This first ever translation of the mutiny papers documents the siege of Delhi, breaking new ground in our understanding of 1857. Mahmood Farooqui translation chronicles the lives of courtesans soldiers, potters, spies, faqirs, doctors and harassed policemen, all trying to live through the turmoil of their city. Besieged present a searing portrait of the hopes beliefs and failures of ordinary people who lived through the end of an era.
Mahmood Farooqui studied history at St Stephen's College, Delhi and at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He has been a Journalsist and a newspaper columnist and over the last few years has effected a major revival of Dastangoi, the art ot Urdu storytelling. Farooqui co-directed the highly acclaimed Hindi feature film peeli Live with his wife, Anusha Rizvi. He lives in Delhi.
I moved to Delhi in 1990. I lived in Okhla and travelled every day to the university in the privileged confines of a University special bus. The flyover beside the Salimagarh fort was then under construction. The bus always stopped at a place called Kashmiri Gate, which was not visible from the ring Road in order to drop off the students of the Delhi college of Engineering.
I studied modern Indian history as an undergraduate but I do not remember any of us opting for 1857 as a paper. You can look at Sumit Sarkar, you can look at Bipin Chandra you can look at Cambridge schools or at the subalterns and all schools of Indian history know that modern Indian history begins after 1857. With Gandhi and the national movement and partition beckoning us and the Drain of wealth and Revenue settlements behind us the uprising of 1857 seemed dusty and fruitless. What I do remember was a joke, ascribed to the then principal of my college who when teaching 1857 would declare form the class podium that 1857 was a turning point in Indian history. He would then take a dramatic pause walk all the way to the exit turn and declaim with a flourish but India refused to turn.
However India did turn and very much so after 1857. The college I went to was one of the outcomes of 1857 established with the assistance of and encouragement by the colonial government soon after it had finally closed the old Delhi College. The remnant of that old, old college were exactly where the Delhi College of engineering then stood. We at the history classes of St Stephens were the precise and fulsome fruits of the points struggle of 1857.
One read about 1857 here and there but never did it appear as a subject in its own right. At universities abroad I never met anyone who was specializing in 1857, nobody who found anything redeeming about it. Modern India emerges as a subject after 1857 and before that there is India emasculation and the British conquests. In between those conquests there is this bloody piece of resistance. If anything if aroused chagrin the Amar Chitra Kathas dealing with it were actually accounts of our weakness our lack of patriotism and maleness.
Until first William dalrymple and then the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of 1857 roped me into it. I returned to the archives I saw these documents. These were hundreds of small biographies with no claimants. The people who appears in these stories have long vanished their descendants have cleared out to Pakistan or Hyderabad or luknow or appear in magazine descendants of the mughals. The bylanes of Old Delhi… Ah the galis ah, the Mir couplet Dilli kin a hain galiyan awraq-e musavvir hain… but there were few takers. The Hindus who lived in Old Delhi have long moved out to civil lines Mukherji Nagar and Rohini. The Punjab who came to take their place in 1947 have also by now moved out to south Delhi to Karol Bagh and elsewhere. The muslims who now live there all seem to have descended from western Uttar Pradesh in the last thirty years. In sooth there are no Dilliwallas.
But there is the anniversary there are the celebrations. And so these documents in shikastah (cursive) Urdu. There are few modern them to decipher Shikastah. And the Urduwallas, all Muslims thanks substantially to 1857 and to Hindi nationalism seem to have lost the energy to turns their heritage into a world language. The long century of modern Urdu, reformed Urdu an Urdu with history and social sciences and humanities began to run dry in the 1960s. few Urdu critics do research now. The Urdu historian even those who earlier worked on the histories of ulema and Urdu journalism and their own cities oh I don’t know where they are. Probably in some forlorn Urdu department trying to turn their ad hoc posts into permanent ones by working as glorified peons in their supervisors houses.
Yet more of third world lack really. And so there they sit these thousands of documents and the only Urdu students who seem capable of deciphering them are unfortunately all from madrasas. So there you have it the connection between 1857 and fundamentalism.
So I set to work imperfectly unenthusiastically sometimes poring over word with an ancient magnifying glass generously provided by the staff at the national archives sometimes surreptitiously tracing the outlines on butter paper so that I could consult someone later. Occasionally I was startled by the fact that Hindu officers often addressed the British as kafirs or that they unselfconsciously used the world Jihad. Or by the number of fantasy and fiction books that topped the advert lists in the recently emerged newspapers. Or the variety of wine madders that seemed to exist in pre modern India.
I have been to many of these places of course. To Turkman Gate and Ajmeri Gate and Bhojla Pahari and sadar Bazar and Tiraha Bairam Khan Gali Qasimjan. I have even seen kashmiri gate while travelling to the old Delhi railway station. I have searched out Carlton that old nineteenth century café opposite St James Church as you would there is still a signboard with that names. But I am purabiya and as you would learn from these pages they have ever been given short shrift in Delhi. But we keep coming here not so much as rebels now but as migrant workers and less frequently as students and while collar workers. The story of our immiserization our culture impoverishment and our broken connections with Delhi is the story of 1857 too. The story of my Muslimness and my Urdu are its offshoots. But there is no glory in it now.
So now with some excitement and some trepidation and a lot of uncertainty I present these unread pages these lost sighs and these roads not taken. Here are some historical voices in search of the Dilliwallas anyone out there?
This book contains voices form Delhi when the city was besieged by the British during the uprising of 1857 it present aspects of the uprising that have rarely been studied before but it is not a history of the uprising in Delhi. Further more than the uprising these papers are a unique record of the city of Delhi at a time intense turmoil while we know an extraordinary amount about the emotions movement between June and September 1857 we have had little insight into the city itself. Here for the first time is the full range of voices form an ancient city in turmoil.
These include petitions and application from ordinary people as well as directives and commands of officials. You will encounter soldiers beyond the battlefield when they demanded ration wages promotions and supplies. You will meet policemen who arranged these provision and the constraints they faced when they sought to confiscate resources or people. There are complaints by ordinary residents when they find a largely unwanted army billeted in the city. There are bankers who are bullied to make monetary contributions. There are spies who keep a tab on plans and report the slightest fall in morale. There are doctors potters, coolies, widows, cuckolded men and runaway women distrillers, opium sellers loitering faqirs, lunatics and not least firebrand editors who are trapped in the crossfire. Such a dense record of the everyday going on of a city under siege of the travails of ordinary life and the valiant attempts of an administration to simultaneously act as welfare as well as a war state is not available for any other period of Indian history.
This selection draws upon more than ten thousand documents that are stored in the National Archives of India New Delhi under the title Mutiny papers. Most of them were processed for and by the administration that took charge of Delhi when the city fell to the rebels in May 1857. These papers were not produced as a conscious record of the sentiments of the rebel actors nor were they supposed to be studied as a tool to understanding the nature of the uprising. The picture they present therefore is relatively unfiltered and allows for as close and unmediated an access inter alia to the process of the uprising as can be possible.
There are three aspects of the uprising represented here that find lesser mention otherwise: first the way it affected the common people the labourers, artisans, shopkeepers and ordinary residents of Delhi. The second related to the manner in which the uprising was organized of the ground in a big city the nature of the management and the processes through which goods and resources were provided for it. Third how these were perceived by a self conscious ideologue the firebrand editor of the Delhi Urdu Akbbar whose sympathies lay neither with the resident nor with the soldiers but who was still a passionate supporter of the cause of the liberation of Hindustan from the hated firangis.
The uprising that appears in these documents sometimes directly at others through the crevices and interstices is an urban phenomenon. Thanks to the works of Eric Stokers, Ranajit Guha and Rudrangshu Mukherjee we have become more familiar with the modes of peasant participation in the uprising but we are still not fully congnizant of the experience of the cities in 1857. However it took me some times to realize that the narratives contained in these papers cannot be exhausted by the uprising of 1857. Many of the transactions recorded here are of a kind that any administration anywhere deals with as a matter of routine. These include to make a random list elopement evictions burglaries bail proceeding gambling counterfeit currency homeless death and other kinds of transgression. These transactions common across different times and spaces were certainly inflected by the dynamics of the uprising in Delhi in this period notably the presence of a very large number of somewhat unruly soldiers and the sharpened urgency with which ordinary matters were treated. But in their incidence they are exterior to it. These papers are than as much about ways of governance in the pre modern era as they are about 1857 in particular. However for that very reason they assume greater importance as a resource for Indian history.
The organization of trades the clan based artisanal realm and the conduct of the police as reflected in these documents show feature that can reasonably be assumed to be of long antiquity. When these classes and practices appear here they provide us with an important glimpse into can era which seems out of place after a century of colonial rule. Important as these documents are for refashioning 1857 they are even more important as a source for studying pre modern social organization. Among other deltas of society and government these papers also tell us how the police conducted its conducted it investigation how it interrogated suspects the manner in which the deposition of witnesses was recorded and the official tags through which people identified themselves to the authorities. The details required while recording deposition provide clues to understanding the relationship between the state and its subjects. Apart from the usual tag such as name address profession caste the deponent also had to clarify whether he was educates or not expectations from a predominantly illiterate society. Did it matter in altering the statue of the person or was it merely a question of verifying whether the person can sign her name or not? The matrices of social group identity the qaum a person belonged to as explained elsewhere in the book reveal the segmentations by which society was organized and governed. The legal status of women to take another instance appears in police documents not as it was being fashioned by colonial law but as it was articulated in official terms in the pre-colonial times. Similarly a number of times people assert that they have never been to thana in their entire lives and therefore will not appear even if summoned. The current notoriety of the police it appears from these documents has a long history.
To the extent that it reflects a relatively new picture of 1857, I hope the book will interest the handful of specialists who work on the period. I also hope to attract other students of Indian history who may be interested in the ways in which a pre-colonial city was organized and governed. The general reader will find narratives and voices here which may appeal to him. More than anything else this is a record of ordinary people caught in extraordinary times. Harried by rulers and harassed by soldiers the stores of people who suffered the loss of status well being home wealth and were condemned to shortages of all kinds makes for a poignant narrative at any time. It is the sacrifice of the ordinary the quotidian the everyday that creates the joys pains and sorrows from which grand historical themes are fashioned. This book retrieves the unsung the ordinary and the unheroic from the uprising of 1857. Anyone interested in Indian realities should find something of interest here.
For purposes of simplification as well as for invoking by a sleight of hand as it were some truth claims of my own I have divided the documents into fifteen loose sections. These try to disaggregate the ghadar into several components. There are sections on soldier’s police, residents, volunteers, spies, the court of mutineers and others. The classification of the section is necessarily arbitrary. When soldiers clash with the police as they often do the document could go either in the section on soldiers or the police. Volunteers are also soldiers and it is difficult to distinguish one from the when it comes to a faceoff with the citizens or with the police. But I have kept them apart in order to throw light on the claims and expectations of those who came from afar to fight this unpaid war. A lot of times ordinary citizens wrote to complain about the distress they had suffered because of the soldiers. The documents could belong equally to the soldiers it could be listed under supplies or under soldiers. The police are ubiquitous a separate section for them only highlights the difficulties under which they were laboring the poor pay the inability to hire and fire the living condition and so on. Many regulations concern the police or are implemented through them. The separate section on Dilliwallai’ if the compliant about soldier comes form a government official then I have put it under soldiers. Sections dealing with Sikhs doctors and spies have been organized only in order to earmark the importance of these somewhat missing facts from the annals of 1857. The introductory comments before each section are meant to guide the general reader through the contents of the particular section. They are not at exhaustive memoranda on the themes that I have somewhat arbitrarily imposed on a protean and decentralized event.
However I do feel that the material will benefit its processor betters has it been made available to them in the original. That might yet be. I look forward to future historians to make better use of the content I have provided them and humbly accept my lot as a translator or transmitter of historic (al) legacies.
The same caveat applies to the notes which attempt to place these documents against the wider historiography of 1857. The hypotheses and claims I put forward in these should be seen not as the assertions of a historian backed up by quotes and sources as much as tentative forays by a non professional. If the insights prove useful I shall be delighted and if not well they been placed at the end of the book precisely so that you can wholly skip them if you wish. My attempt has been to speak to specialist and laypersons alike in the hope, vain though it may be the dil se jo baat nikalti ha asar rakhti hai…
The ghadar of 1857 continues to invite different kinds of recall, many of them anniversarial. Reified as a founding moment of the Indian nation it acts a sanctifying even for the contemporary Indian state which yokes the liberating zeal of the acts as a beacon to counter establishment politics a reminder of a glorious moment of resistance and protest. Marginal groups seek in it a validation for their identity politics in the contemporary and revolutionaries search it for inspiration. Scholarly interest in 1857 however follows the high point of its calendrical existence closely peaking every fifth years with long ebbs in between. The number of monographs of dissertations it attracts dwindles with each passing years the historians who specialize on 1857 can be found in larger number outside the academy. Altogether there is a settled air about 1857 an air of knowbility which leaves little room for revisionism.
it may seem churlish to lament the neglect of 1857 at a time that has witnessed thanks to its hundred and fiftieth anniversary in 2007 such a tremendous outpouring of articles seminars special issues of journals and books. 1857 has been both ever and underwritten. Kunwar Singh the leader uprising in Bihar and eastern Utter Pradesh to take just one example has been celebrated in folk songs in books and articles in Hindu and in account of the uprising in Bihar but we still do not have a full lengths political or historical biography of him in English. It is the same with other place and figures of 1857. There are popular stories galore about Begum Hazrat Mahal and Tatya Tope, but no full studies of their careers not in English at any rate. The only English biography of bahadur shah dates back fifty years and there are still no monographs about the uprising in Lucknow or Bareilly there are still no monographs in the last thirty years Rudranghsu or Allahabad. There monographs in the last thirty years Rudrangshu Mukherjee study of Awadh Tapti Roy account of Budelkhand and William Dalrymple narrative of the uprising in Delhi underscore the need ore similar studies for other regions but they are few and far between. The narrative production of 1857 in independent Indian in cumulative terms one hundred and fifty years after the even probably still lags behind the tremendous outpouring of writing by the British laypersons and historians alike in the context of 1857 the difference remains blurred to this day in its immediate aftermath.
The sparseness of knowledge about when 1857 is invoked for liberationist or revolutionary politics. We don’t know the rebels of 1857 we can’t see them as humane humanitarian leaders or visionaries. They are not bearers of emancipation in the way of medieval saint poets or of twentieth century nationalists. Their attributes of greatness lie neither in their characters or personalities nor in the way we idealize other national revolutionaries or patriots say Bhagat Singh or Rana Pratap. They do not provided any role models which we could emulate; even when the rebels are hailed as heroes their heroics lie not in their personalities or actions but in the ideal that they are supposed to represent one of abstract freedom from foreigners. Their achievement lie therefore in the realm of the counterfactual in what they could have done it is difficult to tell a Bhakt Khan form Tatya Tope their interchangeability is a given; their differences are that of their fate or their location or but it is also due to a certain attitude which we have towards them. As I have argued elsewhere invoking 1857 for patriotic purpose alone compels one to think of it purely counterfactually which leads to a long list of what it. What if the rebels had been better organized better led better fed, better armed and so on and so forth? Moreover it is not the only armed uprising against colonial rule in the nineteenth century. There were several that preceded it and some followed after. In order to achieve true singularity 1857 would need to display traits that differentiate it from rebellion not only in quantitative terms admittedly the numbers involved were larger than ever before but also qualitatively.
On the one hand therefore we have the preponderance of overviews presented by general histories of the uprising of 1857 as a whole most of them more than thirty years old. At the same time there is a plethora of publications that have inundated us because of the hundred and fiftieth anniversary three years ago. Most books that resulted from the jamborees and celebration have been compilation of article a large majority of them dealing with the historiography of the event. 1857 nowadays only invites revisits as if primary level of research on it is long since done and over and we can now go back and reflect on settled truths.
What are those settled truths about 1857? Mutiny versus war of independence localized or general war of religion versus secular conflict the binaries through which 1857 has been apprehended has by and large left participant out in the cold. Leadership military strategy tactics lack of unity absence of command the leitmotifs of discussion on rebels all suffer from a surfeit of lack. They are the proverbial blinded men struggling valiantly in the dark but uncomprehending fighters all rights but not revolutionaries proper while historical writing is come times laden with popular sentiment popular writings on 1857 still sets up a contest with academic writing taking historians to task for not being sufficiently sympathetic to the aims and achievement of the revolutionaries of 1857. Such contests can range from the popular of the rhetorical and polemical.
In part this overdetermination is caused by the kind of memory or the lack of it that surrounding 1857 in India. We are intimately familiar with the extreme emotional response of the British in 1857 though the fecund genre of the memoir history. Details of such execution death escape triumph including childbirth and illnesses have allowed us to know the even as it stuck the British. The record of that pain and the shock which it engendered has been transcribed on the cities and sites of the uprising. In the context of 1857 when on thinks of Kanpur one thinks invariably of the massacres of the Satichaur Ghat and of Bibighar. Similarly, the metaphoric expression of the uprising in Lucknow is the residency or in Delhi the ridge producing association that inscribed the uprising as an even in British history. No such emotional record or mourning is available by and the about the rebels the massacres committed by the British leave no written traces their memory is ground to a certain amnesia buttressed by the colonial censor on sedition and on invoking 1857. It is instructive the some of the most illustrious men of Urdu letters in the second half of the nineteenth century who were associated one way or another with Delhi and with the uprising there hardly ever commented on it in their public writing or speeches. Stalwart figures such as Mohammed Husain Azad, Altaf Husain Hali and Deputy Nazir Ahmed almost completely obliterated the memory of the uprising from their public writings and speeches. Even Sir Syed gradually ceased to comment on in after the two pamphlets he wrote in the immediate wake to the uprising.
The first significant acts of recording oral memory in Urdu appear in the second and third decades of the twentieth century. This was mainly the result of the efforts of a pioneering pamphleteer and a practicing Sufi Hasan Nizami (1878-1957). Nizami Published almost a dozen books and pamphlets which culled narratives of grief loss and displacement as suffered by the Delhi elite. With titles such as Begmat ke Ansu, Ghadar ke subh-o sham and Delhi ki Jaankuni the books provide one of the earliest instances of creating oral and popular history in modern India. They attempted to chronicle the even through interviews memories and popular beliefs. Apart form creating an affective record of greif thereby compensating for the absence of rebel emotions the narratives also reflected popular version of the uprising Nizami wrote in the preface to Delhi ki Jaanuni or the Agony of Delhi in 1922 that based on written records as well as survivors memory he had already written eight books he went on to wrote more about the uprising in Delhi.
However the oral accounts presented by Nizami even when inaccurate or inauthentic in their particulars nevertheless present general truth about Delhi through their overall impact. The sack of Delhi in 1857 created such a rupture in its aftermath that its brutality was laid over by amnesia. Nizami writings highlight the native silence around Delhi. The absence of direct and recorded memory creates a gap and a lag in retelling the narrative. As a result the personal easily gives way to the political and the actual to the normative. The experience of the rebels and the uprising itself can therefore easily be subsumed in the met narrative of patriotism or nationalism or its direct other clan based localism.
Saheb, Iqbal, Qaum and Jihad
Apprising was widely described as a war of religion. On the surface the rebels were indubitably fighting to preserve and protect their religious values from assaults by the British. However the definition of religion could stretch very wide. In proclamations’ by the Mughal price Firoze Shah and by Hazrat Mahal the deposed queen of Wazid Ali Shah both of whom were fighting in Awadh a large number of seculars issues were clubbed under religious angst. These included the administering of British law in the law court prohibition of prescriptions by Indian physicians the teaching of English in government schools and the payment of stipends to attend them and several other. As Rudranghshu Mukherjee has pointed out the proclamations often deliberately picked out the issues that were most likely to sting people into action. It was not something contemporary British observers were entirely unaware of; the soldiers deliberately perpetrated violence and murder upon the British in order to implicate the whole regiment and so that there could be no possibility of turning back. Where they could not mention specific instances the proclamations often claimed to divine the real intentions of the British which invariable led to the conclusion that they were attempting a widespread destruction of the Hindu and Muslim religions.
This divination of the real intentions of the British went hand in hand with ritualistic repetition of British perfidies; for instance the accusation that bones of cows and pigs had been mixed in sugar and flour. This particular charge had been made even at the time of the vellore mutiny. It was a standard tactic of arousing anger and hatred rested on incantatory repetition of the arousing anger and hatred rested on incantatory repetition of the baseness to which the British could descend. The charges therefore were often far less descriptive of an existing state of alienation than provocative propaganda. Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against realm distress says Marx. Delhi Urdu Akhbbar was one of the most passionate proponents of the religious nature of the war but it cold elaborate its appeal as easily in name of Hindustan or in the name of the sacred and secular histories of Hindus and Muslims. If the country could not be separated from religion, religion, itself could not be divorced from its specific Hindustani location. Miracles and unforeseen interventions by the divine played as significant a role in the invocation of religion as doctrines.
The reference to religion and to the two communities of Hindus and Muslim also vary in emphases depending on who is making the exhortation. In newspaper public proclamations and utterances of the ideologues, religion comes to occupy s much more central role in the everyday description of battles or preparation for war which are the staple of these documents. In many ways the uprising of 1857 it may be argued provided the template for invoking communal amity in India. After that years India would automatically be assumed to consist of two hegemonic communities Hindus and Muslim. In doing so 1857 emulated the medieval Bhakti and Sufi poets who had already picked out these two from among a host of many different ways of mapping ethnicities and social group identities in India. The ghadar of 1857 did not create the political identities of Hindus or Muslim but it left a very strong imprint on the way in which other minor claimants a claim which is an assertion as much as a description of an existing reality. Not surprisingly there is very little of that propagandaic element in many of the documents in the mutiny papers which are concerned far more with the day to day running of administration than with an ideological war.
In trying to move away from conventional matrices of approaching 1857 I have been wondering if one can build an alternative vocabulary for looking at the telos of mayhem and anarchy. It would be interesting if not evidently useful to track how and when the firangis came to be included in the respectful mode of addressing superiors namely sahib. By 1857 however the word sahib had become a self sufficient reference for denoting the British. When the spy Gauri Shankar writers about the arrest of an Englishman it suffices to call him sahib a horseman has brought a sahib here. Another letter mentions simply that Hindus are all well wishers of the Sahebs. Jis waqt baly gard mein sab saheban the (the time when all the sahebs were at the Residency) goes a folk song about the British at Lucknow in 1857. Hereafter the word sahib is so inflected that it not only comes to stand for anybody closely associated with rulers or belonging to the ruling class but also connotes a certain way of being. It comes to stand in other words for a cultural specificity which heavily parrakes of the English sala main to sahib ban gaya, saheb ban ke kaisa tan gaya, ye suit mera dekho, ye boot mera dekho, jaise koi gora London ka, Singh Sagina Mahato as late as the 1970s. does this tell us something important about the changing perceptions about the British and their position in the Indian order of honour? This Indianization as it were rested very strongly on something else on the iqbal of the firangi. The firangi was blessed fortunate, lucky, had prestige and aura. Conquest and good fortune poured into each other in order to create a hegemonic air about the British presence in India. The buland iqbal of the princes and emperors of yore has constantly been hailed in our dramas and films. Saheb-e alms waning and waxing iqbal makes Mughal-e Azam, famously, expand and elongate with forceful inward breathing in that eponymous film. The firangi had comes to enjoy the iqbal of the Mughal dynasty iqbal se firangi mulk awadh le liya goes another folk song about the British conquest of Awadh.
Not military might alone but wisdom and sagacity and an ascendant fortune characterized the British victories. The word appears several times in these document and in the Delhi Urdu Akhbar denoting the connotation which I have just described. When its ascendant star fell, however in 1857 the saheb lost both his sahebi and his iqbal as both his body his august person as well as his hegemony his rule come to be disrupted. In disrupt that iqbal the rebels fell upon violence which showed how the power enjoyed by the British was widely seen t be in spite of the iqbal as illegitimate. Even as sympathetic a writer as Moinuddin Hasan Khan the former kotwal of Delhi whose memoir written at Theo Matcalfe behest formed the second part of the latter two Native Narratives starts his remembrances written for a British audience and available only in an English translation by saying. I will commence my narrative with the statement that however the English may regard themselves they are regarded by the natives as trespassers and this feeling was intensified on the annexation of the province of Oude. This widespread resentment and the humiliation of the everyday experience of racism also needs to be remembered when we try to understand the torrential outflow of violence that is the hallmark of 1857.
The counterpoint to the sahebs could have been the qaum the Hindu and Muslim qaums or the quam of Hindustan. However the word qaum appears rarely in documents and proclamation related to 1857 although the mutiny papers are replete with it. In the standard format of petitions here a person identifies herself by name patronymic age education and quam. Unlike later usage which defined qaum as nationality here it refers almost exclusively to ones caste if upper class or occupation caste if one is lower caste. Moreover as discussed above the qaumiyat or identity of those seeking to displace the British could shift and change and depended on the context. Instead of relying on qaum invocation to deen and dharma posited a way of countering the British iqbal. If the British iqbal. If the British had been destined to rule India for some time that same destiny now determined their downfall its clearest exposition can be found in the pages of the Delhi Urdu Akbbar.
Although now recognized to be a multiple event with varying trajectories in different spaces altogether the ghadar of 1857 has been overwhelmed by truth claims of many varieties. Whether read as a peasant revolt a religious war an uprising against an alien power or as a multitude of detached and almost contemporarneous incident its immediate ramifications for the participants are not entirely clear. The history of the process is substituted for the history of the event where what happened is a narrative account modulated by a truth claim. Because of the dense focus on the motivation informing the rebels the discussion on the ways in which the rebels acted implies only the political significance of their actions. There are very few accounts dealing with the how of the rebel acts. A heavy concentration on the battles and tactics and strategy leaves open the question of how the battles were organized it took more than soldiers and arms to fight a battle it took hundreds of workers to build a large wall around Lucknow for example or to repair the battlements every day at Delhi. So how was thin organization managed? What did it mean for the resident of Delhi especially the unenthusiastic ones to be overwhelmed by soldiers on the streets and lanes they had long been masters of?
The search for meaning in 1857 can take many forms. In the most immediate sense what did it mean for people and places which saw the longest and the most sustained action? What did the uprising mean to the residents of Delhi whether as participants witnesses victims or all of these? What did the uprising mean in terms of organizing battles raising finances and supplies commandeering labour? What impact did the dislocation of people and the intense mobility of soldiers have on the process? Is a glimpse into the everyday running of a city an important component of the signification of 1857? Or is this slice of life a mere prolegomena to something else? Is the turbulence the ghadar to use its Urdu equivalent which is the greatest hallmark of the times a sideshow or the main act itself? Is there a way of narrating the ghadar without describing the actual mode by which the rebel ordered themselves the structures though which they governed the practices whereby they raised money and material for war? I am writing about people not about movements about attitudes prejudices and mentalities not about thought wrote a historian of the French revolutionary movements and I find that I have unwittingly echoed him throughout.
This book makes no truth claims about 1857 which is one of the reasons why it has been difficult to embed it I the existing historiography of the ghadar. Instead it seeks to present the event of 1857 through the accounts of people in Delhi who lived through it or were intimately involved in it as official administrators commanders and executives. By presenting the documents of the government established by the rebels in partnership with Delhi royal establishment as well as the petition application ad complaints of the ordinary people who interacted with or were affected by this government it tires to present the process the how of the 1857 uprising. This is in that sense our first full blooded glimpse into 1857 as an urban phenomenon. In not making a wider claim a truth claim about the ghadar, it does not mean to deny the broader conclusion about the motivation or the aspirations of the rebels cannot be made or should not be made. But in so far as it studies a specific city and that too through administrative eyes as it were it fails to report a larger narrative. By studying the governmentally or the rebels it tries to move beyond the idealized and grandiose claims of the proclamations and advertisements put out by the main players in order to tease out the actions of the people. It tries to describe what was going on in the city when the uprising was afoot what it meant for the city and its dwellers and it leaves open the question of what the uprising meant for Indian or Hindustanis or for the broader current of Indian history.
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