By FEROZ SULTAN
“One year that could claim to change whole trajectory of Indian history of the 19th century, it would be 1857”.
This was the slogan used by the organisers of the dialogue on the historical event “1857-Understanding the Revolution”.
1857, the year which could well be described as the Indian First war for Independence. The major event which took place in that year was the collapse of the Mughal Empire leading to the control taken by the British crown.
The dreadful event of the former East India Company, a joint stock company which was established merely to trade with the Indian subcontinent but the way it managed to create a British Empire out of the mere territory, is indeed mysterious craftiness, which inspired the organisers to host an event for an interactive discussion on this topic.
Khalid Khan (SIO, Kolkata Secretary) and Muzzaffar Ali (Islamic Information Centre) organised this discussion on ‘1857-Understanding the Revolution’ on September 29 at Bangla Academy, Rabindra Sadan. The speakers and experts of history and literature invited for the interactive discussion were ‘Prof Rajnit Sen, former HOD, Islamic History and Culture, CU and Dr. Snigdha Sen, former Reader, Department of History, Savitri Devi College.
Not to disregard the highly intellectual audience who never shied away to put forward their astonishing comments which just enriched our knowledge more so. The dialogue was conducted in both English and Bengali.
The event began with a brief summary by the Conveyor, Khalid Khan.
Prof Ranjit Sen began his speech with general introduction of the topic and later elaborated some important points of 1857.
Prof. Sen clarified that following the victory in the Battle of Plassey, the East India Company formed a firm foothold in the eastern region but it was the consolidated effort on the part of the defeated Mughal Empire Shah Alam II from the Battle of Buxar that gave the company an opportunity to ‘collect revenue’ from Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and led it to further rapid expansion of its territories and thus control of the vast region of India.
But, as mentioned by Prof Sen, this was not a major reason for the vast expansion but several other events which took place later contributed to the expansion of the company.
Dr. Singdha Sen spoke about the dominion of the higher casts within the Bengali army which led to mutinies causing the rebellion. For Example, Warren Hastings, the first Governor General recruited farther west from the high cast rural Rajputs and Brahmins. The company polluted the encouragement of high cast ritual status within the soldiers which left the Government vulnerable to protest. The company also targeted Hindus and Muslims for conversion to Christianity.
Dr. Singdha Sen also spoke about the likes of Rani Lakshmi Bai and her role in the revolt: how she rallied and fought fiercely against the forces of the British troops.
Prof. Ranjit Sen spoke about of the Hindus and Muslims participating in the revolt such as Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor crowned by the Indian troops. Earlier, Zafar was unwilling but he agreed to raise his voice against the English which he did with a short sermon calling the Hindus and Muslims together to join the revolt against the British.
The Deobandi movement also tried to reform the Muslims but Prof Ranjit Sen confessed that there was one way where they regenerated the Muslims and there was the other way of modernisation but the two ways sadly could never meet.
The Shia and the Sunnis also joined the revolt against the British.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, a distinguished scholar, worked as a jurist of the British East India Company. He later wrote a book, The Causes of the Indian Mutiny which criticised the British policies being mainly responsible for causing the revolt.
Prof. Ranjit Sen spoke about the impact of Raja Ram Mohan Roy on the Indian History and how Roy was a Muslim by heart and also dressed like a Muslim. The same was also said about the dress of Rabindra Nath Tagore.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy preached the theory of ‘One True God’. He also estimated that how much money was driven out of India and predicted that half of the total revenue collected in India was sent out to England leaving India to do with the taxes with the remaining money.
Prof. Ranjit sen states that this was the reason that India remained a poor country.
Later on, the questions and comments from the audience also prompted the speakers to briefly speak on those great persons who are not much mentioned in history showcased by the British historians.
Bankim Chandra, a famous Bengali writer and poet, served as a Deputy Magistrate and Collector for the government of British India. He composed a song ‘Vande Mataram’ which inspired many activists during the Indian Freedom Movement.
Maulana Khairabadi, a Muslim leader, called for jihad against the British, causing the British to think that Muslims were the main force behind the event.
Sadly, because of the short time limit, the likes of Ghalib were not talked about; when and how the revolt influenced and affected his poetry because of the greater disturbances.
Before the event, there were many negative comments from the Muslim community that such programmes were not necessary as they had no relation with Islam. But Shahnawaz Ali Raihan, Ex National Secretary, SIO, from the audience in his comment, during the end of the session, said, “Everyone says that the battle fought in the name of religion (Islam) is only ‘Jihad’ but if some white men comes to your land to throw you out and occupy it, then fighting against them for your right is also ‘Jihad’. The comment was indeed praiseworthy!
Overall the bulk of the session was addressed by Prof. Ranjit Sen. Dr. Singhda Sen also shared part of her vast knowledge about history. Khalid, the convenor, kept the interest of the audience intact with his humorous dealings. Muzaffar Ali gave his comment on the activities of ‘Islamic Information Centre’ at the end of the session. The audience comprised Muslims and Non-Muslims. Nevertheless, the whole session was very much appreciated and the response from the audience was overwhelming.
As Prof. Ranjit Sen said that he, if required, would be ever ready to act as a comrade for the Muslim community and the session came to an end with his last comment “let’s celebrate this as a “Moment of History”.