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The 1857 Mutiny

The 1857 Mutiny

Part four and finish of my early historic review toward Hindu nationalism, undertaken when I first arrived in India in an effort to understand her.

To large for one post, here is part four, revealing my thinking from the past. Click here to see Part 1 Akhbar to Derozio , or Part 2 Ram Mohan Roy to Macaulay. and part 3 Drabendranath Tagore to Vivekananda.

The rise of Indian nationalism was inspired by the rising Indian and Muslim middle class who success in the British system outweighed old school Muslim and Hindu.

However, following ‘the mutiny’ of 1857, British suspicions of Indian loyalty increased racial discrimination partly ‘justified’ by social theories inspired by Darwinism.

Highly educated Nationalist moderates had read English classics promoting justice, freedom and love of one’s country teaching Britain was providential; toward Indian self government.

Moderates attacked disparities but not British rule, placing them at a political disadvantage to extremist groups who could rally greater popular support under the banner of Indian symbols.

They demanded the rights and liberties of the British and constantly recalled Parliament and Queen Victoria’s promise that Indians could compete equally against English in the Indian Civil Service.

hume1However, they were a more effective, but perhaps largely forgotten, force in changing British opinion. The first meeting of The Indian National Congress was fathered by sympathetic retired civil servant Scotsman Allan Octavian Hume.

“You are the salt of the land” wrote Hume in 1883 “and if amongst even you, the elite, fifty men cannot be found with sufficient power of self sacrifice, sufficient love for and pride in their country, sufficient genuine and unselfish heart-felt patriotism to take the initiative, and if needs be, devote the rest of their lives to the Cause – then there is no hope for india.”

Bombay born Dadhabai Naoroji (1825 -1917), ‘the grand old man of India’, was the son of a Zoroastrian priest whose descendants had fled Persia after Muslim conquest. His little used family name was Dordi meaning a twisted rope made of coconut husk.

“You may burn a dordi” said Naoroji “but you can never take the twist out of it. So it is with me. When once I form a decision nothing will dislodge me from it.”

Dadhabai Naoroji

Dadhabai Naoroji

The first Indian to achieve a professorship of Mathematics, serving twenty seven years at Bombay’s Elphinstone Institution, Naoroji moved to permanently to London to help the British become aware of India’s problems. He was the first Indian elected to the house of commons and pushed for a parliamentary commission into the financial administration of India.

Naoroji bitterly condemned the costly drain of British rule on India. He praised the abolition of suttee and infanticide, destruction of thugs, the ‘remarriage of Hindoo widows and charitable aid in time of famine” “of which any nation may be rightly proud.” Britain’s civilizing influence had no debit but more could have been done. The education of male and female, ‘though only partial’ and the ‘resuscitation of India’s own noble literature’, peace and morality, freedom of speech, railways and irrigation are to be praised.

There is generally “a slowly growing desire to to treat Indians equitably” but there have been “repeated breaches of promises” to give “natives” a fair share in administration.

“No greater calamity could befall India than for England to go away and leave India to herself” Naoroji claimed. However the ‘great moral evil’ was the drain British rule placed on India.

However, Europeans isolated themselves and were not the peoples “mental, moral or social leader, or companion”. They cannot enter Indian thoughts feelings or sympathies.

British came “acquire India’s money, experience and wisdom” and carry both away with them” when they return home leaving “India so much poorer in material and moral wealth” and their pensions, without training administrative and statesman to act as ‘natural guides of the rising generations in their national and social conduct’ for future generations.

Thousands are now educated but find no positions available for them in their motherland. Potentially, they are a ‘wild, spirited horse, without curb or reins’ that could recoil on the rulers.

With ‘culpable indifference’ every effort is made to extract taxation without adequate effort to ‘increase the peoples means to pay’.

Naoroji was thrice elected president to the Indian National congress (1886. 1893, 1906) and prominent in its first session in 1885.

He asked whether ‘the days of the Rajahs like the great Vikram’ or ‘the later empire of our friends, the Mahomedans’, ‘even in the days of the great Akhbar himself’ were as important as congress second session in 1886, praising the civilizing rule of the queen that ‘made it possible for us to meet in this manner’and for Naoroji to travel without fear for his family in his absence.

Rather than preaching sedition, ‘we are loyal to the backbone’ and Congress was ‘another stone in the foundation of stability of government.’

India’s ‘great misfortune’ was British not knowing their wants, calling on the British sense of ‘fair play and justice’ of making India both self supporting by either returning wealth to her or increasing India’s material position to be able to produce more income and satisfying India’s ‘reasonable and growing political aspirations to administer her own country.

While Britain rightly expected economic return on investment it was ‘economically rude and unintelligent’ to expect public works intended for future benefit to be immediately paid for by the present generation[1].

A businessman would not pay a manager more than he earned, yet demands to Britain exceed Indian production. In his many returns to India, Naoroji served as Chief Minister to the Princely state of Paroda in 1873- 74, to prevent the crown from annexing it for mismanagement.

Moderates promoted understanding between Hindus and Muslims and Bengali Surendranath Banerjea (1848 – 1926) exhorted young men to strive for unity as a patriotic duty.

Surendranath Banerjea

Surendranath Banerjea

Called ‘surrender not’ Banerjea, the son of a Brahman doctor, he was one of the first Indians selected for Indian civil Service. Unlike the British, he was dismissed for a minor oversight, failed to have it overturned in London and failed to be admitted to the bar he returned to India convinced “the personal wrong done to me was an illustration of the impotency of our people” he was determined to spend his life “redressing our wrongs and protecting our rights, personal and collective.”

Calling young men “ the hope of your country” he used his oratorical skills to rouse Bengali and Punjabi to “lead worthy, honourable, and patriotic lives that we may all live and die happily and that India may be great.”

Just as Englishmen look back with ‘pride and satisfaction’ “when Hampden offered up his life for the deliverance of his own country, when Algerian Sydney had laid down his head on the block to rid his country of a hated tyrant.”

This principle of “Indian unity” was taught in the Punjab three hundred years ago by Nanak, ‘the immortal founder of the Sikh empire” who endeavoured “knit together Hindus and Musulmans under thee banner of a common faith.”

“We too must preach the great doctrine of peace and good will between Hindus and Mussulmans, Christians and Parsees” and all sectors of the Indian community, said Banerjea. We must meet on the “common platform …of our own countries welfare.”

“There is a common divinity, to whom we may uplift our voices in adoration. The divinity who presides over the destinies of our country” he said.

Discouraging blind loyalty to Britain, it is “unnecessary” to use violence to ‘redress our grievances. Constitutional Agitation will secure for us those rights, the privileges which in less favored countries are obtained by sterner means.”

He stubbornly apposed extremist calls against foreigners and started the tradition of welcoming imprisonment to demonstrated injustice after criticizing a judge.

Britain would grant self-government when India was prepared for it. We must take the community on “a process of steady and gradual uplift’ so there be“no sudden disturbance or dislocation” described as “the normal path of progress in Hindu society.”

Society is moving as was seen by changes to ‘the question of sea voyage, or child marriage, or even enforced widowhood’ and the ‘remarkable’ removal of ‘restrictions of caste’ including the now ‘not infrequent’ marriages ‘between hitherto prohibited sub castes of Brahmins and Kayasthas”. Twice president of Congress, he left it in 1918 to head the All-India Liberal Federation when younger congress members threatened to block the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms.

Maharashtran Mahadev Govind Ranade emerged from the Elphinstone Institution and the new Bombay University where he taught economics, history and literature. Appointed a subordinate judge in the government courts of Poona, he was barred from politics worked to reform child marriage, non marriage of widows and the seclusion of women.

Mahadev Govind Ranade
Mahadev Govind Ranade

Protected by the Western Ghats, the Maharashtran kingdoms were some of the last to fall to Europe. Established by the Marathi-Kunbi castes under Shivaji (1630? – 1680), the kingdom was ruled by his descendants, Peshwas (Prime Ministers) and later intellectual leaders of the Chitpavan Brahman caste. Even after the 1818 collapse of the Peshwa government Poona remained an intellectual centre.

An early member of the Prarthana Samaj, a prayer society modeled after Rammohun Roy’s Brahmo Samaj and founded 1887 following a visit to Bombay by Keshub Chunder Sen, Ranade admired Roy as a patriot and godly man and sought to keep its ties with Hindu society and gradually bring the orthodox around to its position.

In 1887 he founded the Indian National Social Conference and in 1890 the Industrial association of Western India.

He rejected the claim of the Brahmo and Arya Samaj for a revival of ancient faiths. In advocating a “return old ways, …old authorities and the old sanction …people speak without realizing the full significance of their own words.”

The past includes the Vedas, Smritis, Puranas, Mohuomaden and modern Hindu times. What ancient past should be revived? “Men and gods of the old days ate and drink forbidden things to excess” and lists past Nigoya system of brother in law marriage for widows. Or the eight forms of marriage that ‘included capture’, the sexual liberties ‘of the marital tie’ taken by Rishis and their wives. Or the ‘hecatombs of animals sacrificed’ “which human beings were not spared as propitiatory offerings” or flinging men into “rivers, or over rocks, or hook swinging, or the crushing beneath Jagannath car.”

Should Brahmins return to the past when they were beggars’ dependent on the king?

“A living organism, as society is, no revival is possible” argued Ranade.“Reformation is the only alternative open to sensible people”.

Revival may change the external. “It is not the outward form, but the inward form, the thought and idea which determines the outward form, that has to be changed if real reformation is to take place.”

Influenced by a social system that “set forth as isolation, submission to outward forms of power more than to the voice on inward conscience’ resulted in ‘perception of fictitious differences between men and women’, passive acquiescence” of wrong doing “indifference to secular well being, almost bordering on fatalism.”

“They prevent some of our people from being who they really are in all conscience, neither better or or worse than their fellows” he said.

Referencing Saint Paul, he says the past should be by “the fruits they have borne’ which Ranade calls ‘disastrous.’

Ranade encouraged cultivating ‘the spirit of fraternity or elastic expansiveness’ and not isolation. Every caste and sect’ splits itself off, teaching that knowledge and salvation is for an elect few. Ranade taught expanding your friends “towards a general recognition of the essential equality between and man. It will beget sympathy and power.”

Secondly, although we are ‘children of God’ he criticize being kept as children because someone in the past told you so. Rather than being helpless, he taught “that of freedom responsible to the voice of god in us.” There is “a divine principle enthroned in the heart of everyone’ and because of this power we have a duty to act.

Thirdly, “hereditary and birth explain many things, but this Law of Karma does not explain all things!” Rather than “enforce surrender” he taught ‘a new idea” that the “Law of Karma can be controlled and set back by a properly controlled will, when it has been made subservient to a higher will than ours.”

Fourth, Ranade denied that evil is inevitable in human life.

His patient, constructive, scholarly and devotion to Welfare inspired patriotism in hundreds of young man to whom he maintained constant correspondence inspiring Gokhale and Gandhi.    

Delhi 1947 Aug 15

Reflections Post Independence

For five decades following Indian Independence, writer John Murray recorded changing social attitudes across the sub continent.He argued that in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign her consort Prince Albert inculcated a ‘respect for truth and honesty, justice, efficiency and dedication to ones duty[2]’ but self imposed cultural isolation of the British, their superior air and in some cases arrogance helped feed Indian nationalism.

Murray writes of Michael, one of the last surviving Indian officials of the Raj, reflecting on the ‘decline in values, the self seeking and intrigue, diminished sense of responsibility and the unsuitability of many of the appointments’ in India following 1948.

Under the British everything was well run, without bribery or corruption, claimed Michael. But I wonder if Michael was speaking cautiously, even subserviently, to a white man? The British were guilty of corruption – but to a far lesser scale, reflecting their smaller numbers.

Sadly, says Murray, ‘many positive values of the Raj hive off to sink like scraps in rough water, while less desirable elements of foreign rule such as exploitation and inequality, have not been vanquished in an egalitarian Utopia’.

Corruption is so bad Murray quotes a Cabinet Member from Bihar as reported in The Hindu, lamenting that ‘graft and corruption have become so rampant’ that ‘government employers do not dispose of work of even ministers without extorting bribes … Not a single official paper moved from one table to another unless the person concerned paid a bribe at each stage of its movement.’

Nehru August 15, 1947

Nehru August 15, 1947

Many Indian educated youth would wipe British colonial history as if a bad dream, writes Murray who believes Britain and India were destined to meet but that India undeniably belongs to the Indians.

Britain and India “had qualities that the other lacked and they complemented one another” like a chauvinistic male and a subservient female.

Gandhi’s success drew in part by calling on India’s strength of character and his ability to uncover the ‘flaw in the psyche of his opponent. He undermined the credibility of the British stance on many issues’ infuriating the British to ‘hopeless perplexity’ against Passive resistance.

‘Gandhi was aware of his opponent’s weaknesses, but he also knew that it was the basic decency of English representatives of the crown and members of the Indian civil Service that would enable him to win the battle against Britain.’

He respected British culture and values and ‘bore no ill will’ but confronted Britain with a spiritual-mindedness, patience and courage that gave him greater stature’.

Gandhi warning of catastrophe was sidelined by Lord Mountbatten’s determination to see a deal between Pandit Nehru and Mohammad Ali Jinnah resulting in columns of terrified refugees crossing borders formed without consultation or without adequate warning. All in an area that had been in a state of civil war for months.

The result was the most brutal peacetime slaughter in human history that left scars on the psyche of both India and Pakistan.

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Northern princely states could decide on either nation and the Kashmiri born new Indian Prime Minister Nehru prevailed on the indecisive Hindu Maharaja Hari Sing to side with India following attacks by insurgent Muslim frontier tribesman who raped, pillaged and tortured en-route to the capital Srinagar.

The Maharaja did not hold a proposed plebiscite of the mainly Muslim region fueling Indian/Pakistan division that many Kashmere’s today use to feed their own desire of independence from either state.

Sadly, however, ‘a myriad unresolved factors in [India’s] ancient national psyche’ reactively become newsworthy while the quiet tolerant majority are ignored. Fundamentalists calling for a Theocratic State ‘threaten to fulfill India’s irrevocable destiny or send the nation spiraling off course.’

‘It is perhaps a singular Indian trait’ wrote India Today of March 31, 1990 ‘to look for scapegoats whenever the crying need is for brutal self criticism.’

Or does Indian need to again look within – as Ramakrishna, Ram Mohun Roy and others suggest – and draw on it’s Hindu Monotheistic tradition to overcome what Murray describes as an ingrained arrogance and indifference fueled by an India divided by caste or growing economic inequality?

I hope India – the land I call home – reasserts her soul.


[1] The same policy was applied to other colonies. For example, there was immediate pressure on the colony of New South Wales to be profitable.

[2] Murray, B., 2003,‘Reflections from an Indian Diary’, Wakefield Press, Kent Town