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October 24, 2006


A few bones to pick:

1. The idea of a nation was a 19th century European construct, applied to what we tend to refer to as a nation-state today. Its application to large entities such as India was dubious at that time.

2. Churchill, as always, was being the boneheaded imperialist regarding this as well. He knew that if there was a case for nationhood based on civilizational continuity, India (and China) qualified far better than did Britain.

3. What happened in 1857 was not merely a "mutiny", but a full-fledged rebellion. It was explicitly directed against all the British and not merely against harsh army superiors. If it were only a "Sepoy Mutiny" it would have been restricted to the Bengal Army, with no action in Kalpi, Jhansi etc.

Calling it the "First War of Independence" is only about as much of an exaggeration as calling the rebellion of the American colonies the "Revolutionary War".

Many thanks for your note. You're the first to comment on my new blog!

I agree with 1) but sense contradictions between 1) and 2). A boneheaded imperialist Churchill was, but he did occasionally come out sounding right, even if by accident. ;-)

As for 3), is "rebellion" that different from "mutiny"? I’m not arguing about the scale. My point is that those rebelling in 1857 were not united in their sense as "Indians". They were not fighting for an independent nation (like the 20th century nationalists) but were trying to protect their own princely turfs and had their own separate gripes and agendas against the British. It was a convenient alliance of disparate interests. Besides, not everyone was united against the British. The Sikhs and the Gurkhas joined ranks with the British because local issues were far more important than any overarching idea of "India", "Indians", or "nation". I submit that these ideas began gathering steam only under the Crown (after 1858).

I agree that the notion of India as a unified entity was far from the minds of the rebels and was certainly not a motivating factor in 1857.

Nevertheless, the word "mutiny" was used by the British to minimize the scope of the resistance. The word conveys the sense of violent reaction against oppressive superior offices (think "Mutiny on the Bounty").

European thought in the 19th century believed in the existence of nations such as Britain, France, Germany and Italy, but did not acknowledge nationalist aspirations among subject peoples in the empires. I feel that Churchill's specious reasoning was basically designed to deny Indian nationalist aspirations (inchoate though they were). I have generally found it extremely difficult to ascribe any decent motives to that pompous, self-promoting windbag.

Thank you for this information. This connects many of my unconnected understandings about India.

Distinctions like those you make are pertinent and more or less urgent within specific contexts; such as colonialism, neo-colonialism, post-colonial capitalism...
What interest me, here, is whether we should construct out identity — wherever we come from — in national or trans-national terms — in solidarity with others — and, whilst doing so, could retain and nurture a dimension of regional identity in our ways of being; as we also adopt a sense of family identity; provided it is fuelled by solidarity rather than by a desire to divide and take advantage...

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