Friday, April 18, 2014

Mutiny or Uprising of 1857?

The following is from a correspondence (of comments) on Facebook with a friend, D.R..  D.R.'s first comment refers to an Indian man who is alleged to be 179 years old, according to the available local official documents. I have lightly edited the correspondence, in a few places, mostly for spelling and grammar.

D.R.  I would like to sit at his feet and hear about his take on the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857....
April 16 at 11:03pm · Edited · Unlike · 1

<Some comments made by A.J. and D.R. were deleted here. They had no bearing on the events of 1857>
Arjun Janah  To be Subcontinentally Correct, that's the Indian Rebellion or Uprising of 1857.
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Arjun Janah What's the Middle East to some, is West Asia to others. So one country's freedom fighters are another country's terrorists and so on. In our case, our freedom fighters (against the Soviets in Afghanistan) turned into our terrorists (as in 9-11). Such things do happen.
11 hrs · Like

D.R.  As far as I'm concerned Bombay is still Bombay. It's ludicrous to change a Portuguese name into the same Portuguese name with another spelling and pronunciation in order to "Indianize" it. As for the rebellion, the Sepoy mutiny is a better descriptive term because that's what it was. To change it to the "Indian rebellion" or such is silly, like changing the name of Bombay. A rebellion in a military organization is a mutiny ! It was sepoys, or soldiers who were the rebels, not the population at large, that was the salient feature of the rebellion. I've been fed up with this ridiculous movement to change names, often in India from simple names to much longer and more complicated names. Why have a complex about history? It's history, part of India's history, for better or worse. We haven't seen all this in places like Singapore or Hong Kong, have we?
5 hrs · Like

D.R.  What's more, when the new Indian street names are long, they are shortened to English initials, and then transcribed into Hindi, so B.C. road becomes Bee See Road in Hindi or other regional languages depending on location. Sub-intelligently correct...
2 hrs · Like

Arjun Janah  There is no shortage of stupidity and chauvinism in the subcontinent (in all of its nation-states) as also elsewhere. Nation-states themselves are too often abominations, in my humble opinion, just as Empires were, and just as the feudal landlord systems were in so many parts of the world for so long, before the nation states and the great European colonial empires -- and sadly still are.

You can of course call it the Sepoy Mutiny if you wish. It's simply a matter of perspective. That's why I gave the example of West Asia and The Middle East. We learned the history of the 1857 uprising from our English masters, filtered and written in the way they viewed it. It was one of many rebellions against the British, all invariably put down with extreme brutality. This one involved the sepoys, among others, who had access to guns and were able to organize in military formations, so it created more havoc and fear among the colonialists than others had. Without it, the de facto rule of the predatory East India Company would have continued unchecked.

If you recall the sorry history of that Company, local resentment had long been brewing against this colonial enterprise that tapped into the local parasitical feudal system but drove it into extremis, demanding so much that the landlords, in turn, were forced to literally starve their tenant peasants to satisfy their own overlords. The Sepoy Mutiny, whatever be its immediate spark, was a symptom of this. In practice, if you scratch the surface, most human things have economic drivers, however they may be cloaked in religious or other garbs.

This is what happens when raiders enter a country. A traditional rajah or nawab will squeeze his peasants, but not to the point of death, as that would be killing the goose and inviting insurrection. Those who are there for the short-term, be they raiders from the Afghan or Maratha hiighlands, Portuguese pirates or English merchants determined to make their fortunes as fast as possible so they can rise in England's own class system -- these have no such compunctions.

The British Crown that replaced the East India Company's rule after the rebellion was more circumspect, settling in for the longer haul of sucking the country dry without causing open insurrection. Of course, its own sorry history in south and east Asia should be well known, including its development and legal monopoly on the opium trade out of India into China, forced onto the latter via the Opium War and the ruthless bombardment of the densely populated Chinese coast -- the one that led, among other things, to the ceding of Hong Kong to the British.

I do not know the history of Singapore (Singha Pura, literally, Lion-City) but it might be worth researching.

In the case of the Opium Trade and War and Hong Kong, a parallel (ridiculous as it sounds) would be if an ascendant China, in league with Russia, Korea and others, had grown in reach and power and had occupied Colombia, had declared a monopoly on the buying of coca leaves, had converted large tracts from food crops to coca plant production, had set up factories in that region producing great cannonballs of cocaine (as the British did with opium) and had then begun to export these into Miami and other ports along the U.S. coast, feeding into the demand created by local social conditions in this country, whose populace had fallen on hard times, but still was unwilling to purchase the shoddy goods being produced by the Chinese (as the Chinese, up to and perhaps past the mid 1800's, had been reluctant to buy British products).

Pushing the analogy further, were the weak U.S. federal government -- notified by local officials about the growing addiction and crime problems in Miami and elsewhere caused by this illegal import of cocaine -- were they to attempt to correct this, first by issuing legal warnings that were ignored, and finally by raiding the warehouses, confiscating the cocaine and dumping it in the sea (as the Chinese official in charge of operations did with the opium, fearful of burying it in the land or burning it, for interesting reasons) -- were this to happen, then we might see outraged Chinese merchants send messages to Beijing, saying Chinese sovereignty had been assaulted, causing the navies of the Chinese, along with the Russians, Koreans and others, to shell the unprotected coastline, from Miami in Florida north to Baltimore in Maryland, causing no end of civilian casualties, until, at last, ports were ceded, with 100 year contracts, to these great powers, and the laws of the U.S. regarding the import of such substances was effectively annulled, with military operations subsequently launched on land by the foreign powers to suppress those rebellious citizens and localities that had denounced the compromise made by Washington and had risen up in rebellion against these great powers and our own collaborationist federal government.

But this, in effect, was what happened in China, with the Boxer Rebellion being the historical counterpart of that uprising, and Queen Victoria's court in London playing the part of the Beijing government whose navy took part (in our imagined scenario) in the shelling of the U.S. coastal cities.

Of course, the British had a number of accomplices in this, and if you go to the Roosevelt residence in upstate NY, you will find records of how that family acquired its wealth through that same Opium Trade and War. Of course, some of the recently-risen drug lords in Cali (and elsewhere in Columbia and other places) had also grown  very wealthy and powerful. But they had prices on their heads and could not hope, perhaps, to give rise to two Presidents as they did here. ( I will not venture to speak of Afghanistan, whose populace has been devastated by violent superpower interventions and fratricidal civil words for many tortured decades.) And we have no figures there in Colombia comparable to the British royal family, whose fortunes took off with the pirate raids on the Spanish galleons bearing loot from Spain's own ravaged American colonies, and then skyrocketed with colonial enterprises the world over, which left British footprints and faces on every continent except Antarctica -- too often, driving the natives to extinction or desperate straits, with the royal exchequer profiting from every enterprise, however sordid or gory. But so it is with all empires.

One man's freedom fighter is another's terrorist, and one man's great king or emperor is another's despot. That has always been true. I am sure George Washington (affluent landlord and slave owner as he was) was viewed with as much disfavor by the British moneyed classes as King George was by their counterparts in the American colonies. Our own (Indian) Prime Minister called the "Maoists" the "greatest threat to India's security" but the extent and intensity of the unrest in tribal and poor rural parts of India indicate that, from the point of view of the populace in these regions, what we are seeing is in large part a struggle for basic survival. From the perspective of many of the locals, it might seem that the corporations that are driving them off their ancestral fields and forests, with the active collaboration of the local and national governments and their police and military forces, as well as local armed para-military organizations, are "the greatest threat to our very existence".

As far as Indianization of names go, some, I agree, are ridiculous. Others are perfectly natural, as the change of name of my city of birth, from Calcutta to Kolkata, was -- a change opposed vociferously, and even in an organized fashion, within my own extended family. But as I pointed out to my late father (who was neutral on this), the latter (or, before our times, its archaic form, Kolikata) has always been the name of the city among Bengalis, who constitute, by far, the majority of its populace. Granted, it was the British, including the rapacious East India Company, that brought the city into existence as we know it, including much of its wonders as well as horrors. But the British had a habit of murdering subcontinental place names, especially the ones in the east with the rounded vowels of Oriya, Bangla and Ahomiya.

All of that being said, at great length, and being probably merely a verbose restatement of things you and others already know, I agree with you that history is history, for better or worse, and that cosmetic changes of names accomplish little by themselves, perhaps only serving to obscure that history, whose darker recesses hold things that few on either side want exposed to light, but from which there is still much to learn.
13 mins · Edited · Like

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