Popularly know as the first Indian war of Independence, the Rebellion of 1857 was a
significant moment in the political history of modern India. Despite the broad consensus of
opinion about the national character of the movement, yet this uprising still remains mired
in controversies. Through extensive references to first hand accounts and other historical
document, the essays in this volume while bringing, together varied sholarship, analyse the
nature, causes, its impact on the national literature of India as well as the interest it
generated abroad. The National book trust, India is proud to present this unique document on
the occasion of the 150 year of the national uprising.
P.C. Joshi was the General Secretary of the Communist party of India from 1935 to 1948. He
had made a special study of 1857 and brought together a brilliant team of scholars to
compile this volume for a discerning readership.
The people's Publishing House decided to publish a Memorial Volume on the 1857 uprising as
its contribution to the centenary celebration. Despite a very broad agreement about the
national character of this century-old uprising among our patriotic intellectuals, it
remains, unfortunately enough, one of the unresolved controversies of Indian history. This
volume, therefore, is in the nature of a symposium and the views of each contributor are his
Talmiz Khaldun is an old research worker who has worked on the subject in the National
Archives. Dr. K. M. Ashraf of Delhi University has described the outlook and contribution of
the Wahabis who were an organised influential group and represented the viewpoint of the
background to the critical negative attitude of the Bengali intelligentsia, which
represented the then new intelligentsia endowed with modern education. I have tried to deal
with the controversies with which the 1857 the uprising is shrouded. I am not a professional
historian and had to resort to the old-fashioned method of speaking through lengthy
quotations. If I anyone the modern stylist, my only defence is that I am supplying the
younger readers my only documentation from older books, etc. which are not easily available
The 1875 heritage played a big part in giving a patriotic orientation to Indian national
literature in our various languages. It has supplied the Indian writers with dramatic
incidents of suffering, struggle and sacrifice and noble patriotic themes. In the literary
section, Professor P.C. Gupta of the Allahabad University has dealt with the impact of 1875
on the Hindi literature, and Professor Ehtesham Husain of the Lucknow University on the Urdu
literature. Dr. K. M. Ashraf has contributed a paper on Ghalib. Gopal Haldar, Bengali
literary critic and author, has dealt with contemporary Bengali literature.
We express our heartfelt gratitude to the foreign scholars who have contributed valuable
papers on the impact of 1875 in their own countries. Of special mention in this regard is
James Bryne, the author of the paper on British reactions, whose sudden death has deprived
us all of a keen, sympathetic and intelligent student of our history. These papers, results
of painstaking research, reveal that in all these foreign lands the 1857 uprising was hailed
as a national uprising of the Indian people for liberation from the British yoke and stirred
feelings of solidarity in the democratic circles. We hope these foreign papers will help to
write a hitherto unknown chapter in Indian 's national history.
We thank our contributors who have made the publication of this Memorial Volume possible.
Many other friends have contributed plenty of their labour of love before this volume could
be got ready for the press. Our thanks to them all.
There are two essays which discuss the general nature of the revolt. "Talmiz Khaldun"
contributes an essay that is rich in reference to both archival and printed material. The
argument advanced is that it was, in the end, "a peasant war against indigenous landlordism
and foreign imperialism". P.C. Joshi 's own essay, longer and based on a wide reading of
printed material, present, it seems to me, a far more persuasive interpretation, in which
the concept of 1857 as unfolding an anti-feudal "peasant war" is firmly rejected. Joshi had
the advantage of access to Berlin to the writings by Marx on the Rebellion that had appeared
anonymously in the New York daily Tribune, and his perception of it as a "national revolt"
noticeably influenced Joshi. (To ordinary readers these writings of Marx become available
only in 1959 when a collection containing them was published from Moscow under the title,
The first Indian War of Independence) Joshi also took issue with certain misrepresentations
of the conduct of the rebels and of their leaders which had become accepted shibboleths of
While Joshi gives a reasonable explanation of the place of religion in the Rebel's
ideological platform, K. M. Ahsraf 's essays takes up the interesting question of the extent
of participation of the "Wahabis" in the Revolt. It seems to me that identification of
mujahids, or nonsepoy Muslim Volunteers, exclusively with such Wahabis, lacks convincing
substantiation, so also do such statements as that the sepoy general, Bakht Khna, was "a
confirmed and fanatical Wahabi".
One section of the volume is devoted to the effects of 1857 on Hindi and Urdu literature.
The essays here are informative; and Joshi himself contributes a pioneering essay on the
Folk Songs on 1857. In the essays on Hindi and Urdu literatures, the pro-British "loyalist"
trend, which seems to have become louder after 1857 than it was before, should perhaps have
merited greater attention. The lack reference to the post-Mutiny verses of 'Zafar is also
rather puzzling, though this may just be due to an accident omission on the part of both
P.C. Gupta and Ehtesham Husain.
Two essays, one by Benoy Ghose and the other by Gopal Haldar, deal with the response to the
Revolt among the intelligentsia and litterateurs of Bengal. Ghose explains why the middle
classes of Bengal, otherwise ready to criticize the British government on issues of reform,
saw "no hope (for themselves) in the 1857 Revolt"; and Gopal Haldar comments on the
equivocalness of the literary response in Bengali to 1857, even after decades had passed
since the Rebellion.
The last part of the volume deals with reaction to the Revolt felt in foreign countries.
James Bryne dwells not only on the imperialist outcries for retribution in British, but also
and, at some length, on the lonely Chartist figure of Ernst Jones, boldly supporting the
rebels and denouncing the British atrocities. Indian has yet to pay adequate tribute to
Ernst Jones' memory. There was a certain amount of sympathy for the Indian rebels among
Italian patriots and Russian democrats at the end of the volume two Chinese scholars, Yu
Sheng-Wu and Chang Chen-Kun, tell us of the hopes entertained in China, itself engaged in
the Second Opium War with British for the success of the Indian revolt. They also produce
tantalizing information about Indians who joined the Taiping Revolution during the years
1860-63. Were they some deserting Indian sepoys who had been stationed in China?
There is, then, much, in this volume for a reader to think about; and on many aspects of the
Rebellion it remains an indispensable repository of information.
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