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1857 Rebellion In The 19th Century Notes

History Notes > Empire and Nation: Britain and India Since 1750 Notes

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1857 Rebellion in the 19th Century The 1857 revolution has been complicated by partisan accounts on both sides: Contemporary and later British historians have sought to minimize the Company's responsibility, whilst Indian historians have tended to depict the events as an glorification of the Indian nationalist movement that would later challenge colonial rule in the twentieth century, e.g. V.D. Savarkar who described the events of 1857 as 'the first national war of Indian independence'. By contrast R.C. Majumadar has commented that the so-called First National War of Indian Independence is neither first, nor national, nor a war of independence. It is not first because uprisings were a common feature of the nineteenth century, it is not national because huge tracts of the population hardly took part in the uprising, and its not a war of independence since the motives of the mutinying groups varied a great deal. 1857: time of radical experimentation and desperate contingency in the development of a British system of government which created widespread resentment. Series of petty interventions by the Company's officials, such as the rounding up and incarceration of prostitutes whenever there was an outbreak of venereal disease amongst troops (Ballhatchet) The question of increasing land tax also prompted widespread grievances. This might have been bearable at a time of agricultural prosperity, but the reality was that the early nineteenth century was a period of profound economic depression. Why did land tax cause so much resentment?
(1) According to Crispin Bates, British methods of collecting these taxes were also unpopular, since they involved the introduction of a European system of courts, with defaulters arrainged to meet before magistrates. Such measures were novel, confusing and illegitimate in the eyes of many Indians. Courts seen as an affront to traditional hierarchy in many areas. (2) The courts also greatly increased the power of the sahukar or bania moneylenders to whom many were indebted, a further cause of resentment (Hardiman) (3) Above all, the decisions of the courts were resented because they were final. Tax collection had always been a matter for negotiation under the Mughals: those who could not pay would be threatened, but quite often a compromise was possible to achieve. Mutiny a common feature of this period - rebellion in 1857 is in many ways not extraordinary, however, different in two ways:

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