindu religious fervour reached its peak on 28 September 1905, the day of the Mahalaya, the new-moon day before the puja, and thousands of Hindus gathered at the Kali temple in Calcutta. In Bengal the worship of Kali, wife of Shiva, had always been very popular. She possessed a two-dimensional character with mingled attributes both generative and destructive. Simultaneously she took great pleasure in bloody sacrifices but she was also venerated as the great Mother associated with the conception of Bengal as the Motherland. This conception offered a solid basis for the support of political objectives stimulated by religious excitement. Kali was accepted as a symbol of the Motherland, and the priest administered the Swadeshi vow. Such a religious flavour could and did give the movement a widespread appeal among the Hindu masses, but by the same token that flavour aroused hostility in average Muslim minds. Huge protest rallies before and after Bengal's division on 16 October 1905 attracted millions of people heretofore not involved in politics.
The Swadeshi Movement as an economic movement would have been quite acceptable to the Muslims, but as the movement was used as a weapon against the partition (which the greater body of the Muslims supported) and as it often had a religious colouring added to it, it antagonised Muslim minds.
The new tide of national sentiment against the Partition of Bengal originating in Bengal spilled over into different regions in India Punjab, Central Provinces, Poona, Madras, Bombay and other cities. Instead of wearing foreign made outfits, the Indians vowed to use only swadeshi (indigenous) cottons and other clothing materials made in India. Foreign garments were viewed as hateful imports. The Swadeshi Movement soon stimulated local enterprise in many areas; from Indian cotton mills to match factories, glassblowing shops, iron and steel foundries. The agitation also generated increased demands for national education. Bengali teachers and students extended their boycott of British goods to English schools and college classrooms. The movement for national education spread throughout Bengal and reached even as far as Benaras where Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya founded his private Benaras Hindu University in 1910.
The student community of Bengal responded with great enthusiasm to the call of nationalism. Students including schoolboys participated en masse in the campaigns of Swadeshi and Boycott. The government retaliated with the notorious Carlyle Circular that aimed to crush the students' participation in the Swadeshi and Boycott movements. Both the students and the teachers strongly reacted against this repressive measure and the protest was almost universal. In fact, through this protest movement the first organised student movement was born in Bengal. Along with this the 'Anti-Circular Society', a militant student organisation, also came into being.
The anti-partition agitation was peaceful and constitutional at the initial stage, but when it appeared that it was not yielding the desired results the protest movement inevitably passed into the hands of more militant leaders. Two techniques of boycott and terrorism were to be applied to make their mission successful. Consequently the younger generation, who were unwittingly drawn into politics, adopted terrorist methods by using firearms, pistols and bombs indiscriminately. The agitation soon took a turn towards anarchy and disorder. Several assassinations were committed and attempts were made on the lives of officials including Sir andrew fraser. The terrorist movement soon became an integral part of the Swadeshi agitation. Bengal terrorism reached its peak from 1908 through 1910, as did the severity of official repression and the number of 'preventive detention' arrests.
The new militant spirit was reflected in the columns of the nationalist newspapers, notably the Bande Mataram, Sandhya and Jugantar. The press assisted a great deal to disseminate revolutionary ideas. In 1907, the Indian National Congress at its annual session in Surat split into two groups - one being moderate, liberal, and evolutionary; and the other extremist, militant and revolutionary. The young militants of Bal Gangadhar Tilak's extremist party supported the 'cult of the bomb and the gun' while the moderate leaders like Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Surendranath Banerjea cautioned against such extremist actions fearing it might lead to anarchy and uncontrollable violence. Surendranath Banerjea, though one of the front-rank leaders of the anti-Partition agitation, was not in favour of terrorist activities.
When the proposal for partition was first published in 1903 there was expression of Muslim opposition to the scheme. The moslem chronicle, the central national muhamedan association, chowdhury kazemuddin ahmad siddiky and Delwar Hossain Ahmed condemned the proposed measure. Even Nawab salimullah termed the suggestion as 'beastly' at the initial stage. In the beginning the main criticism from the Muslim side was against any part of an enlightened and advanced province of Bengal passing under the rule of a chief commissioner. They felt that thereby, their educational, social and other interests would suffer, and there is no doubt that the Muslims also felt that the proposed measure would threaten Bengali solidarity. The Muslim intelligentsia, however, criticised the ideas of extremist militant nationalism as being against the spirit of Islam. The Muslim press urged its educated co-religionists to remain faithful to the government. On the whole the Swadeshi preachers were not able to influence and arouse the predominantly Muslim masses in east Bengal. The anti-partition trend in the thought process of the Muslims did not continue for long. When the wider scheme of a self contained separate the educated section of the Muslims knew province they soon changed their views. They realised that the partition would be a boon to them and that their special difficulties would receive greater attention from the new administration.
The Muslims accorded a warm welcome to the new Lieutenant-Governor bampfylde fuller. Even the Moslem Chronicle soon changed its attitude in favour of partition. Some Muslims in Calcutta also welcomed the creation of the new province. The mohammedan literary society brought out a manifesto in 1905 signed by seven leading Muslim personalities. The manifesto was circulated to the different Muslim societies of both west and east Bengal and urged the Muslims to give their unqualified support to the partition measure. The creation of the new province provided an incentive to the Muslims to unite into a compact body and form an association to voice their own views and aspiration relating to social and political matters. On 16 October 1905 the Mohammedan Provincial Union was founded. All the existing organisations and societies were invited to affiliate themselves with it and Salimullah was unanimously chosen as its patron.
Even then there was a group of educated liberal Muslims who came forward and tendered support to the anti-partition agitation and the Swadeshi Movement. Though their number was insignificant, yet their role added a new dimension in the thought process of the Muslims. This broad-minded group supported the Indian National Congress and opposed the partition. The most prominent among this section of the Muslims was khwaza atiqullah. At the Calcutta session of the Congress (1906), he moved a resolution denouncing the partition of Bengal. abdur rasul, Khan Bahadur Muhammad Yusuf (a pleader and a member of the Management Committee of the Central National Muhamedan Association), Mujibur Rahman, AH abdul halim ghaznavi, ismail hossain shiraji, Muhammad Gholam Hossain (a writer and a promoter of Hindu-Muslim unity), Maulvi Liaqat Hussain (a liberal Muslim who vehemently opposed the 'Divide and Rule' policy of the British), Syed Hafizur Rahman Chowdhury of Bogra and Abul Kasem of Burdwan inspired Muslims to join the anti-Partition agitation. There were even a few Muslim preachers of Swadeshi ideas, like Din Muhammad of Mymensingh and Abdul Gaffar of Chittagong. It needs to be mentioned that some of the liberal nationalist Muslims like AH Ghaznavi and Khan Bahadur Muhammad Yusuf supported the Swadeshi Movement but not the Boycott agitation.
A section of the Muslim press tried to promote harmonious relations between the Hindus and the Muslims. ak fazlul huq and Nibaran Chandra Das preached non-communal ideas through their weekly Balaka (1901, Barisal) and monthly Bharat Suhrd (1901, Barisal). Only a small section of Muslim intellectuals could rise above their sectarian outlook and join with the Congress in the anti-partition agitation and constitutional politics.
The general trend of thoughts in the Muslim minds was in favour of partition. The All India muslim league, founded in 1906, supported the partition. In the meeting of the Imperial Council in 1910 Shamsul Huda of Bengal and Mazhar-ul-Huq from Bihar spoke in favour of the partition.
The traditional and reformist Muslim groups - the Faraizi, Wahabi and Taiyuni - supported the partition. Consequently an orthodox trend was visible in the political attitude of the Muslims. The Bengali Muslim press in general lent support to the partition. The Islam Pracharak described Swadeshi as a Hindu movement and expressed grave concern saying that it would bring hardship to the common people. The Muslim intelligentsia in general felt concerned about the suffering of their co-religionists caused by it. They particularly disliked the movement as it was tied to the anti-partition agitation. Reputed litterateurs like mir mosharraf hossain were virulent critics of the Swadeshi Movement. The greater body of Muslims at all levels remained opposed to the Swadeshi Movement since it was used as a weapon against the partition and a religious tone was added to it.
The economic aspect of the movement was partly responsible for encouraging separatist forces within the Muslim society. The superiority of the Hindus in the sphere of trade and industry alarmed the Muslims. Fear of socio-economic domination by the Hindus made them alert to safeguard their own interests. These apprehensions brought about a rift in Hindu-Muslims relations. In order to avoid economic exploitation by the Hindus, some wealthy Muslim entrepreneurs came forward to launch new commercial ventures. One good attempt was the founding of steamer companies operating between Chittagong and Rangoon in 1906.
In the context of the partition the pattern of the land system in Bengal played a major role to influence the Muslim mind. The absentee Hindu zamindars made no attempt to improve the lot of the raiyats who were mostly Muslims. The agrarian disputes (between landlords and tenants) already in existence in the province also appeared to take a communal colour. It was alleged that the Hindu landlords had been attempting to enforce Swadeshi ideas on the tenants and induce them to join the anti-partition movement.
In 1906, the Muslims organised an Islamic conference at Keraniganj in Dhaka as a move to emphasise their separate identity as a community. The Swadeshi Movement with its Hindu religious flavour fomented aggressive reaction from the other community. A red pamphlet of a highly inflammatory nature was circulated among the Muslim masses of Eastern Bengal and Assam urging them completely to dissociate from the Hindus. It was published under the auspices of the anjuman-i-mufidul islam under the editorship of a certain Ibrahim Khan. Moreover, such irritating moves as the adoption of the Bande Mataram as the song of inspiration or introduction of the cult of Shivaji as a national hero, and reports of communal violence alienated the Muslims. One inevitable result of such preaching was the riot that broke out at Comilla in March 1907, followed by similar riots in Jamalpur in April of that year. These communal disturbances became a familiar feature in Eastern Bengal and Assam and followed a pattern that was repeated elsewhere. The 1907 riots represent a watershed in the history of modern Bengal.
While Hindu-Muslims relations deteriorated, political changes of great magnitude were taking place in the Government of India's policies, and simultaneously in the relations of Bengali Muslim leaders with their non-Bengalee counterparts. Both developments had major repercussions on communal relations in eastern Bengal. The decision to introduce constitutional reforms culminating in the morley-minto reforms of 1909 introducing separate representation for the Muslims marked a turning point in Hindu-Muslim relations.
The early administrators of the new province from the lieutenant governor down to the junior-most officials in general were enthusiastic in carrying out the development works. The anti-Partition movement leaders as being extremely partial to Muslims accused Bampfylde Fuller. He, because of a difference with the Government of India, resigned in August 1906. His resignation and its prompt acceptance were considered by the Muslims to be a solid political victory for the Hindus. The general Muslim feeling was that in yielding to the pressure of the anti-Partition agitators the government had revealed its weakness and had overlooked the loyal adherence of the Muslims to the government.
Consequently, the antagonism between the Hindus and Muslims became very acute in the new province. The Muslim leaders, now more conscious of their separate communal identity, directed their attention in uniting the different sections of their community to the creation of a counter movement against that of the Hindus. They keenly felt the need for unity and believed that the Hindu agitation against the Partition was in fact a communal movement and as such a threat to the Muslims as a separate community. They decided to faithfully follow the directions of leaders like Salimullah and Nawab Ali Chowdhury and formed organisations like the Mohammedan Provincial Union.
Though communalism had reached its peak in the new province by 1907, there is evidence of a sensible and sincere desire among some of the educated and upper class Muslims and Hindus to put an end to these religious antagonisms. A group of prominent members of both communities met the Viceroy Lord Minto on 15 March 1907 with suggestions to put an end to communal violence and promote religious harmony between the two communities.
The landlord-tenant relationship in the new province had deteriorated and took a communal turn. The Hindu landlords felt alarmed at the acts of terrorism committed by the anti-partition agitators. To prove their unswerving loyalty to the government and give evidence of their negative attitude towards the agitation, they offered their hands of friendship and co-operation to their Muslim counterparts to the effect that they would take a non-communal stand and work unitedly against the anti-government revolutionary movements.
In the meantime the All-India Muslim League had come into being at Dacca on 30 December 1906. Though several factors were responsible for the formation of such an organisation, the Partition of Bengal and the threat to it was, perhaps, the most important factor that hastened its birth. At its very first sitting at Dacca the Muslim League, in one of its resolutions, said: 'That this meeting in view of the clear interest of the Muhammadans of Eastern Bengal consider that Partition is sure to prove beneficial to the Muhammadan community which constitute the vast majority of the populations of the new province and that all such methods of agitation such as boycotting should be strongly condemned and discouraged'.
To assuage the resentment of the assertive Bengali Hindus, the British government decided to annul the Partition of Bengal. As regards the Muslims of Eastern Bengal the government stated that in the new province the Muslims were in an overwhelming majority in point of population, under the new arrangement also they would still be in a position of approximate numerical equality or possibly of small superiority over the Hindus. The interests of the Muslims would be safeguarded by special representation in the Legislative Councils and the local bodies.
lord hardinge succeeded Minto and on 25 August 1911. In a secret despatch the government of India recommended certain changes in the administration of India. According to the suggestion of the Governor-General-in-Council, King George V at his Coronation Darbar in Delhi in December 1911 announced the revocation of the Partition of Bengal and of certain changes in the administration of India. Firstly, the Government of India should have its seat at Delhi instead of Calcutta. By shifting the capital to the site of past Muslim glory, the British hoped to placate Bengal's Muslim community now aggrieved at the loss of provincial power and privilege in eastern Bengal. Secondly, the five Bengali speaking Divisions viz The Presidency, Burdwan, Dacca, Rajshahi and Chittagong were to be united and formed into a Presidency to be administered by a Governor-in-Council. The area of this province would be approximately 70,000 sq miles with a population of 42 million. Thirdly, a Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council with Legislative Council was to govern the province comprising of Bihar, Chhota Nagpur and Orissa. Fourthly, Assam was to revert back to the rule of a Chief Commissioner. The date chosen for the formal ending of the partition and reunification of Bengal was I April 1912.
Reunification of Bengal indeed served somewhat to soothe the feeling of the Bengalee Hindus, but the down grading of Calcutta from imperial to mere provincial status was simultaneously a blow to 'Bhadralok' egos and to Calcutta real estate values. To deprive Calcutta of its prime position as the nerve centre of political activity necessarily weakened the influence of the Bengalee Hindus. The government felt that the main advantage, which could be derived from the move, was that it would remove the seat of the government of India from the agitated atmosphere of Bengal.
Lord Carmichael, a man of liberal sympathies, was chosen as the first Governor of reunified Bengal. The Partition of Bengal and the agitation against it had far-reaching effects on Indian history and national life. The twin weapons of Swadeshi and Boycott adopted by the Bengalis became a creed with the Indian National Congress and were used more effectively in future conflicts. They formed the basis of Gandhi's Non-Cooperation, Satyagraha and Khadi movements. They also learned that organised political agitation and critical public opinion could force the government to accede to public demands.
The annulment of the partition as a result of the agitation against it had a negative effect on the Muslims. The majority of the Muslims did not like the Congress support to the anti-partition agitation. The politically conscious Muslims felt that the Congress had supported a Hindu agitation against the creation of a Muslim majority province. It reinforced their belief that their interests were not safe in the hands of the Congress. Thus they became more anxious to emphasise their separate communal identity and leaned towards the Muslim League to safeguard their interest against the dominance of the Hindu majority in undivided India. To placate Bengali Muslim feelings Lord Hardinge promised a new University at Dacca on 31 January 1912 to a Muslim deputation led by Salimullah.
The Partition of Bengal of 1905 left a profound impact on the political history of India. From a political angle the measure accentuated Hindu-Muslim differences in the region. One point of view is that by giving the Muslim's a separate territorial identity in 1905 and a communal electorate through the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909 the British Government in a subtle manner tried to neutralise the possibility of major Muslim participation in the Indian National Congress.
The Partition of Bengal indeed marks a turning point in the history of nationalism in India. It may be said that it was out of the travails of Bengal that Indian nationalism was born. By the same token the agitation against the partition and the terrorism that it generated was one of the main factors, which gave birth to Muslim nationalism and encouraged them to engage in separatist politics. The birth of the Muslim League in 1906 at Dacca (Dhaka) bears testimony to this. The annulment of the partition sorely disappointed not only the Bengali Muslims but also the Muslims of the whole of India. They felt that loyalty did not pay but agitation does. Thereafter, the dejected Muslims gradually took an anti-British stance.

Plague in Bombay

The Plague Epidemic

In September 1896 the first case of Bubonic plague was detected in Mandvi. It spread rapidly to other parts of the city, and the death toll was estimated at 1,900 people per week through the rest of the year. Many people fled from Bombay at this time, and in the census of 1901, the population had actually fallen to 780,000.
In the first year of the plague, a research laboratory was set up at the J. J. Hospital. It moved in 1899 to the Government House in Parel under the directorship of Dr. W. M. Haffkine. This was the beginning of the Haffkine Institute.
Those who could afford it, tried to avoid the plague by moving out of the city. Jamsetji Tata tried to open up the northern suburbs to accommodate such people. The brunt of the plague was borne by mill workers. The anti-plague activities of the health department involved police searches, isolation of the sick, detention in camps of travellers and forced evacuation of residents in parts of the city. These measures were widely regarded as offensive and as alarming as the rats.
In 1900, the mortality rate from plague was about 22 per thousand. In the same year, the corresponding rates from Tuberculosis were 12 per thousand, from Cholera about 14 per thousand, and about 22 per thousand from what were classified as "fevers". The plague was fearsome only because it was contagious. More mundane diseases took a larger toll.
On 9th December 1898 the Bombay City Improvement Trust was created by an act of the (British) parliament. It was entrusted with the job of creating a healthier city. One of the measures taken by the CIT was the building of roads, like Princess Street and Sydenham Road (now Mohammedali Road), which would channel the sea air into the more crowded parts of the town.

Indian National Congress

Indian National Congress

Events like the passage of the Vernacular Press Act in 1878 and the Ilbert Bill of 1882, as well as the reduction of the age limit for the Civil Services Exams in 1876 resulted in a wave of opposition from the middle class Indians. Consequently some of them came together and formed a number of small political parties that came out in the streets for protests and rallies. The British foresaw the situation resulting in another rebellion on the pattern of the War of Independence of 1857. To avoid such a situation, the British decided to provide an outlet to the local people where they could discuss their political problems. In order to achieve this goal, Allan Octavian Hume, a retired British civil servant, had a series of meetings with Lord Dufferin, the Viceroy. He also visited England and met people like John Bright, Sir James Caird, Lord Ripon and some members of the British Parliament. Hume also had the support of a large number of Englishmen in India, including Sir William Wedderbun, George Yule and Charles Bradlaugh.
On his return from Britain, Hume consulted the local Indian leaders and started working towards the establishment of an Indian political organization. He invited the convention of the Indian National Union, an organization he had already formed in 1884, to Bombay in December 1885. Seventy delegates, most of whom were lawyers, educationalists and journalists, attended the convention in which the Indian National Congress was established. This first session of Congress was presided over by Womesh Chandra Banerjee and he was also elected as the first president of the organization.
To begin with, Congress acted as a 'Kings Party'. Its early aims and objectives were:
  • To seek the cooperation of all the Indians in its efforts.
  • Eradicate the concepts of race, creed and provincial prejudices and try to form national unity.
  • Discuss and solve the social problems of the country.
  • To request the government, give more share to the locals in administrative affairs.
As time went by, the Congress changed its stance and apparently became the biggest opposition to the British government.
Muslims primarily opposed the creation of Congress and refused to participate in its activities. Out of the 70 delegates who attended the opening session of the Congress, only two were Muslims. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who was invited to attend the Bombay session, refused the offer. He also urged the Muslims to abstain from the Congress activities and predicted that the party would eventually become a Hindu party and would only look after the interests of the Hindus. Syed Ameer Ali, another important Muslim figure of the era, also refused to join Indian National Congress.

Vernacular Press Act

Lord Lytton

Vernacular Press Act, 1878 a highly controversial measure repressing the freedom of vernacular press. The regime of viceroy lord lytton is particularly noted for his most controversial press policy which led to the enactment of the Vernacular Press Act on 14 March 1878. Earlier dramatic performances act (1876) was enacted to repress the writing and staging of the allegedly seditious dramas. Vernacular Press Act (1878) was aimed at repressing seditious propaganda through vernacular newspapers. Introducing the Bill the Law Member of the Council narrated how the vernacular newspapers and periodicals were spreading seditious propaganda against the government. The viceroy Lord Lytton strongly denounced newspapers published in the vernacular languages as "mischievous scribblers preaching open sedition". He remarked that the avowed purpose of most of the vernacular newspapers was an end to the British raj.
The papers that made the government worried were Somprakash, Sulabh Samachar, Halisahar Patrika, Amrita Bazar Patrika, Bharat Mihir, Dacca Prakash, Sadharani and Bharat Sanskarak. All these papers were said to have been leading the seditious movement against the government. The Act provided for submitting to police all the proof sheets of contents of papers before publication. What was seditious news was to be determined by the police, and not by the judiciary. Under this Act many of the papers were fined, their editors jailed. Obviously this repressive measure came under severe criticism. All the native associations irrespective of religion, caste and creed denounced the measure and kept their denunciations and protestations alive. All the prominent leaders of Bengal and of India condemned the Act as unwarranted and unjustified, and demanded for its immediate withdrawal. The newspapers themselves kept on criticizing the measure without an end. The succeeding administration of Lord Ripon reviewed the developments consequent upon the Act and finally withdrew it.

The First Factories Act

The First Factories Act

In 1875, the first committee appointed to inquire into the conditions of factory work favoured legal restriction in the form of factory laws. The first Factories Act was adopted in 1881. The Factory Commission was appointed in 1885. The researcher takes only one instance, the statement of a witness to the same commission on the ginning and processing factories of Khandesh: "The same set of hands, men and women, worked continuously day and night for eight consecutive days. Those who went away for the night returned at three in the morning to make sure of being in time when the doors opened at 4 a.m., and for 18 hours' work, from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., three or four annas was the wage. When the hands are absolutely tired out new hands are entertained. Those working these excessive hours frequently died." There was another Factories Act in 1891, and a Royal Commission on Labour was appointed in 1892. Restrictions on hours of work and on the employment of women were the chief gains of these investigations and legislation.

Queen of England Titled Empress of India

Queen Victoria

The title Empress of India was given to Queen Victoria in 1877 when India was formally incorporated into the British Empire. It is said Victoria's desire for such a title was motivated partially out of jealousy of the Imperial titles of some of her royal cousins in Germany and Russia. Prime minister Benjamin Disraeli is usually credited with having given her the idea. When Victoria died and her son Edward VII ascended the throne, his title became Emperor of India. The title continued until India became independent from the United Kingdom in 1947.
When a male monarch held the title, his Queen consort assumed the title Queen Empress, but unlike Queen Victoria, they themselves were not reigning monarchs but the consorts of reigning monarchs.
Emperors and Empresses of India
  • Queen-Empress Victoria (1877-1901)
  • King-Emperor Edward VII (1901-1910)
  • King-Emperor George V (1910-1936)
  • King-Emperor Edward VIII (Jan-Dec 1936)
  • King-Emperor George VI (1936-1947)
George VI continued to reign as King of India for two years during the viceroyalty and then the short governor-generalships of The Earl Mountbatten of Burma and of Rajagopalachari after which in 1949 India became a republic. George VI remained as King of the United Kingdom until his death in 1952.
Royal Consorts also were called Queen-Empress. This list of Queen-Empress Consorts is
  • Queen Empress Alexandra (wife of Edward VII)
  • Queen Empress Mary (wife of George V)
  • Queen Empress Elizabeth (wife of George VI, and mother of current sovereign Elizabeth II)
When signing their name for Indian business, a King-Emperor or Queen-Empress used the initials 'R I' (Rex/Regina Imperator) after their name.

Crown takes over Indian Government

Aftermath of 1857

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the British Empire was the largest and richest empire in the world. This naturally gave rise to the belief that the British themselves, were the chosen race; chosen to bring the benefits of western civilization to the less developed and civilized areas of the world. This white supremacy was enforced in Britain's colonies, especially in India and naturally, saw much native opposition. Indian uprisings against British rule, however, were unsuccessful due to the superior technology and organization of the British army.
In 1857, with the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny, India witnessed its first war of independence against the British. Thanks to the efficiency of British media coverage, the Britishers followed the developments of the mutiny avidly. The British saw the India Mutiny as a fight against barbarians who were rejecting the civilizing influence of Victorian Britain. But as the suppression developed, the atrocities committed by both sides became obvious. The British armies swept across Northern India in an enraged and cruel rampage of rape, murder and savagery, which shocked Victorian society.

The Background, 1857

British presence in India stretched all the way from the 17th century when the East India Company (EIC) acquired its first territory in Bombay to 1947 when India and Pakistan were granted self rule. Over the years the EIC expanded by both direct (force) and indirect (economic) means eventually, chasing the French out (after the War of Plassey, 1757) and dominating the whole of the Indian sub-continent.
British rule in India rested on its military might and as long as the British army in India was invincible, British rule was assured. This of course depended on the Indian army, which comprised of Indian troops under British officers.
British rule inevitable brought western influences into India. The spread of Christianity was to cause great unease among the Indians. Evangelical Christian missionaries had little or no understanding and respect for India's ancient faiths and their efforts to convert many natives quickly brought clashes with the local religious establishments. As the missionaries were mostly British citizens, the Colonial Administration often had to intervene to protect them, which naturally gave an impression of official condolence for Christianity.
It was against this backdrop of uneasiness in which the mutiny erupted in 1857. But the spark was interestingly not so much of religious clashes, but the grease used in the new Enfield rifle. The cartridge of the Enfield rifle was heavily greased - with animal fat, to facilitate an easier load into the muzzle. Rumors began to circular among sepoys that the grease was made of cow (sacred to Hindus) and pig (taboo to Muslims) fat. As such, biting such a cartridge was sacrilegious to both Hindus and Muslims alike. Their British officers realized their mistake and changed the grease to vegetable oils, but in this atmosphere of distrust, the mutiny seemed inevitable.


Meerut witnessed the first serious outbreak of the Indian Mutiny when angry sepoys broke open the town jail and released their comrades, who had refused to bite the new cartridges. The mutineers, joined by locals soon degenerated into a fanatic mob, which poured into the European settlement and slaughtered any Europeans or Indian Christians there. Whole families, men, women, children and servants, were killed on sight. The settlement was then burned and the mutineers fled to Delhi and proclaimed Bahadur Shah, the last of the Moguls as Emperor.
This, the mutineers had hoped to create a general rising against the British and they turned to Bahadur Shah to lead them. Forced to cooperate, Bahadur Shah accepted the allegiance of the mutineers and became the titular leader of the Indian Mutiny. Most of the Europeans living in Delhi were murdered along with Indian Christians.
The massacre at Meerut provoked a strong British respond. In mid-August, British forces, reinforced by Gurkhas from Nepal and the Queen's regiments fresh from the Crimea War began a bloody campaign to re-establish British rule in India. After a short siege, Delhi fell to the British. The Emperor's three sons, Mizra Moghul, Mizra Khizr Sultan and Mizra Abu Bakr along with the mutineers were executed. Although Bahadur Shah was spared, he was deposed and with this, ended some 200 years of Mogul rule in India.

The Aftermath

By the first six months of 1858, the British managed to regain their losses in spite of heavy resistance from the locals. With the relief of Lucknow, the possibility of British defeat became remote. The British saw themselves as dispensers of divine justice and given the initial atrocities committed by the mutineers, their cruelties were simply repayment in kind. Every mutineer was a "black-faced, blood-crazed savage" which do not deserve mercy from the British troops. Their fellow countrymen derided some British like the Governor Lord Canning, who spoke of restraint as "weak" and "indifferent to the sufferings of British subjects". In fact, Canning became known contemptuously as 'clemency Canning'.
After the British recovery, there were few sepoys captured as British soldiers bayoneted any who survived the battle. Whole villages were hanged for some real or imagined sympathy for the mutineers and the widespread looting of Indian property, was common and endorsed by the British officers. Later, convicted mutineers were lashed to the muzzles of cannon and had a round shot fired through their body. It was a cruel punishment intended to blow the body to pieces thus depriving the victim of any hope of entering paradise. Indians called this punishment "the devil's wind".
Apart from the fury reprisals of the British, another significant impact for India was the abolishment of the East India Company. The British Parliament finally realized that it was inappropriate for a private company like the East India Company to exercise such enormous powers and control a land the size of India. In 1858, the East India Company was dissolved, despite a brilliant defense of its achievements by John Stuart Mill, and the administration of India became the responsibility of the Crown. Direct rule on India was exercised through the India Office, a British department of state and till 1947, India became known as the Raj, the Crown Jewel of Queen Victoria's extensive empire.

Zanshi - Rani Laxmibai

Zanshi - Rani Laxmibai

Lakshmi Bai was born on 19 November 1835 at Kashi (Presently known as Varanasi). Her father Moropanth was a brahmin and her mother Bhagirathibai was cultured, intelligent and religious. Born Manikarnika, she was affectionately called Manu in her family. Manu lost her mother at the age of four, and responsibility for the young girl fell to her father. She completed her education and martial training, which included horse riding, fencing and shooting, when she was still a child.
She married Raja Gangadhar Rao, the Maharaja of Jhansi in 1842, and became the Rani of Jhansi. After the marriage she was given the name Lakshmi Bai. The ceremony of the marriage was perform in Ganesh Mandir, the temple of Lord Ganesha situated in the old city of Jhansi. Rani Lakshmi Bai gave birth to a son in 1851, but this child died when he was about four months old. After this, the couple adopted Damodar Rao as their son. Maharaja Gangadhar Rao also expired on 21 November 1853, when Lakshmi Bai was 18 years old.
At that time Lord Dalhousie was the Governer General of British India. Though little Damodar Rao, adopted son of late Maharaja Gangadhar Rao and Rani Lakshmi Bai was Maharaja's heir and successor as per the Hindu tradition, the British rulers rejected Rani's claim that Damodar Rao was their legal heir. Lord Dalhousie decided to annex the state of Jhansi under the Doctrine of Lapse.
In March 1854 the British announced an annual pension of Rs. 60,000 for Rani and also ordered to leave the Jhansi fort. But Rani Lakshmi Bai was determined to defend Jhansi. She proclaimed her decision with the famous words :'Mai apni Jhansi nahi doongi' (I will not give up my Jhansi).
Rani Lakshmi Bai started strengthening the defense of Jhansi and she assembled a volunteer army of patriots. Women were also recruited and given military training. Rani was accompanied by her generals Gulam Gaus Khan, Dost Khan, Khuda Baksh, Lala Bhau Bakshi, Moti Bai, Sunder-Mundar, Kashi Bai, Deewan Raghunath Singh and Deewan Jawahar Singh. Many from the local population volunteered for service in the army ranks, with the popular support for her cause on the rise.
When the Revolt of 1857 broke out, Jhansi became a center of the rebellion. A small group of British officials took refuge in Jhansi's fort, and the Rani negotiated their evacuation. When the British left the fort, they were massacred by the rebels. Although the massacre probably occurred without the Rani's consent and she protested her innocence, she stood accused by the British.
In September and October of 1857, the Rani led the successful defense of Jhansi from the invading armies of the neighboring rajas of Datia and Orchha. In March of 1858, the British Army advanced on Jhansi, and laid siege to the city. After two weeks of fighting the British captured the city, but the Rani escaped the city in the guise of a man,strapping her adopted son Damodar Rao closely on her back.
She regrouped in the town of Kalpi where Tatia Tope other patriots joined her. On June 1, she and her allies captured the fortress city of Gwalior from the Sindhia rulers, who were British allies. She died three weeks later at the start of the British assault, when she was hit by a spray of bullets while riding on the fortress ramparts. The British captured Gwalior three days later. The 22 year-old Rani was cremated nearby.
Rani Lakshmi Bai, the queen of Jhansi, a Maratha-ruled princely state of northern India, was one of the great nationalist heroes of the Revolt of 1857, and a symbol of resistance to British rule in India. The Rani earned the respect of her British enemies for her bravery, and became a nationalist and feminist hero in India. When the Indian National Army created its first female unit, it was named after her.

The First War of Independence

1857 - The War of Independence

The Revolutionary Upheaval of 1857

Although dismissed by some as merely a sepoy's mutiny or revolt, or as a protest against the violation of religious rights by the British, the great uprising of 1857 is slowly gaining recognition as India's first war of independance. And in it's broad sweep it was the greatest armed challenge to colonial rule during the entire course of the nineteenth century. Attracting people from all walks of life - both Hindus and Muslims, it triggered demands for radical social and economic reforms, calling for a new society that would be more democratic and more representative of popular demands.

Early Precedents

Neither was it a bolt out of the blue. Although not very well known, the period between 1763 and 1856 was not a period during which Indians accepted alien rule passively. Numerous uprisings by peasants, tribal communities and princely states confronted the British. Some were sustained - others sporadic - a few were isolated acts of revolutionary resistance - but nevertheless they all challenged colonial rule. Precipitated by the policy of unchecked colonial extraction of agricultural and forest wealth from the region - the period saw tremendous growth in rural poverty, the masses being reduced to a state of utter deprivation.
Even as official taxation was backbreaking enough, British officers routinely used their powers to coerce additional money, produce, and free services from the Indian peasants and artisans. And courts routinely dismissed their pleas for justice. In the first report of the Torture Commission at Madras presented to the British House of Commons in 1856, this was acknowledged along with the admission that officers of the East India Company did not abstain from torture, nor did they discourage its use. A letter from Lord Dalhousie to the Court of Directors of the East India Company confirms that this was a practice not confined to the Madras presidency alone in September 1855 where he admits that the practice of torture was in use in every British province. Click for more details
Desperate communities had often no choice but to resist to the bitter end. Armed revolts broke out practically every year - only to be brutally suppressed by the British. Lacking the firepower of the British arsenal - they were invariably outgunned. And lacking the means of communication available to the British - individual revolts were also unable to trigger sympathetic rebellions elsewhere. Disadvantageous timing led to crushing defeats. Yet, some of these struggles raged for many years. Click for more details
Amongst the most significant were the Kol Uprising of 1831, the Santhal Uprising of 1855, and the Kutch Rebellion, which lasted from 1816 until 1832. There was also precedence for a soldiers mutiny when Indian soldiers in Vellore (Tamil Nadu, Southern India) mutinied in 1806. Although unsuccessful, it led to the growth of unofficial political committees of soldiers who had several grievances against their British overlords.

Seething Grievances

For instance, in the Bengal Army, the 140,000 Indians who were employed as "Sepoys" were completely subordinate to the roughly 26,000 British officers. These sepoys bore the brunt of the First Britsh-Afghan War (1838-42), the two closely contested Punjab Wars (1845-6, and 1848-9) and the Second Anglo-Burmese War. They were shipped across the seas to fight in the Opium Wars against China (1840-42) and (1856-60) and the Crimean War against Russia (1854). Although at constant risk of death, the Indian sepoy faced very limited opportunities for advancement - since the Europeans monopolized all positions of authority.
Many of the sepoys in the Bengal Army came from the Hindi speaking plains of UP where (excluding Oudh) the British had enforced the "Mahalwari" system of taxation, which involved constantly increasing revenue demands. In the first half of the 19th century - tax revenues payable to the British increased 70%. This led to mounting agricultural debts with land being mortgaged to traders and moneylenders at a very rapid rate. This inhumane system of taxation was then extended to Oudh where the entire nobility was summarily deposed.
As a result, the dissatisfaction against the British was not confined to the agricultural communities alone. By bankrupting the nobility and the urban middle class - demand for many local goods was almost eliminated. At the same time local producers were confronted with unfair competition from British imports. The consequences of this were summarized by the rebel prince Feroz Shah, in his August 1857 proclamation: "the Europeans by the introduction of English articles into India have thrown the weavers, the cotton dressers, the carpenters, the blacksmiths and the shoe-makers and others out of employ and have engrossed their occupations, so that every description of native artisan has been reduced to beggary."
Contrast this turn of events with the arrival of Mughal rule in India. Babar, in spite of his distaste for the Indian climate and customs, noted the tremendous diversity and skill of Indian craftspeople, and saw in that a great potential for expanding Indian manufacturing. Quite unlike the British, the Mughals built on the manufacturing strengths of the Indian artisan - (already well establish in the earlier Sultanate period) - and took them to dazzling heights in the later periods. But by the mid-19th century, this pre-industrial virtuosity in manufacturing had been virtually choked of by British policies. A British chronicler of the period, Thomas Lowe noted how " the native arts and manufactures as used to raise for India a name and wonder all over the western world are nearly extinguished in the present day; once renowned and great cities are merely heaps of ruins..."
All this inevitably prepared the ground for the far more widespread revolt of 1857. Although concentrated in what is now UP in modern India - the 1857 revolt spread from Dacca and Chittagong (now Bangladesh) in the East to Delhi in the West. Major urban centres in Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar including Cuttack, Sambhalpur, Patna and Ranchi participated. In Central India - the revolt spread to Indore, Jabalpur, Jhansi and Gwalior. Uprisings also took place in Nasirabad in Rajasthan, Aurangabad and Kolhapur in Maharashtra and in Peshawar on the Afghan border. But the main battleground was in the plains of UP - with every major town providing valiant resistance to the British invaders.
Starting out as a revolt of the Sepoys - it was soon accompanied by a rebellion of the civil population, particularly in the North Western Provinces and Oudh. The masses gave vent to their opposition to British rule by attacking government buildings and prisons. They raided the "treasury", charged on barracks and courthouses, and threw open the prison gates. The civil rebellion had a broad social base, embracing all sections of society - the territorial magnates, peasants, artisans, religious mendicants and priests, civil servants, shopkeepers and boatmen.
For several months after the uprising began in Meerut on May 10, 1857 - British rule ceased to exist in the northern plains of India. Muslim and Hindu rulers alike joined the rebelling soldiers and militant peasants, and other nationalist fighters. Among the most prominent leaders of the uprising were Nana Sahib, Tantia Tope, Bakht Khan, Azimullah Khan, Rani Laksmi Bai, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Kunwar Singh, Maulvi Ahmadullah, Bahadur Khan and Rao Tula Ram. Former rulers had their own grievances against the British, including the notorious law on succession, which gave the British the right to annexe, any princely state if it lacked "legitimate male heirs".

Expressions of Popular Will

The rebels established a Court of Administration consisting of ten members - six from the army and four civilians with equal representation of Hindus and Muslims. The rebel government abolished taxes on articles of common consumption, and penalized hoarding. Amongst the provisions of it's charter was the liquidation of the hated 'Zamindari' system imposed by the British and a call for land to the tiller.
Although the former princes who joined with the rebels did not go quite as far, several aspects of the proclamations issued by the former rulers are noteworthy. All proclamations were issued in popular languages. Hindi and Urdu texts were provided simultaneously. Proclamations were issued jointly in the name of both Hindus and Muslims. Feroz Shah - in his August 1857 proclamation included some significant points. All trade was to be reserved for Indian merchants only, with free use of Government steam vessels and steam carriages. All public offices were to be given to Indians only and wages of the sepoys were to be revised upwards.

Overpowered by British Might, Betrayed by the Princes

Threatened by such a radical turn of events, the British rulers poured in immense resources in arms and men to suppress the struggle. Although the rebels fought back heroically - the betrayal by a number of rulers such as the Sikh princes, the Rajasthani princes and Maratha rulers like Scindia allowed the British to prevail. Lord Canning (then Governor General) noted that " If Scindia joins the rebels, I will pack off tomorrow". Later he was to comment: " The Princes acted as the breakwaters to the storm which otherwise would have swept us in one great wave". Such was the crucial importance of the betrayal of the princes. The British were also helped by the conservatism of the trading communities who were unwilling to put up with the uncertanties of a long drawn out rebellion.
But equally important was the superior weaponry and brutality of the British in defending their empire. British barbarity in supressing the uprising was unprecedented. After the fall of Lucknow on May 8, 1858 Frederick Engels commented: " The fact is, there is no army in Europe or America with so much brutality as the British. Plundering, violence, massacre - things that everywhere else are strictly and completely banished - are a time honoured privilege, a vested right of the British soldier..". In Awadh alone 150,000 people were killed - of which 100,000 were civilians. The great Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib wrote from Delhi, " In front of me, I see today rivers of blood". He went on to describe how the victorious army went on a killing spree - killing every one in sight - looting people’s property as they advanced.
Bahadur Shah's three sons were publicly executed at "Khooni Darwaaza" in Delhi and Bahadur Shah himself was blinded and exiled to Rangoon where he died in 1862. Refusing to plead for mercy from the British, he courageously retorted: " The power of India will one day shake London if the glory of self-respect remains undimmed in the hearts of the rebels". Thomas Lowe wrote: "To live in India now was like standing on the verge of a volcanic crater, the sides of which were fast crumbling away from our feet, while the boiling lava was ready to erupt and consume us"
The 1857 revolt, which had forged an unshakable unity amongst Hindus and Muslims alike, was an important milestone in our freedom struggle - providing hope and inspiration for future generations of freedom lovers. However, the aftermath of the 1857 revolt also brought about dramatic changes in colonial rule. After the defeat of the 1857 national revolt - the British embarked on a furious policy of "Divide and Rule", fomenting religious hatred as never before. Resorting to rumors and falsehoods, they deliberately recast Indian history in highly communal colors and practised pernicious communal politics to divide the Indian masses. That legacy continues to plague the sub-continent today. However, if more people become aware of the colonial roots of this divisive communal gulf - it is possible that some of the damage done to Hindu-Muslim unity could be reversed. If Hindus and Muslims could rejoin and collaborate in the spirit of 1857, the sub-continent may yet be able to unshackle itself from it's colonial past.