Nature of the 1857 Revolt
The Great revolt of 1857 is often remarked as “India’s first war of Independence. The nature of the revolt is discussed below:
The revolt of 1857 evokes passionate reactions. Was it a mutiny of the sepoys, pure and simple? Or was it a national revolt? For far too long opinions oscillated between these two extremes. To the contemporary British annalists it was a mutiny of a section of misguided sepoys. Charles Ball, John Kaye or Colonel Malleson has all harped on the familiar theme of mutiny fomented by conspiratorial aristocrats. On the other hand Indian nationalists have regarded its nature to be the early footprints of freedom struggle. V.D. Savarkar called it India’s first war of independence.
This binary portrayal of the nature of the 1857 revolt continued even after independence. Dr. R.C. Mazumder found no trace of nationalist spirit in it.
Sharply contradicting Mazumder’s views, Dr. S.B. Chaudhuri thinks the revolt had a national character. The active participation of different cross-sections of Indian society, all impelled by hatred for the British, and entitles it to be called a national uprising.
More recently, historians have focused on the revolt in its local and especially agrarian settings. They suggest that the participation of peasants provides the link between the military mutiny and the rural uprisings.
Peasants participated in it for many different reasons in many different regions. Sometimes, as in Awadh, they made common cause with the talukdars against the common enemy. Hence they followed the lead given by the talukdars.
But there are many instances where the peasants in revolt chose their leaders from the ranks of ordinary people. Thus the civil rebellions in the countryside were ‘more than simply a feudal reaction’.
In areas where grievances of disgruntled aristocracy coincided with the outbursts of peasants and artisans, there were broad based insurgencies.
Nationalism in its developed form might not have motivated the rebels. The time was not appropriate for that. But patriotism in the sense of a shared antipathy against the British was not altogether absent in 1857. It is this vague patriotism that underlay many acts of individual bravery and collective defiance. And it is this that invests the Revolt with a new meaning. In the words of Eric Stokes, “To India 1857 bequeathed a more living and enduring presence”.
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