Monday, 28 January 2008

A Clash on the idea of Progress

Financial Express 28th January 2008

As the massively underplayed, almost invisible 150th anniversary celebrations of 1857 wind down, one may well wonder why a movement that gave India’s erstwhile colonial masters their biggest scare ever, defined almost all their following policies, had such a long memory in oral history been so downplayed? Irrespective of the search for nomenclature defining its nature — mutiny/ revolt/ uprising/ petty bourgeois/ jacquerie — similar movements in other nations have had state-driven, passionate searches to unearth the smallest detail. What was its exact extent — geographically and in its scope? What were its socio-economic underpinnings? Who participated, who reaped the benefits by siding with the British? How many people died in the events of 1857? Why have we as a nation so bought into the British opinion that it was a mutiny? Fortunately most recent studies have debunked that it was just a soldiers’ revolt, but the knowledge has largely been confined to rarefied academic echelons. Amaresh Misra, author of Lucknow: Fire of Grace and Mangal Pandey: The True Story of an Indian Revolutionary, has written War of Civilisations: India AD 1857, a massive 3,000+-page, two-volume tome in which he has claims to make that would at least lead to further debate — 10 million dead, pan-Indian spread, longer-lasting reverberations than usually suspected. Suman Tarafdar summarises conversations with the author. Excerpts:

You do call your book a War of Civilisations?

I want to allude to the current clash of civilisations and go beyond it. The conflict is real, and its contours need to be defined. 1857 saw the British idea of progress clashing with the Indian one.

Did the British fail to gauge the nature of Indian capitalism?

We need to look at 1857 from an indigenous perspective. For India, the elements of capitalist progress were inside its rural infrastructure. While in the West, the city led the villages, it was the peasant-led pattadari system — by which 15-20 gotrabhais held land, in which the peasant and the artisan were integral to the system. The British failed to gauge the nature of Indian systems, and by the Permanent Settlement, destroyed them by reversing the direction of Indian capitalism, converting the talukdars into landowners, making the peasant a tenant and rupturing his links withthe artisan.

How did you arrive at a figure of 10 million dead, a massive jump from previous estimates?

Besides accessing sources not previously accessed, and relying on the labour and road survey reports of the time. A large reason for UP-Bihar belt remaining backward for long was that there was no labour, and the then intelligentsia was killed off. I provide the sources, it is up to others to agree or dispute them.

And the extent is wider than the Hindi belt?

Absolutely. The Hazara gazetteers mention the 55th BNI revolting in Nowshera and proceeding to meet Bahadurshah Zafar’s troops, while Gilgit ruler Gohar Aman was also coming to unite with them. In Gujarat areas the Mehsana and Borada gazetteers also mention vast sections of the state, especially Dahod, Godhra and central Gujarat revolting. The Okha Vaghelas revolted too, and the rare naval battles against the British are here. Then there is the Bhil-Koli uprising in the Nashik belt. Ratnagiri and Aurangabad areas are affected. Areas in north Karnataka, like Raichur and Bijapur had the Ramoshis, later dubbed ‘criminal’ castes by the British, in revolt. The Gond Rajas were Mughalised, and the tribes also sided with the Mughals. The Godavari delta saw Reddi landlords and Gurjar tribals fight together, while the 8th Madras Cavalry revolted too. The four big states that did not revolt were those of the Nizam, the Cis-Sutlej states, Kashmir and Nepal, and they were rewarded.

You see a conscious divide post 1857?

Instead of policies of modernisation followed by the likes of Bentinck, the British went on a conscious mode of orientalising — bringing back old faultlines, which by mid-18th century had vanished. Henry Lawrence gave a Hindu-Muslim-divide speech on May 12, the logic of which is still followed. The process was complex. They created new landlords, consuming classes and castes. They couldn’t do to India what they had done in the Americas, Africa and Australia, wiping out memory. More than a political war, bitter and racially contested, it was also a war to preserve memory.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Lyndon LaRouche lauds Amaresh Misra's findings

HISTORY: What Every "Ugly American" Must Know about the "Civilized British"

Aug. 24, 2007 (LPAC) One of the tragedies of English-speaking British colonies is that their history under the British rule was written by the British historians, or by those natives who were trained by the British historians. However, it seems the time has come to record history in its true light-- at least so in India.
Amaresh Misra, writing about India's first war of independence in 1857, in his recently published book, In War of Civilisations: India AD 1857, said that there was an "untold holocaust" that caused the deaths of almost 10 million people over 10 years, beginning in 1857. British-fed historians, claims Misra, have counted only 100,000 Indian soldiers who were slaughtered in savage reprisals, but none have tallied the number of rebels and civilians killed by British forces desperate to impose order.
"It was a holocaust, one where millions disappeared. It was a necessary holocaust in the British view because they thought the only way to win was to destroy entire populations in towns and villages. It was simple and brutal. Indians who stood in their way were killed. But its scale has been kept a secret," Misra told the Guardian in an interview
Misra's calculations rest on three principal sources. Two are records pertaining to the number of religious resistance fighters killed -- either Islamic mujaheddin or Hindu warrior ascetics committed to driving out the British. The third source involves British labor-force records, which show a drop in manpower of between a fifth and a third across vast swaths of India, which as one British official records was "on account of the undisputed display of British power, necessary during those terrible and wretched days -- millions of wretches seemed to have died."
Misra is right. One of author's close friends lost 17 of his 19 family members at the time because one of them was a senior advisor to the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Indian Express 8th January 2008

The Gujarati elite comprising ruling class, Mahajans were pro-British

Saurav KumarPosted , January 08, 2008 at 03:17:23

Ahmedabad, January 7 When the country was up in arms against the British in the First War of Independence in 1857, Gujarat, then the land of many princely states, was the only place in the country where a true-blue anti-colonial, anti-feudal peoples movement powered by an alliance of Kolis, Bhils, and Muslims, with helping hands from Khastriyas and Patels, was taking shape.
“Driven by the British polices and the angst of the peasantry with the rulers, it was perhaps the earliest example of social engineering in modern India. It was against the British rule and also against the local rulers and is the one aspect that has largely been ignored in the accounts of 1857. It was an historical alliance that predated the Congress’ much-touted KHAM alliance of the 1980s by more than a century and the real Gujarati Gaurav,” says Amaresh Misra, author of the just-released “War of Civilisations: 1857 AD”, a two-volume, 2,000-page opus that comprehensively spells out the history of 1857 making several startling revelations along the way.
Misra says, “In North India the peasantry and the ruling classes were of the same caste in many instances and they together rose against the Empire. In Gujarat, however, a class conflict was visible. The Gujarati elite comprising the ruling class and the rich Mahajans were pro-British and the peasantry from different castes rose in defiance.”
The most striking revelation in the book is the brutal British response to 1857 as an Indian Holocaust. And in pegging the number of people killed in response top 1857 at 10 million, four million more than Hitler’s extermination of Jews, Misra has ventured where no historian before him has.
He says, “Strangely the number of casualties of 1857, barring Bipin Chandra’s figure of 1.5 lakh, has never been conclusively documented and I wanted to find it. Even 20 years after 1857, British Road survey and labour records mention that they cannot find people to carry out the work. They attribute this to the Sepoy Mutiny as they called it. In the Lucknow GPO, going through old records I found that between 1857 and 1867, there were 25 lakh letters that could not be delivered because the ‘people were not there’.”
Misra, a self-proclaimed Left nationalist, also argued in his book that historians have suppressed the peasant nature of the revolt of 1857, undoubtedly a pan-India revolt in favour of a more elitist narrative. He says, “It was an out an out peasant revolt. It could have paved way for a peasant nationalist form of capitalist development rather than the elite centric one we have right now.”
Coming to the present, Misra says the story of 1857 holds great lessons for the politicians of today.
“KHAM is an historical alliance and it is the only way the Congress can make a comeback here. It was resisted by the elite then and it is being elite today,” he says.
What Gujarat needs is a monument remembering Hamir Khan, Tilayar Khan, Mustafa KHan, Jivabhai Thakor and the other heroes of 1857 and as Misra puts it “feel real proud of them and their heritage