The conflict and controversy surrounding events in India during the British occupation helped give rise to many conflicting ideas about British rule. Although they varied in degree, the ultimate ideas would question the authority of British dominance, overall.
Interpretation of Rebellious events during the nineteenth century between British and Nationalist writers, expose the differing opinion of the two groups. The British naturally aspired to downplay any acts of rebellion, while their Indian counterparts attempted to exaggerate the importance of these events, as a means of promoting the nationalist cause.
Indian concerns with British rule began to gain momentum as certain events taking place in British India were beginning to unfold against the British. Hearsay and other propagandistic elements had begun taking its place among Indians, quickly changing sentiment towards the British. One of these was the widespread belief that the British were preparing to dismantle the caste system and convert India to Christianity. Although this was not factual, the subsequent actions of British officials did nothing to dispel the rumors, and Brahmins began to fearfully question British motives.
The rebellion in 1857 can be seen as caused by the accumulating grievances of the Sepoy Army of Bengal. Certain factors contributed to the deterioration of morale amongst the Sepoy army that was comprised of Brahmins and other high caste Hindus who assisted in promoting a “focus of sedition”. The poor standard of British officers and the lack of improvement to the overall position of men serving in the army also increased insurgent tendencies. These military grievances which were significant were not themselves enough to incite rebellion, it took a perceived attack on the Sepoy religious institutions to trigger the rebellion.
English ignorance and indifference can also be seen in the distribution of the Enfield rifle. Its distinct ammunition required the bullet to be bitten before loading. Rumors that the grease used on the bullets was either from the fat of cattle or pigs, which was disrespectful to both Hindus and Muslims, was interpreted as attacking at the core of the Hindu and Muslim religious beliefs. These rumors unlike those regarding the conversion to Christianity and dismantling of the caste system did prove to be true, and the British withdrew the objectionable grease. These events account for the military aspects of the uprising which display the version of events accepted in official British circles. This version preferred by the British writers fails to acknowledge an unprecedented level of widespread unrest among ordinary Indians, who saw the British government’s actions as disrespectful and indifferent towards long established rules and customs’.
Indian nationalists saw the causes of the uprising as not being caused by unhappy soldiers of the Bengal army, but as a reaction of the influential classes of India, which had lost trust in British authority. Still other British saw the overall social situation and British administration as having no effect in causing the uprising. The popular beliefs of officials like Sir John Lawrence believed that the immediate cause of the revolt was the concerns held by Sepoys over the new ammunition for the Enfield rifles. However, he sees this as just the trigger incident, with the root cause being the long-term reduction in discipline in the army and the poor standard of officers in command, implying that British power begin to organize army discipline through the ranks.
The British standpoint was to regard rebellious events as a “Mutiny”. Here again the British overlook the participation of the civilian population, who was also involved in varying degrees, of anti British activity. For most of the British writers and observers of the events, they agreed in calling it a mutiny for public relations reasons. The term mutiny does not carry the same emotive force as the word “rebellion”. It would not evoke images of widespread activities of disobedience towards British authority, therefore avoiding any kind of “bandwagon effect” on the masses.
The Indian nationalist view of the events of 1857 is that it was not as the British believe a series of isolated and uncoordinated mutinies. It was a war of independence, the first act by Indians to gain self-rule, and the incident represented a turning point in which the nationalist feelings, long suppressed by the British occupation, flared into violence. For half a century after 1857 the writing on the uprising were basically confined to British observers and scholars. After the mutiny of 1857 the manner of administration had become much sterner with the British clearly acting like an occupying power, policing a hostile land. We see the shift in British emphasis on military security and cautious administration. The British saw the need to reduce the risk of a second rebellion. As mentioned by Tagore, the British adopted the policies that would create division among the civil population into the next century. Marx states “They Englishdestroyed itIndia} by breaking up the native communities, by uprooting the native industry, and by leveling all that was great and elevated in the native society.”The nationalist movement sought to restore state protection to Islam and Hinduism, addressing the religious division of Indians with a common struggle. Theodore Morrison advantageously exposes the division among Indians to support an English controlled India. He states that English politicians fail to realize that, India has “no sentiment of nationality” and that political parties in India are formed from “deep seated hatreds which have before now deluged the country with blood, and which would do so again were it not for the fear of British bayonets”.
The overall deterioration in relations between the British and their Indian subjects during the end of the 19th century, found the Muslims losing much of the influence and power they had held before. While the overall British attitude changed towards the Indians, the most hostility was aimed at the Muslim community. Muslims were blamed by the British for much of the rebellious activity, and being against western education they were denied upward mobility for some time, while more favorable Hindus were benefiting from English education and benefited under the government.
Theodore Morison remarked on the hasty administrative tendency of the British, regarding British dominance over Muslims in India. “…my opinionit wasan unwise step to do away with the Muhammadan Law Officers by an act of Legislature.” Morison also mentions the religious duty of Muslims to rebel against foreign masters ”one of theseMuslimsfirst duties…is rebellion against an Infidel Conqueror.” He also mentions the sensitive situation regarding the Muslim Indians “ in return for this fair amount of religious and civil liberty, as their fathers… have accepted the position of subjects.” “…if however their English Governors should infringe the tacit agreement by interfering with prayers or public worship…then wholesome emigration or flight(rebellion)becomes incumbent on every devout Muslim. …we may have lately trenched perilously near upon these conditions.”By the middle of the nineteenth century the divisions of race was a popular topic in Victorian England. The basis for these views were no longer regarded as simply being as personal belief, it was now considered a scientific fact by the publication in 1859 of Charles Darwin’s, Origin of the Species which now gave British sentiment a factual support. The Darwinian ideas introduced into English society justified imperialistic political policies and social movements. At the turn of the century England perceived their dominant role in the world as justified by Darwinian principlesDarwin mentioned civilized nations as superior, and referred to indigenous people as savages, furthermore, he referred to them as tribes while referring to the English as a race. The English used this as justification to dominate an India perceived as clustered into separate tribes of peoples. Their administrative policies reflected this attitude. Unfortunately the Darwinian principles adopted by the English to justify socially constraining policy in India made them overestimate themselves, in terms of accomplishing a social domination over the population.
At a time when Indian dissension was growing, the British authority found a popular and supportive philosophy to justify stricter policy. The stratification of human beings according to race is pragmatically stated by Marx.” Arabs, Turks, Tartars, Moguls, who had previously conquered India soon became Hinduised, the barbarian conquerors being, by an eternal law of history, conquered themselves by the superior civilization of their subjects. The British were the first conquerors superior, and therefore, inaccessible to Hindu civilization.”
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