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E-Pao! Opinion - How to read 1857 today

How to read 1857 today
The Relevance of 1857

By: kadamfilms *


2007 is the 150 anniversary of India's First War of Independence and there is a flurry of activities on this issue. Several seminars and discussion panels are being organized and papers being presented on 1857, recorded as a turning point in Indian history.

For most of the work being done on 1857, the underlying theme appears to be biased or limited in their scope and readings. Some, written by Eurocentric/British historians describe 1857 as a "Sepoy Mutiny" while those of the "Swadeshi and feudal mindset" tend to overplay the role of the feudal princely estates and "Rajwadas".

Their heroes such as Jhansi ki Rani and Tatia Tope are often represented as front line heroes of 1857, such perceptions have been perpetuated by pop-history readings through sources such as "Amar Chitra Katha". Other wrong representations have been made by over playing the issue of greased cartridges, religion, caste and creed.

The term, "National Rebellion" was used for the first time in the British Parliament debates where the attempts by the ruling parties to underplay the uprising as a simple "mutiny" were contested by the opposition parties, who wanted the rebellion to be put down with the severest possible means.

Though the exact events of 1857 are important to understand, it is even more important to contextualize 1857 in today's India. Right across different ruling class parties there has been a serious attempt to water down the relevance of the 1857 uprising, both in terms of its scope and relevance to our present times.

The CPI (M) oriented camp of historians have even gone to absurd lengths to force down their own concepts of modern political thought by insisting that 1857 contained within it the idea of "Nation State". Nevertheless, all the ruling class parties seem to converge on one point that, 1857 was an anti imperialist struggle which was successfully concluded in the 1947 Independence of India.

The primary point of the thesis being outlined is that 1857 was definitely an anti-imperialist struggle, but its tasks have not been completed as yet, since 1947 was only a formal Independence and India is still in the grip of neo-colonialism and its policies are still being dictated by the imperialist powers and its agents.

These current economic, social and political policies can clearly find their roots in the brutal suppression of the 1857 and the rise to power a class of Indians who aided the British in ruling India till 1947 and continue to aid and assist foreign imperialist interests even today.

In the first place: 1857 was largest ever armed uprising in the British colonial empire, and the impact of the uprising was such that it shook the foundations of the empire. 1857 was a peasant rebellion, the underlying cause was the increasing land settlement laws being introduced by the British.

In earlier times, before the British implemented the idea of land settlement; land was an inalienable right and the zamindar, feudal lords and the king had only rights over revenue collection. By introducing the principle of "Eminent Domain" the British had in one stroke reversed centuries of security over land tenure granted to the peasant.

The principle of "eminent domain" declares the "ownership" of all land to reside in the crown, thereby allowing the eviction of rightful owners from their land, with only the need to pay due compensation. The growing insecurity of the peasantry over the probable loss of land quickly engulfed the regions of North India and even bringing the sepoys into the fray.

Since the sepoys employed by the British army were peasants, they could directly relate to the issue of growing insecurity over land rights and took up the cause for armed resistance.

In the second place: it was only after the initial success of the peasantry and the sepoys that the feudal estates such as Jhansi came into play, for most of the feudal estates, it was a struggle against the increasing strangle hold of the British and to retain their dominion and their alignment with the peasantry was taken after due thought and consideration.

They assumed that the whole of British India would rebel successfully and after kicking the British out, they would continue to rule. These feudal estates did not enter the fight with any sense of any progressive values which would have led to the emancipation of the toiling peasantry.

In the third place and most the important point, is to be able to understand and place 1857 within the context of our current era. There is little point in us celebrating 1857, if it does not carry some relevance for us today. The most important lesson that we can get from readings on 1857 is the "institutionalization of traitors".

Traitors have always been the part and parcel of history, be it Jai Chand or Mir Jaffer, but eventually they get relegated to a foot note of history. It is only after 1857, we can clearly find, that those who sided with the British in defeating the Indians were felicitated, given appointments in administration, business contracts, judiciary, land, zamindari, princely tutelages, "Rai Sahib Titles, provided secure residences (the concept of "civil lines" came up only after 1857). The lesson to be learnt is that it is this class of traitors, who first of all took sides with the British in defeating our people, also took over as the rulers of India in 1947 and continue to rule over us even today.

We can even directly trace numerous families such as the Scindias and many other "Maharajas" who continue to rule India today. All such families who claim the title "Maharaja" were those who either continued to sit quietly on the sidelines during the war or they actively supported the British in quelling the rebellion and for that favour, were bestowed with numerous privileges by the British.

Not one among these traitors of the feudal brigade have had the courage to speak up against their ancestors or retune the land and estates bestowed upon them by the British. It is their tacit support of the imperialist powers that have ensured their retention in the current political arena even today.

It is this class and their obvious alignment towards propagating and protecting the interest of western economy and politics, which has ensured that agents of foreign capital such as World Bank continue to dominate the political and economic agendas of our country. It is this class of traitors who enabled the British to rule over India for the next 90 years till 1947 and then were left to rule as British colonial agents till today. It is these very same families who continue to rule as Shaheed Bhagat Singh called them, "The Black British" (Kaale Angrez).

If we see the economic, social and political policies of our current times we can see that they favour the developed and nations at the cost of the Indian polity. In each and every point of intervention, whether it is the support for multi national corporations to find India a point of cheap labor, or the development of SEZs (tax and customs duty free zones), or recent shameful statements by Man Mohan Singh in Oxford, where he praised colonial rule over India!

Is our PM blind or illiterate that he does not know about the devastation of Indian business and economy by British colonialism? The problem is not in incorrect assessment of the ills of the colonial rules, the point to note is that this class of people have aligned themselves with the ruling class interests of the developed nations and not with the toiling Indians.

Lets take a small case to explain: It is India's open door iron ore export policy which is enabling Mittals and TATAs to buy European steel mills. Since European mines are now almost depleted and will soon lead to a closure of the steel mills in Europe their mills are up for grabs. The terms of sale inset on the buyer showing a guaranteed supply of iron ore.

So TATA and the Mittals have bought Corus and Arcelor, with the assurance given by the Indian government that they will be given captive mines for exporting ores in Orissa!! Great news, first the Europeans colonized us and raped us and our economy, now that their economy is facing a meltdown, here comes the native cavalry to their support. How are all these insane policies being implemented?

Why must Delhi never be cleaned for its citizens, but more than 300000 slum dwellings be demolished for beautifying Delhi for the 2010 Common Wealth Games, it is a shame and a blot on the nation's people.

Traveling down U.P., Bihar, M.P., Haryana, A.P. and almost any other corner of India one has to only see the manner in which the policemen treat the "poorer natives" of this country, exactly as they did during the British Colonial era, the same goes for the administration and the Judiciary.

It is quite common to see the police hanging working class people upside down and beating the soles of their feet, false encounters, custodial rape and deaths, false cases being framed.. These remnants of the Raj still continue and are being perpetuated by the same class of people who traditionally sided with the stronger side and oppressed the weak.

An oppressive and arrogant administrative machinery acts as a very effective tool in suppression any form of dissent which directly affects their economic stakes and greed for more profits.

It is only in reading 1857 and contextualizing it within the current ills that plague India, that we can clearly see that the roots of this oppressive and anti-people administration, development policies and continuing poverty, lie within our current ruling classes who learnt to fear the strong and oppress the weak in 1857.

It is only then, will we be able to understand the struggles in Kalinganagar, Nandigram, Sigur, Barnala, Gurgaon, Amritar, Narmada basin, Pen Tehsil, Telangana, Bajhera Khurd, where the peasantry is still fighting to complete the unfinished tasks of the martyrs of 1857.


* kadamfilms writes to e-pao.net for the first time. The writer can be contacted at kadamfilms(at)yahoo(dot)com. This article was webcasted on May 19th, 2007.


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