Re: The relevance of 1857 in the context of India’s recent history—by Mubarak Ali
by RY Deshpande on Thu 10 Jul 2008 05:04 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link
Rich, There is no one cause for the 1857 and your observation of a “million mutinies theme” is quite valid and perceptive. The conclusion of a professional historian to summarise the findings as “a chain of very different uprisings” could be considered factual. But look at the paragraph from the earlier quote giving the narratives of the lives of "bird catchers and lime makers who have had their charpoys stolen by sepoys, the horse trader from Haryana looted by Gujars on the outskirts of Dehli on the way home from selling his wares,... Hansi the dancer who uses a British attack on Idgah to escape from the serai where she is staying with her husband and run off with her lover. Or Pandit Harichandra, who tried to exhort Hindus of Dehli to leave their shops and join the fight giving examples from the Mahabharat. Or Hazif Abdurrahman caught grilling beef kababs during a ban on cow slaughter who comes to beg for mercy from Zafar...."
What do we get from these documentary findings? Perhaps nothing, nothing much in proportion to the amount of research effort that goes into it. Is it not simply a picture of a society sunken in the depths of the mediaeval darkness? It seems the throbbing vitality of the nation had got buried in terrible inertia or Tamas of the age. There was the glāni as the Gita would say, the decline. Invasions by an alien civilization, robust and critically powerful, over the previous few centuries had uprooted the authentic traditions that had drawn nourishment from the foundational principles based on the spirit’s working. Foolish battles were fought for foolish gains and concerns of the larger society forgotten.
Renaissance and Industrial Revolution were unknown to the country. What else could then the decadent feudalism do? The only brief period of glory during those long and wearisome centuries was the reign of Akbar and the arrival of Shivaji-Ramdas on the national scene. The rest was frustration,—moral, political, economic, religious except for the exceptional Bhakti movement, educational, ethical, etc, etc. That all makes the 1857 more a reaction than forward march of a nation. ~ RYD
Reply by Rich on Thu 10 Jul 2008 07:55 PM PDT Profile Permanent Link
I tend to think that once history is stripped of its ideologies it speaks most meaningfully to us through stories. The lessons of 1857 are perhaps not only relevant to India as to they are to the world today. In an Article for Time magazine Dalrymple says:
The lessons of 1857 can be seen today on the streets of Iraq. No one likes being conquered by people of a different faith, then being force-fed improving ideas. The British in 1857 discovered that nothing so easily radicalizes a people or undermines the moderate aspect of Islam than aggressive Western intrusion in the East. The histories of Islamic fundamentalism and Western imperialism have often been closely intertwined—so much so that thinking of 1857, we might remember the celebrated dictum of Edmund Burke: that those who fail to learn from history are always destined to repeat it.
Reply by RY Deshpande on Fri 11 Jul 2008 05:11 AM PDT Profile Permanent Link
1857 on the streets of Iraq—how true! If I’ve to use my earlier phrase again, here was a foolish battle fought for foolish gains. The entire region including Afghanistan and Pakistan today is in turmoil which is not going to affect India in a small way. Oil—automobile, was that not the invention of the Asura, and that America got seized by its injurious al spell?
The slogan of the globalised Capitalism is: Elite of the world, unite to protect your consumer markets. Wheels of democracy move swiftly behind the banner of the Wealth of the Nations. But this has to go, the way the workers of the world could not assert themselves and disappeared—perhaps without throwing their chains. There are values of life and of the progressive spirit which must be nourished, values which could not be discerned by the 1857. But that began to happen not too long after that, in the New Birth of India.
In this New Birth the spirit of nationalism derived its strength from the spirit of the country, when the soul of India began to awake. It was the first movement to step out of the degrading Tamas with which it was overlaid for disappointing centuries. But it seems, today, we are falling into another trap, the vitalistic trap with the consumer model as the guiding principle, a model which will spell a greater disaster if we lose contact with the soul of India. Ditto for other nations and societies. ~ RYD