Q.1. Why was the revolt particularly widespread in Awadh? What prompted the peasants, Taluqdars and Zamindars to join the revolt?
Ans. The Revolt of 1857 was well planned and well coordinated. In spite of the Nawabs of Awadh being loyal to the British, it did not stop Lord Dalhousie’s plan to annex Awadh. It was done in stages and it was needed because the soil was good for the cultivation of cotton and indigo. On 13 February 1856, Awadh was annexed to the British Empire on the grounds of maladministration.
Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was sent to Calcutta with an annual pension. The British government wrongly assumed that Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was an unpopular ruler. On the contrary, he was widely loved. With the dissolution of the royal administration, large number of officials, Taluqdars and courtiers, cooks, dancers, musicians and poets lost their livelihoods.
Most of the peasants were not happy as most of them were over-assessed and in some places, the revenue hiked from 30 to 70 percent, which resulted in the breakdown of the entire social system. Before the arrival of the British, the Taluqdars were oppressors who collected the dues from the peasants but they also posed themselves as fatherly-figures. They seemed considerate in times of need. But under the British rule, the peasants were over assessed and had to follow inflexible methods of collection.
As all the Taluqdars and peasants were loyal to the Nawab, they fought against the British. So there was an intense and long-lasting revolt against the British in Awadh. The grievances of the peasants also had an effect on the role of sepoys as most of the sepoys were from rural areas. They got very low salaries and faced difficulty in getting leaves. So they were discontent and dissatisfied.
This aggravated the already tense situation in Awadh. Whole of the social order was broken down with the dispossession of the Taluqdars. The ties of patronage and loyalty were disrupted that had bound the peasants to the Taluqdars. Now there was no guarantee that the revenue demand of the state would be reduced or collection postponed in case of crop failure or in the times of hardship. Peasants also had no guarantee that they would get the loan and support in times of festivities which the Taluqdars had provided.
The resistance was intense and long lasting in the areas like Awadh during the Revolt of 1857. Here, the fighting was carried on for long by Taluqdars and their peasants. Some of these Taluqdars were loyal to the Nawab. That is why they joined the wife of the Nawab, Begum Hazrat Mahal. Few of them remained with her even in defeat. Moreover, the relationship between the sepoys and superior white officers underwent a radical change from that of friendship and spending time together to that of high handedness and superiority.
Q.2. The Revolt of 1857 united India against the British. Justify the statement.
Ans. The Revolt of 1857 may indeed be called a war of India’s independence. The reasons are:
(a) Even though the rebellion had various causes (e.g., sepoy grievances, British highhandedness, the Doctrine of Lapse etc.), most of the rebel sepoys set out to revive the old Mughal Empire, that signified a national symbol instead of heading home or joining services of their regional principalities, which would not been unreasonable if their revolt were inspired by grievances only.
(b) There was a widespread popular revolt in many areas such as Awadh, Bundelkhand and Rohilkhand. The rebellion was therefore more than just a military mutiny, and it spanned more than one region.
(c) The sepoys did not seek to revive small kingdoms in their regions. Instead, they repeatedly proclaimed a “country-wide rule” of the Mughals and vowed to drive out the British from “India,” as they knew it then.
(d) The objective of driving out “foreigners” from not only one’s own area but from entire “India,” signifies a nationalist sentiment.
(e) The troops of the Bengal Army were used extensively in warfare by the British and had therefore travelled extensively across the Indian subcontinent, leading them perhaps to develop some notion of a nation-state called India. They displayed for the first time in this mutiny, some contemporary British accounts (Malleson) suggest, patriotic sentiments in the modern sense.
Q.3. What contrary visuals of the Revolt were presented in India and Britain?
Ans. There are very few records based on the rebels’ point of view. There are a few rebel proclamations and notifications, that rebel leaders wrote. But historians till now have continued to discuss rebel actions primarily through accounts written by the Britishers. Official accounts of colonial administrators and military men left their versions in letters and diaries, autobiographies and official histories. These tell us about the fears and anxieties of officials and their perception of the rebels. The stories of the revolt that were published in British newspapers and magazines narrated in glory detailed the violence of the mutineers – and these stories inflamed public feelings and provoked demands of retribution and revenge.
One important record of the mutiny was the pictorial images produced by the British and Indians: paintings, pencil drawings, etchings, posters, cartoons, bazaar prints. British pictures offer a variety of images that were meant to provoke a range of different emotions and reactions. Some of them commemorate the British heroes who saved the English and repressed the rebels. “Relief of Lucknow”, painted by Thomas Jones Barker as a glaring example of such a painting.
Newspaper reports had a power over public imagination. They shape feelings and attitudes to events. Inflamed particularly by tales of violence against women and children, there were public demands in Britain for revenge and retribution. The British government was asked to protect the honour of innocent women and ensure the safety of helpless children. As waves of anger and shock spread in Britain, demands for retribution grew louder. Visual representations and news about the revolt created a milieu in which violent repression and vengeance were seen as both necessary and just. There were innumerable pictures and cartoons in the British press that sanctioned brutal repression and violent reprisal.
However, in India, it was celebrated as the First War of Independence in which all sections of the people of India joined together to fight against imperial rule. The leaders of the revolt were presented as heroic figures leading the country into battle, rousing the people to righteous indignation against oppressive imperial rule. Heroic poems were written about the valour of the queen who, carried a sword in one hand and the reins of her horse in the other, fought for the freedom of her motherland. Rani of Jhansi was represented as a masculine figure chasing the enemy, slaying British soldiers and valiantly fighting till her last breath.
Children in many parts of India grow up reading the lines of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan: “Khoob lari mardani thi woh Jhansi wali rani thi” These images did not only reflect the emotions and feelings of the times in which they were produced. They also shaped sensibilities. Fed by the images that circulated in Britain, the public sanctioned the most brutal forms of repression of the rebels. On the other hand, nationalist collection of images of the revolt helped shape the nationalist imagination.