Punjabs role as most solid British East India Company region is well established.
This book highly exaggerates Punjabs role in 1857 as far as resistance against British East India Company was concerned.
Two minor puny insurrections at Gugera and Murree in Punjab made absolutely no impact on British East India Companys main effort against Delhi,the principal battleground of the 1857 rebellion.
The writer equates siege of Delhi where the company suffered more casualties percentage wise than siege of Sevastopol the bloodiest british siege which is unfair.
Extract from my book below:--
This is a much debated affair. The debate has degenerated in a very ugly manner into an irrational defence of Punjab loyalty by ardent modern Punjabi nationalists and misinterpreted in a very adverse manner by historians and thinkers with an anti Punjabi attitude. The job of the historian is not to defend or to condemn an action which was beyond the control of a nation or a leader at a particular time in history. The Punjabis were as much the prisoners of circumstances as the Madrasi or the Bengali or the Mahratta or the Rajput. The history of Punjab in the period 1707 to 1857 was actually more complex than the history of other parts of India. Leadership as far as the Muslims are concerned did not develop in Punjab because the Punjabi Muslim did not fit anywhere in the political expediency considerations of the Mughals. The Mughals preferred to recruit Muslims of Persian, Turk or Afghan descent. Among the non Muslims their first choice was the Hindu Rajput, particularly those from Rajputana proper since the Rajputs were the most dominant class in Hindu society. Later on, after 1689546 the emphasis shifted to the Mahrattas who were ennobled in large numbers by Aurangzeb as a political bribe to defeat Sivaji’s phenomenal rebellion.
Mughal historical record illustrate that the Punjabis by and large were very peaceful people. The region was prosperous and the weather and climate and fertility of soil contributed in making the inhabitants peace loving and easy to administer like most plain areas of India including the Gangetic plains etc. But the Mughals went wrong at one place and underestimated the resilience and moral force of a new religion which originated from Punjab in sixteenth century. Jahangir imprisoned the fifth Sikh Guru Arjun who died while being tortured under detention in 1606547. Aurangzeb the mild Stalin of India had the ninth Guru Tegh Bahdur executed in 1675548. Symbolically speaking this excess proved to be a major reason for the burning Sikh desire to destroy Delhi in 1857. But then it is an irony of history that Delhi has been burnt destroyed and looted by Muslims from Afghanistan, Iran and Rohailkhand much more by any non Muslim army except in 1857. Keeping in view the Mughal policy; the Sikh excesses at Delhi were a normal reaction of an aggrieved community. Till 1605 the Sikhs remained a peaceful religious group. But Arjun’s death while in prison turned a basically peaceful religious group into more serious dissidents. Thus Guru Har Govind adopted a more active policy unlike the previous Sikh Gurus. Thus the Sikhs brought into Punjab’s history a healthy tradition of manly and righteous resistance which had been missing in the region since Porus last opposed Alexander on the Hydaspes! Har Govind correctly assessed that without recourse to the option of militant resistance the Sikhs would be destroyed by the Mughals. Har Govind militarised the Sikhs and started a series of military actions which subsequently assumed the shape of a low intensity conflict or a guerrilla war against the Mughals. This low intensity war continued till Har Govind’s death in 1645. The Sikh resistance assumed more serious proportions once their Guru (Religions head) Tegh Bahadur was executed by Aurangzeb at Delhi in 1675. This execution proved to be a watershed in Sikh-Muslim relations and Sikhs from 1675 became vehemently anti Mughal and anti Muslim since they identified Mughals with Islam. The Mughals on the other hand were doing little more than manipulating religion for rationalising oppression as all kings of the world of that time did. There is no human passion as powerful as revenge in driving a man! Guru Govind Singh the son of Tegh Bahadur rightly decided to avenge his father’s death. Thus the Sikhs became a truly militarised sect under Govind. It is not our intention to discuss much more of Sikh history. But some background of this remarkable religious group is necessary for the layman.
The Sikhs were the toughest opponents of the British in battles fought on abs the population of the area they ruled in Ranjit Singh’s time. But being a totally militarised religious group largely composed of the Jat caste of Punjab they were more integrated than the majority Muslims and Pathans of their empire. The Muslims were firstly divided into two distinct races the “Pathans and the Punjabis”. The Pathans although of a better fibre were further sub divided into a watertight tribal society of various tribes. The Punjabi Muslims till 1849 had a negligible role in the elite power groups which controlled Punjab. The Mughals who were ruling Punjab from 1526 to 1748 kept their own hand-picked governors, mostly of Turkish, Persian or Pathan descent. Merely being Muslim did not qualify the Punjabi for a respectable place in the Mughal hierarchy. There was no religious oppression since the Punjabis were Muslims by majority, but consequently the Mughals saw no need to cultivate the Punjabis by ennobling them. This was a strange paradox which is common in world history. Without oppression there is little resistance and since there was no “challenge” which the Punjabi Muslim faced unlike his Punjabi Sikh counterpart, there was no “response”. Thus we see two simultaneous trends. Racially the “Punjabi Muslim” and the “Punjabi Sikh” were the same people. The Sikhs belonging to one of the farming caste the “Jats” to which many “Punjabi Muslims” belonged. But their faith united them more closely than the “Punjabi Muslim” since the “Punjabi Muslim” suffered from no religious oppression. Thus the Sikhs who were as plainly Punjabi as the Punjabi Muslims became remarkably militant, while the Punjabi Muslim remained placidly submerged in his Lassi and routine life, without any religious cohesion or fervour that the vacuum which was left following the decline of the Mughal Empire in the Punjab was filled not by the majority Punjabi Muslim or the Pathan Muslim or the Martial Afghan but by the smaller but more effective Sikh, who was a Punjabi Jat by chance and a Sikh by choice.
Thus by 1799 the Sikhs were masters of Punjab and by 1823 they had driven the Afghans to where they belonged i.e. out of Peshawar. It may be noted that racially the Afghans and East of Khyber Pathans are one race but there are certain subtle but marked differences in the two as far as culture and history are concerned. The Sikhs were doing exactly what Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan were doing in Mysore. Mysore was a Hindu majority area ruled by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan. They challenged the EEIC for more than thirty years and effectively led a Hindu majority area from 1769 to 1799 defying all theories and notions about Hindu Muslim differences and rivalry. These two rulers were able to inspire a Hindu majority area into a willing participation in a series of wars which constituted a succession of most serious challenges to the existence of the EEIC in South India. It is an irony of Indo Muslim history that the toughest Muslim challenge to the EEIC came not from any Muslim majority region but from Mysore a predominantly Hindu area! Even the regions between Delhi and Benares which were the heartland of various Muslim Empires in India played no part in resisting the British after the militarily small battle of Buxar in 1764!
The Sikhs could not annihilate the Muslims since it was physically impossible but they did suppress them. This does not mean that there was absolutely no Muslim participation in the government or administration of the country. There were many Muslim governors and subsidiary Chiefs but mostly in barren unproductive areas of Khushab Kalabagh etc. There was the Muslim Fakir family of Lahore who provided many ministers to Ranjit Singhs government. But the Multani Pathans or the Chahttas or the Bhattis who had resisted the Sikhs were persona non grata. Many Muslim mosques were turned into powder magazines and stables. Today many Pakistanis do not know this and in the process of murder of history in Pakistan in order to prove outmoded obscurantist theories about our past history the Mughals are glorified. But few people know that in actual fact the Mughals were not equal opportunity employers and in this regard the Sikh attitude towards the Punjabi Muslims in connection with distribution of power and patronage was nothing new. The sore point about Sikh rule in Punjab was religious oppression. The Punjabi and the Pathan Muslim for the first time suffered religious oppression during the Sikh time from roughly 1780 to 1849. It is interesting to note that the highly pragmatic and opportunist Muslim Tiwana and Noon Rajputs managed to win Ranjit Singh by sophisticated sycophancy and served him loyally at a time when Muslim mosques were used as stables and magazines! I am convinced that had the Russians captured Pakistan following Afghanistan in 1979 these feudals would have joined the Russian Army also!
The EEIC defeated the Sikhs in two wars i.e. the First Sikh War (1845-46) and Second Sikh War (1848-49) and annexed Punjab in 1849. During the First and Second Sikh war both the Punjabi Muslim and the Pathan Muslim actively helped the EEIC since they viewed the Sikhs as oppressors and the EEIC as their liberator. This is a crucial and decisive aspect about the EEIC annexation of Punjab. The annexation was welcomed by the majority of the population since they viewed the EEIC as a liberator who deposed the unjust and tyrannical Sikhs. Hence, the Punjabi and the Pathan Muslim loyalty of 1857 to the EEIC during the near fatal period of the siege of Delhi. On the contrary the annexation of Oudh in 1856 was viewed by the Muslim elite and the Hindu majority population of Oudh as an act of injustice, because in Oudh there was no religious oppression. The Shia Muslim dynasty was benevolent and liberal with its majority Hindu subjects. Oudh had never been invaded unlike Punjab or Frontier or Delhi by any hostile army since 1550. Thus the people of Oudh were in real terms a free people unlike most parts of India of the period 1607-1857.
The annexation of Punjab in 1849 introduced a very stable and efficient government in Punjab after ten years of absolute anarchy which had followed the death of Ranjit Singh. The EEIC administrators were very fair and effective and the province which had witnessed tremendous anarchy and bloodshed for a continuous decade became the most tranquil and prosperous province of India. The Sikhs were chivalrously and benevolently rehabilitated. The disbanded soldiers of the Sikh army were re employed, existing canals were improved and new canals were excavated. The whole country was systematically disarmed and all fortifications dismantled. The various Muslim mosques used as powder magazines and stables were restored to the Muslims. Most significant of these being the famous Badshahi Mosque of Lahore which was restored to the Muslims of Lahore after considerable efforts by John Lawrence the Chief Commissioner of Punjab in 1856.
The estates of many Muslims confiscated by the Sikhs were restored. The Muslims were recruited in the army, police and civil administration which were previously inaccessible to the Muslims. Many Muslims who had switched to the EEIC side were elevated to the status of feudal lords! It may be noted that Sikhs employed loyal Muslims mostly in the artillery only.
Thus when the rebellion broke out in 1857 the populace of the Punjab by and large felt little justification to participate in it. They correctly viewed the EEIC as a liberator as far as the Muslims were concerned and a just neutral party as far as the Sikhs were concerned. What sympathy could the Muslims have with the Mughal eighty two year old Emperor in Delhi whose ancestors had failed to protect the majority Muslim population of Punjab and trans Indus frontier from the depredations and excesses committed by plundering hordes of Persia, Afghanistan and the Sikhs from 1739 to 1849? The Sikhs on the other hand got a golden opportunity to destroy the accursed city of Delhi!
Every region of the Indo Pak subcontinent in 1857 was different. Leaders of one region were viewed as oppressors in another region. The EEIC was viewed as an oppressor in Oudh, Jhansi and in the Bengal, but as liberator in Punjab, Frontier and Rajputana. The India of 1857 was not organised on communal lines as much as the India of 1947 and merely being Muslim or Hindu could not make anyone a traitor by virtue of fighting on the EEIC side. If that was so the Bengal Sepoy was also a traitor for the hundred years before 1857. The word “traitor” does not suit the Indo Pak region because the region consists of various nations and religious groups. A more correct word for the natives fighting on EEIC is “subsidiary Collaborator”. A subsidiary collaborator fought for the EEIC for economic necessity. Speaking in nationalistic terms what “nationalism” could, the Hindustani fighting for the EEIC in the First Sikh war feel for the Sikh. What similarity was there to make the average Punjabi of 1857 identify with the Hindustani soldier of Bengal Army. Nationalism or “Pan Islamism” or any other “issues” came into existence in Indo Pak society once the people of Indo Pak subcontinent read Rosseau and Voltaire in the British created colleges and universities in the late nineteenth century. Even today what is similar between the Punjabi Rangers sepoy or policeman and the common man in Sindh or Karachi?
We may conclude that there was nothing abnormal in Punjab loyalty of 1857. The Punjabis were prisoners of their time and it was a twist of fate which placed the EEIC in the role of saviour of Punjabi and Frontier Muslim; and a chivalrous and religiously unbiased and liberal friend of the minority Punjabi Sikh. The Hariana Hindu Jat or Hindu Rajput was more politically aware since he had known more stability by virtue of EEIC rule since 1803. It is but a human characteristic that when man’s basic needs are satisfied, he wants higher things like sovereignty and independence. The Hariana and North West Provinces had know stability and peace since the EEIC annexed them in 1801 and 1803. They also in 1801 and 1803 welcomed the EEIC just like the Punjabi’s welcomed the EEIC in 1849. Because the EEIC in 1801 and 1803 had liberated the North West provinces and the Delhi area from the oppressive and predatory Mahrattas, Jats, Gujars, Mewatis and Rohillas. But that was 1803. In 1857 the people of North West provinces aspired for more. The Bengal Army sowar of 3rd Light Cavalry by resorting to the short cut of armed insurrection then was consciously fulfilling the aspirations of the people South of Ambala. The current of history in 1857 dictated that people of Indo Pak had to wait for nine more decades. There was nothing abnormal in the failure of the rebellion of 1857. The Indo Pak people failed where European subject nations like the brave Boers and the sturdy Irish had also failed. The commendable fact remains that a rebellion was attempted in 1857. On the other side the Punjab loyalty of 1857 had also its reasons. It can be best approached by being understood as it was rather than being despised or defended. The Punjabis squarely speaking cannot be blamed for their attitude in 1857. However, they also must not condemn the Hindustanis both Hindus and Muslims for having rebelled in 1857; as many Punjabis are doing today. Both the groups had different historical experiences and both behaved in an understandable and predictable manner.
The reader may feel that an out proportion attention has been given to the background of the Punjab loyalty of 1857. But this aspect of 1857 is relevant for us even today. We have to understand and digest this fact that belonging to the same religion cannot overcome the differences created by virtue of different perceptions produced due to different historical experiences or because of cultural and ethnic differences. The Muslim leaders of post 1940 Indo Pak sub continent managed to temporarily galvanise the Muslims in 1946 into sinking regional and cultural differences and establish a multi ethnic state but mere rhetoric and euphoria cannot make various ethnic groups a nation unless the political system is based on equality and mutual respect rather than mutual distrust and political manipulation based on ulterior designs. The result then is nothing but “Bangladesh! And perhaps many more “Deshes” “tans” and “lands” if the Neo Mughals of Delhi and Islamabad do not learn from history.
Punjab and the War of Independence 1857-1858: From Collaboration to Resistance
Punjab and the War of Independence 1857-1858: From Collaboration to Resistance Paperback – December 29, 2020
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About the Author
Turab ul Hassan Sargana, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan
Turab ul Hassan Sargana was born in the village of District Toba Tek Singh in the Punjab, Pakistan. He did his early education in Toba Tek Singh and Lahore. He graduated from Govt. College Lahore and completed his MSc and PhD in History from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. In 1993, Punjab Public Service Commission selected him as Lecturer; from 1993 to 2014, he has served in different colleges of Punjab as a Lecturer and Assistant Professor. In 2014, he joined Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan as an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and is still working there. Dr Sargana has presented several research papers in national and international conferences.
- Publisher : Oxford University Press (December 29, 2020)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 308 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0190701846
- ISBN-13 : 978-0190701840
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