Swaraj@ 75: An overview of the Struggle for Independence
WebdeskAug 21, 2021, 03:56 PM IST
Lakhs of countrymen lost their lives. The British committed massacres. A spirit of nationalism was ignited. Little wonder, a myth was spread that the First War of Independence was limited only to Northern parts of India. In reality, the whole of Bharat fought this war
Every Indian will feel proud hearing the events of the War of Independence of 1857. This war was the most phenomenal, stupendous, surprising and unparalleled event in the history of the world. The War of Independence shook the whole world as it was the first challenge anywhere to the imperialist British rule by organised rebellions of Indians across the country. Lakhs of people lost their lives. The British not only committed massacres but indulged in robbery as well. This war went on for more than a year.
Facts about the War of Independence also give us an insight into the causes that led to the war, the kind of efforts that went into it and its effect on the social life of the country. Here are a few facts about the 1857 War of Independence that is sure to increase one’s interest in the unparalleled phenomenon.
A myth was spread that the war was limited only to Northern parts of India. But in actuality, the whole of Bharat had fought this war. The whole country fought as one irrespective of caste and creed. Soldiers, landlords, farmers, laborers, poor, Dalits, women and intellectuals, everyone fought together in the war. Justice Macarthy has written in his ‘History of Our Times’ that, “The reality is that the revolt was affected by the people of entire Northern and North-Western regions of the country”.
The War of 1857 was not just some eccentric indulgence of a few kings and their soldiers who were in power. It was a planned collective effort. Although the war did not give the expected results and some term it as a failure, the war paved the way for a future where Indians stand up together and fight. In spite of all the brutality the Britishers heaped on the Indians, they failed to curb their desire for Independence.
It is said that the British killed the intense desire of Indians for Independence. As a matter of fact the war was the beginning of a joint effort for Independence. It was also claimed that the British quashed rebellion as easily as flicking away a fly on one’s shoulders, but the fact remains that the War for Independence affected the future course of action of Indians across all regions.
Those who participated and contributed to the struggle for Independence in 1857 are venerable forever. Veer Savarkar wrote, “Those who did not have courage or strength but only prayed that their nation should be free from foreign rule also played a role in this fight for independence.”
Christianisation of Bharat
The East India Company emphasised on Christianisation of India. In the army camps, Rama, Krishna, Prophet Muhammad, Vedas, Quran were abused and if any Indian soldier protested, they were punished.
Due to the mass conversions that happened in the country, there was a lot of dissatisfaction and bitterness. Christian missionaries increased phenomenally with the help of the British Government.
In the context of Indian Christians, the President of the board of directors of the East India Company gave a speech in the House of Commons in 1857. He had said, “God has handed over the great empire of India to England so as to convert all the Hindus to Christianity. For this we should work very hard and leave no stone unturned to make sure that the flag of Christianity flies high from one end of India to the other.”
There was a dedicated scheme to convert Indian soldiers on their rolls too. A British officer of the Bengal army wrote in his report, “I have been religiously converting the soldiers for the past 28 years as it was my duty to free the Indian soldiers from the claws of the devil and bring them to the refuge of the one true God.”
(Source: ‘1857 War of Independence’ by Shridhar Paradkar)
Three other important aspects of the 1857 War of Independence:
Satyagraha and armed rebellions for Independence were carried out by various individuals and organisations.
The environment for the Independence struggle was also set by those who travelled to foreign shores.
Satyagraha and protests happened all over India across the regions and not just few pockets
Veer Savarkar’s Historic Work
Veer Savarkar’s work titled “1857 Ka Swatantrya Samar” (1857 War of Independence) is the first book of history in the world which was banned even before being published. This book was written by Savarkar in 1909 utilising the books and references in the India office Library in London.
Veer Savarkar dedicated 1.5 years studying the British archive and documents related to the 1857 uprising. During the next few decades, his book became famous as ‘The Gita of Revolutionaries’ and was translated into many languages as well. It was sold at a premium price of Rs 300 per copy in those days. This book was also published by Madam Kama, Lala Hadayal, Subhash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh in the subsequent days. In the camps of Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army of Subhash Chandra Bose), studying Savarkar’s book on the 1857 War of Independence was mandatory.
In 1908, Savarkar wrote in the newspaper Talwar which was being published from France, “While the objective of my book is certainly to bring out the facts and historical truths, my objective is also to kindle the fire to free India in the conscience of every common man of India and initiate the second war of Independence.”
Overview of the Struggle for Independence
Sardar Panikar in “A survey of Indian history” writes everyone during the War of Independence had only one common desire - to throw the British out and make India Independent. In this light, it certainly cannot be called a mere protest or a sporadic rebellion. It was in fact a great national uprising.
Tatya Tope during his trial at Shivpuri had told the judge, “I know very well that we will have to face death because of our uprising against the Britishers. Neither I need a court nor be part of any case”.
Vasudev Balwant Phadke in his call to all Indians said, “O Indians! Why should I not accept death just as Maharshi Dadheechi did? By sacrificing myself why should I not try to free you from slavery and sorrow? My final greetings to you all.”
‘Amrit Bazar Patrika’ in its November 1879 edition had written this about Vasudev Balwant Phadke - “He was an amalgamation of the qualities of all great men who came to this world for an important cause. He was a messenger of the Almighty. The greatness of his personality was akin to comparing the height of a common man to that of the Satpura or Himalayas.”
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