Friday, November 17, 2006

In response to Mr. Sumir Sharma

Mr. Sumir Sharma is a lecturer from Ludhiana and has posted an extremely detailed comment in my previous post on The Last Mughal. He has a very nice history blog. He has some interesting perspectives on historical research and pedagogy.
This is in response to his comments. I have some more questions for him which arose from his comments on my post.
You say,
“So, when Zafar joined the Sepoys, it was the british that were mutinying against their masters, not the indians. I think it's really ironic that the british should consistently refer to the events as the Mutiny of 1857 :-)”
Well, Well. However, I will suggest that the domination of the East India company should be studied from Allahabad Treaty of 1765 onwards. Under Subsidiary Alliances, it was the elite group of the Indian society, which had surrendered India to them. Hence, by virtue of being the winners, the East India Company was ruling over India. Another best example is annexation of Sindh and Punjab. I hope you know that what the British officer said while annexing Sindh. He claimed that it was the finnest piece of rascality but they had done it. On the other hand, annexation of Punjab can never be justified. But only argument which can be used is that it was the prize won by the winner in Anglo Sikh war.

My comments were made in response to the sanctimony of the British when it comes to talking about or dealing with their imperial past. We lost, they won. To the victor go the spoils. That's the way of the world. What irritates me is how the british act as though they were somehow morally justified in their actions :-)

Only comment that can be made is that there is touch nationalistic urges in your statement. Somewhere, it is your country and your region (the region of Cholas, Pandya and Cheras) which are alive. You may be away from home but your heart is here. You will be surprised to know that it is a recent trend that the rule of Cheras and Cholas are being reinterpreted on a model which had been build around the history of some tribes in South part of Africa. The success of Cholas and the imperialistic activities are being under rated under that new interpretation.
That is an interesting statement. I don't understand it though. What do you mean when you say that Chola and Chera history is being reinterpreted in an African model. Like you have said elsewhere, shouldn't indian history be interepreted in an indian model?

But, I am unable to understand in spite of the teacher and student of history, that how this middle class theory had been build to gain the independence. My reading of history is taking me to a different direction. Middle Class and rise of Nationalism with Middle Class theories never appeal to me. The problem is that we have always picked western model as frame of reference to evaluate the Indian history. Similarly, the Marxist interpretation and the Grimansci model to interpret on the basis of fight for hegemony between the classes have also not cut ice with me.

What are the basic assumptions of these models and why don't you like them? I am not familiar with any of them.

You say,
“The history of the 1857 rebellion is taught very superficially in school.”

You are quite right. I would like to direct your attention to some of posts in my sumir-history blog. Actually there is a need of rewriting the Indian history. Kindly check the following posts wherein I have dilated on this issue in different contexts:
I did read these posts. It is quite interesting. I have thought quite a bit about Jinnah, Gandhi, Nehru and their role in creating Pakistan. We definitely need to reevaluate our near-term history. However, I think that as nations, neither we nor Pakistan is in a level of self-confidence where we can look at the historical basis for our creation dispassionately. I doubt if that will even happen in our lifetimes.
Which rolls me into your post about separating ideology from hitoriography. Again, I can do nothing but agree, with the caveat that what one believes in will color everything that one does. It is quite irritating though, to have to dig through ideology to find a couple of nuggets of truth.

“Apparently, Delhi was undergoing a cultural renaissance under him. He also seems to have been made in the mold of Dara Shikoh rather than Aurangzeb. He was a lover of the arts, a sufi, a pretty good poet himself and treated hindus and muslims equally.”
You have reached an established conclusion. I would like to direct your attention to a book of Muzaffar Alam “The Crisis of Empire in Mughal North India (Awadh and the Punjab 1707-1748) and second book by Ishrat Haq titled “Glimpses of Mughal Culture”. Ishrat Haq had treaded a new path wherein she had tried to study of the cultural changes as taking place through the poetry of the period by five major poets of the 18th century. She had also traced the similar changes in 19th century. You may enjoy reading the British Paramountancy by R. C. Majumdar. He has been able to bring out some more effective conclusions. It is really ironical that he was not given much recognition after the D. D. Kosambi and than later Marxist lot dominated this field.
I will try to track these books down.

You have read,
“The siege of Delhi, as it were, was actually carried out by gujjar tribesmen who looted anyone that entered or left the city, effectively choking the city out.”
Well R. C. Majumdar had never identified them with any particular group. Secondly, if you know, that such conclusions about Mewatis (Jats) had angered the particular community in India recently.
I can imagine that would happen. I don't think it is necessary, though. Different communities in India behaved differently during the rebellion, but it should not be a reason to question their current patriotism. Sikhs, would be one example.

No doubt, it was a strong contention of R. C. Majumdar that the event of 1857 should never be called the first war of independence. He had traced a regular theme in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1764, then inVellore Mutiny in 1806, then in Barrackpore Mutiny in 1824 and finally the 1844 mutiny and Afghan Mutiny during Anglo Afghan War.
I would agree. It was not exactly a national war. But it wasn't exactly a mutiny either.

Basic thing is reinterpretation is required. A set of concepts has to be framed which describe the events in Indian continent on the basis of the facts as they were there. The problem is that we have never been able to shed the edifice which J Mills constructed on the Indian history.
I agree with your concept that we need to reinterpret our history. However, who is J Mills and what did he do?

Now, when as a nation, we are finding our place in the community of nations, we find that we already have that vital force which makes us a nation. Go to America and live among them. You sense and feel that it something American spirit which are their strength. It is not racialism. That is only one shade. But there is totally a different existence and that is American Spirit. Here I would like to direct you attention to the following post.
I read these posts. I can do nothing but agree with your sentiments. Especially the ones at the end of the Bindee Tiwari posts (incidentally, the Last Mughal refers to that incident too). I don't know why we buy into the concept that there was no idea of India till the British came. In our epics and poems (even Tamil poems from the Sangam age), the idea that the peninsula all the way up to the himalayas is one land is expressed. Mind you, political contiguity eluded us unless there were really powerful kings who could bring the land under their sway. There has always been, in my opinion, the idea of a cultural unity across the country.
Your other remark that we should respect the fact that there were violent responses to British rule is also well taken. While I think that non-violent resistance was unique and had a lot of (possibly unintended) good effects on the country as a whole, denying our inherent militant nature will only lead to a sort of national schizophrenia :-) I think that part of the reason why Rang De Basanti was so wildly popular was that it focussed on a chapter of our struggle for Independence that was unabashedly militant. That and it was a good flick :-)

You have read,
“The sepoys violently changed the prevailing order in Delhi by riding in from Meerut and killing every single christian they could find.”
Well, I have not the read the book. It is now in the market. When I will visit my regular book store, I hope that I would get a copy of it there. I have read in the interview of Darlymple as given to BBC that he had located sources from it was learnt that the Indian converts to Christianity were the main target. Well, It is definitely a new finding as far as my knowledge goes. In case of Tribal revolts, we have been studying that when such revolt took place then the immediate oppressors, whether they were money lenders, or Gora Babu or Gumastas of British company, they became their target of their anger. I think that there had never been anti-Christian riots as such. It is something which has been observed in recent times only. But anyhow, I think I should first look into the book. I believe that your present review is immediate reaction after reading the book. I will like to suggest you that History is an Art, a Science and literature; all three combined to make the writing of history. The literature aspect of history writing is a feature which play wonders as well mischief if an artist of words wields the pen. But I am not convinced that this anti-Christian feature was there in 1857.
I was merely reporting what I read in the book. I think it is conceivable though.

Now do not bring in the social reformers in it. I think the criticism of Keshav Chander Sen is wrong. Similarly the aversion to the activities of Pandita Ramabai is also not justified. All these features had to been to re examined.
I just looked them up on wikipedia:-) Why was Keshav Chandra Sen criticized? What is their bearing on what the sepoys might have done?

The Christians activists were here since the days of Portuguese. Even there is a theory that it is here since the days of Saint Peters. But, this feature of killing Christian agenda is something which requires some established proofs. One or two reference and then to declare it a history will turn out to be a Bad history.
Once again, I will do nothing but agree.
“Apparently the extent to which the first-generation british had integrated themselves into indian society is not stressed by the indians or the british”

Well I am also surprised. We have been reading the quotation of Thomas Roe which totally contradicts it. No doubt, there were people like William Jones, Charles Wilkins, H. H. Willson, John Princep, the people at short lived Wellesley School or as they are know are the Orientalists. They were attracted to Indian literature. They were impressed and influenced by it. Macaulay had just given sweeping statements.
Just so I understand, the earlier guys were favorably impressed by Indian literature and the later guys like Macaulay were pretty much of the opinion that Indian literature and culture was trash?

Even there are doubts about the contexts in which he had written those lines. But, absorption in social and cultural tradition – it is something which I would also like to study. Well there is a book by Thompson titled “Other Side of the Medal”, in which he had written some thing similar to it. However, that was about the sympathy and some extent an affinity of some British people with Indian way of life. Well in present day India, there is Ruskin Bond and Tom Alter who will be happy reading such theories. However, English gone native seems to be a new theory.

Right. You should read the other book by William Dalrymple called White Mughals. I haven't read it myself, but I believe it focusses on the Englishmen-gone-native.

You have read,
“At this point, the East India Company had made the move of invading and occupying Avadh, a rich indian state that was also home to many of its sepoys. Avadh was a friendly state to the British. This sent out a loud message to other states in India that your disposition towards the british didn't matter to them, they would take you over anyway.”

Well this is an established theory. However, I will like to draw your attention to my one of my another post. I hope you can read Hindi. It is given below.
My hindi reading speed is quite slow, but I will be sure to plough through these.

You have read,
“In others, like Delhi, it was certainly a religious war.”

Well, it is a sweeping statement. Was there “Manifest Destiny theory” more in operation than other urges. I will suggest that you must read the following post by Prof. R. K. Khanna.

You have commented that
“The british response took on an extremely religious overtone.”

It is a new theory. It requires further examination.

Anyhow, finally, you have done a great job. The book in question has been released in India also. I will definitely read it at the earliest. However, the interview of the author to BBC had definitely biased the judgement. Secondly, it is again the same old story that a foreigner comes to India, finds some untouched paper, picks them and write a book out of them and then we Indians start reacting to it. We in India, do not have it in us to do it first. We wait others to come and make us to react against him. Then the contents of our reaction are then projected as our statement. If any of us try to take initiative, first comes the discouragement and the second problem is always the funding which can be obtained only if you have the right networking.

I picked up the book in Chennai, actually. I agree that I would like to see more Indian writers of Indian history come forward. As for the book, it is not as dry as my review might have made it seem. It actually reads like a novel with a lot f discussion and descriptions of characters that played a role and the bystanders. I look forward to your opinions after you read the book.

I also just read your post on the sources for 1857, I will follow up on those.

1 comment:

Mudra Rakshasa said...

Actually William Dalrymple pretty much lives in India. Also his family (they are Scots) have a long assoiation with India. In fact, the starting point for the White Moghuls were personal papers of some ancestor found in the attic of the family home.