India’s uprising of 1857

1857 is the year which characterized the great uprising in India. It was a time when the development of the common people’s political consciousness gave rise to an enormous uprising. Marx and many other philosophers wrote about this significant part of India’s history. 

Jawaharlal Nehru wrote about the significance of this revolution, he said, “it was much more than a military mutiny and it spread rapidly and assumed the character of a popular rebellion and a war of independence…essentially it was a feudal outburst, headed by feudal chiefs and their followers and aided by the wide-spread anti-foreign sentiments.”

From the point of view of the film that was screened in South Africa not very long ago titled “The Uprising” the feud was triggered by the offence caused by animal fat in the composition of the grease of the new Enfield rifle.” Such a line of thinking reduces the uprising to be inspired by religious sentiments. While religious rhetoric was used in the proclamations issued by the leaders but that is not sufficient reason to characterize the rebellion as one motivated by religious sentiments.

Anil Nauriya an advocate and a historian delivered the Sir Syed Memorial Lecture on October 17, 2007 under the auspices of Sir Syed Foundation, New Delhi at Jamia Millia Islamia.

He said, “An interesting aspect of Sir Syed's life is that it encompasses completely the life-span of Karl Marx. Sir Syed was born in 1817, a year before Marx. And he passed away in 1898, fifteen years after Marx. It is of more than passing interest therefore that Delhi became the subject of the writings of both Marx and Sir Syed. Marx focused on Delhi because he was writing on the events of 1857. Sir Syed did so because it was not only his home, but because the task suggested itself to him while holding judicial office in Delhi.”

According to Nauriya, Sir Syed “represented the hoary and disappearing tradition of Indian administration in which the administrators went out to do things themselves. 
When he was transferred to Bijnor, he prepared a history of Bijnor.  Finding himself there in the midst of the events of 1857, he went on to produce Sarkashi Zila Bijnor.”

In this book Sir Syed notes, “that orders were issued by the rebels that temples should not be damaged and that before these events there were no religious conflicts between Hindus and Muslims of the district.”

Nauriya mentioned “This year we are celebrating the completion of 150 years since the struggle of 1857. A few days ago we celebrated the memory of Maulvi Baqar, Delhi's and India's first editor-martyr in the struggle of 1857…We honour the Indian freedom fighters and we honour also Sir Syed who participated in these events from another side in Bijnor where he had exhibited considerable personal courage. We are able to do this, to some extent, because time places us above the din of the battle.”

Speaking about the causes of the rebellion outlined by Sir Syed, Nauriya sites the following,  
 The non-participation by the people in representative institutions. "there was no reason not to permit intervention in the Legislative Council
 Once the East India Company took over any place there tended to be attempts at interference in the religion of the people and to undermine their languages. He mentions Sanskrit and Arabic in this connection. During the famine of 1837, he said, there were attempts to convert orphans to Christianity and this was resented by the people. Government administrators in the country behaved like missionaries. 
 District administration were ignorant of the conditions of the people: "Out of fear all would say appeasing things and our government functioned on the basis of personalised rule"
 Unemployment especially among the Muslims. 
 The administration lacked feelings of love and unity with the Indians: "Our Government till date has kept itself so separate and unaligned from Indians as fire and dry grass" The government instead "should have been with the subjects of India as the rock bearing mica that, in spite of being (of) two different colours, is one. In the white color streaks of black look very beautiful and in black background white manifests its own beauty." He referred to the "(h)arshness and ill-tempered behaviour of the District Administration"

Sir Syed significantly contributed to both religious thinking in 19th Century India as well as in developing scholarship in science and technology. Syed tried to advance the idea that one should either be able to refute modern science or show that it is in conformity with Islam. For, he argued, the word of God (the Quran Sharif) could not be opposed to work of God (nature).

Nauriya said regretfully “Sir Syed's theological doctrines have not had many takers. One scholar of very considerable understanding and excellence, writing three decades ago, observed that even in Karachi University, Sir Syed's Tafsir had never been duplicated and perhaps not consulted (See Mrs Mehr Afroz Murad's , Intellectual Modernism of Shibli Nu'mani : An Exposition of His Religious and Socio-Political Ideas, Institute of Islamic Culture, Lahore, 1976, p.117). Yet fully to understand the scientific and rational approach of Shibli it is necessary also to understand the work of Sir Syed. For Shibli tries to resolve the same problem by distinguishing between science and philosophy.”

”Maulana Azad did not agree with Sir Syed's political line, holding that "the wrong lead he gave in politics has been responsible for many of the evils from which we have suffered" But even he was otherwise of the view that, as reformists, a comparison between Sir Syed and Raja Rammohan Roy ( 1772 ? – 1833) to "a large extent" was "valid". Azad declared that "what Raja Ram Mohan Roy did for Bengal was done by Sir Syed Ahmed, 40 years later, for Northern India and especially for the Muslims of the country".

The Grand Old Man of India, Dadabhai Naoroji refers generously to Sir Syed in his Presidential address to the Calcutta Congress in 1906 in the following terms: "Sir Syed Ahmed was a nationalist to the backbone. … In various ways, I knew that his heart was in the welfare of all India as one nation. He was a large and liberal-minded patriot. When I read his life some time ago, I was inspired with respect and admiration for him". He quoted a presumably earlier statement of Sir Syed's in which he had said: "In the word `nation' I include both Hindus and Mahomedans, because that is the only meaning I can attach to it". Naoroji recalled also Sir Syed's earlier statement on Hindus and Muslims as the two eyes of India and declared that "our emancipation depends upon the thorough union of all the people of India without any obstruction……I may conclude with the story from Hali. When once Sir Syed had an opportunity for personal revenge against a person who had on one occasion injured him, his mother prevented him from carrying it out, saying that revenge belonged to the Almighty. This, his biographer tells us, had a great moral impact on him.