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The Second Anglo-Sikh War

The Second Anglo-Sikh War

  India's History : Modern India : Second Anglo-Sikh war : (Rise of Sikh Power) British annex Punjab as Sikhs are defeated : 1848-1849

The Second Anglo-Sikh War

ANGLO-SIKH WAR II, 1848-49, which resulted in the abrogation of the Sikh kingdom of the Punjab, was virtually a campaign by the victors of the first Anglo-Sikh war (1945-46) and since then the de facto rulers of the State finally to overcome the resistance of some of the sardars who chafed at the defeat in the earlier war which, they believed, had been lost owing to the treachery on the part of the commanders at the top and not to any lack of fighting strength of the Sikh army. It marked also the fulfillment of the imperialist ambition of the new governor-general, Lord Dalhousie (184856), to carry forward the British flag up to the natural boundary of India on the northwest. According to the peace settlement of March 1846, at the end of Anglo-Sikh war I, the British force in Lahore was to be withdrawn at the end of the year, but a severer treaty was imposed on the Sikhs before the expiry of that date.

Sir Henry Hardinge, the then governor-general, had his Agent, Frederick Currie, persuade the Lahore Darbar to request the British for the continuance of the troops in Lahore. According to the treaty, which was consequently signed at Bharoval on 16 December 1846, Henry Lawrence was appointed Resident with "full authority to direct and control all matters in every department of the State." The Council of Regency, consisting of the nominees of the Resident and headed by Tej Singh, was appointed. The power to make changes in its personnel vested in the resident. Under another clause the British could maintain as many troops in the Punjab as they thought necessary for the preservation of peace and order. This treaty was to remain in operation until the minor Maharaja Duleep Singh attained the age of 16. By a proclamation issued in July 1847, the governor-general further enhanced the powers of the Resident. On 23 October 1847, Sir Henry Hardinge wrote to Henry Lawrence: "In all our measures taken during the minority we must bear in mind that by the treaty of Lahore, March 1846, the Punjab never was intended to be an independent State. By the clause I added the chief of the State could neither make war or peace, or exchange or sell an acre of territory or admit a European officer, or refuse us a thoroughfare through his territories, or, in fact, perform any act without our permission. In fact the native Prince is in fetters, and under our protection and must do our bidding."

In the words of British historian John Clark Marshman, "an officer of the Company's artillery became, in fact, the successor to Ranjit Singh." The Sikhs resented this gradual liquidation of their authority in the Punjab. The new government at Lahore became totally unpopular. The abolition of tigers in the Jalandhar Doab and changes introduced in the system of land revenue and its collection angered the landed classes. Maharani Jind Kaur, who was described by Lord Dalhousie as the only woman it the Punjab with manly understanding and in whom the British Resident foresaw a rallying point for the well-wishers of the Sikh dynasty, was kept under close surveillance. Henry Lawrence laid down that she could not receive in audience more than five or six sardars in a month and that she remains in purdah like the ladies of the royal families of Nepal, Jodhpur and Jaipur.

In January 1848, Henry Lawrence took leave of absence and traveled back home with Lord Hardinge, who had completed his term in India. The former was replaced by Frederick Currie and the latter by the Earl of Dalhousie. The new regime confronted a rebellion in the Sikh province of Multan, which it utilized as an excuse for the annexation of the Punjab. The British Resident at Lahore increased the levy payable by the Multan governor, Diwan Mul Raj , who, finding himself unable to comply, resigned his office. Frederick Currie appointed General Kahn Singh Man in his place and sent him to Multan along with two British officers P.A. Vans Agnew and William Anderson, to take charge from Mul Raj The party arrived at Multan on 18 April 1848, and the Diwan vacated the Fort and made over the keys to the representatives of the Lahore Darbar But his soldiers rebelled and the British officers were set upon in their camp and killed This was the beginning of the Multan outbreak.

Some soldiers of the Lahore escort deserted their officers and joined Mul Raj's army. Currie received the news at Lahore on 21 April, but delayed action Lord Dalhousie allowed the Multan rebellion to spread for five months. The interval was utilized by the British further to provoke Sikh opinion. The Resident did his best to fan the flames of rebellion. Maharani Jind Kaur, then under detention in the Fort of Sheikupura, was exiled from the Punjab She was taken to Firozpur and thence to Banaras, in the British dominions. Her annual allowance, which according to the treaty of Bharoval had been fixed at one and a half lakh of rupees, was reduced to twelve thousand. Her jewellery worth fifty thousand of rupees was forfeited; so was her cash amounting to a lakh and a half. The humiliating treatment of the Maharani caused deep resentment among the people of the Punjab Even the Muslim ruler of Afghanistan, Amir Dost Muhammad, protested to the British, saying that such treatment is objectionable to all creeds."

Modern India : The Second Anglo-Burmese War

  India's History : Modern India : Second Anglo-Burmese war - 1852

The Second Anglo-Burmese War

Causes of the Second Anglo-Burmese War

After the treaty of Yandaboo 1826 (After first Anglo-Burmese War), a large number of British merchants had settled on the southern coast of Burma and Rangoon. Tharrawady, the new king of Burma (1837-1845), refused to consider the treaty of Yandaboo, binding on him. The British Residents also did not get proper treatment at the court and so finally the Residency had to be withdrawn in 1840.

The British merchants often complained of ill treatment at the hands of the Governor of Rangoon. They sent a petition to Lord Dalhousie. Dalhousie was determined to maintained British prestige and dignity at all the costs and so deputed Commodore Lambert to Rangoon to negotiate the redress of grievances and demand compensation.

Declaration of War

At first the King of Burma was inclined to avoid war and so removed the old Governor and appointed the new one. But when a deputation of some naval officers was refused admission, Lambert adopted a very provocative line of action. He captured one of the Burmese King's ships. With this incident, the Burmese did not resist and the war was declared.

On April 1, 1852, British forces reached Rangoon. The famous Pagoda of Rangoon was stormed on April 14, 1852. A month later Bassein, situated at Irrawaddy Delta was captured. Prome was occupied in October and Pegu in November. Dalhousie wanted the Burmese king to recognise the conquest of the Lower Burma. On the refusal of the king to conclude the treaty, Dalhousie annexed Pegu by issuing a proclamation on December 20, 1852.

End of the War

By the annexation of Pegu the eastern frontier of the British Indian Empire was extended upto the banks of Salween. Major Arthur Phayre was appointed Commissioner of the newly acquired British province extending as far as Myede.

Introduction of Railways and Telegraph System

  India's History : Modern India : Railway opened from Bombay to Thane; Telegraph line from Calcutta to Agra : 1853


In 1833 the Charter of the East India Company was renewed. Influenced no doubt somewhat by the Anglo-Indians' petition, Section 87 of the said Act stated that -`No native of the said territories, nor any natural born subject of His Majesty resident therein, shall, by reason of his religion, place of birth, descent, colour, or any of them, be disabled from holding any place, office, or employment under the said Company. In theory all posts were thrown open to people of any race in India, but in practice only the subordinate trades were bestowed upon Indians and Anglo-Indians, since higher services could be filled only by recruitment in England. Fortunately for Anglo-Indians, about this same time (1833), English took the place of Persian as the official language of the Courts and Government offices. In future English was to be the only medium of correspondence in commercial houses. English being their mother-tongue, the Anglo-Indians had an advantage in this direction and very soon many of the community found employment under Government and in commercial firms as clerks, though in subordinate positions. This advantage, however, was only temporary because Lord Bentinck, who was Governor-General from 1828 to 1836, with the cooperation of Lord Macaulay who drew up his famous Minute on Education in 1835, determined that `The linguistic disadvantage of Indians should be removed, and accordingly instruction in English was ordered to be imparted in Indian schools. Very soon the graduates from Indian Universities and educated young men from the Government High Schools were rapidly elbowing Anglo-Indians out of the clerical posts which they had filled efficiently.

Fortune once again came to the rescue of Anglo-Indians for soon new avenues of employment were opening up for them. In 1825 the first railway had run in England. In 1845 the East India Railway was projected in India. Simultaneously railway schemes were set on foot in Madras and Bombay. The first train in India ran from Bombay to Thana in 1853. In 1851 the Telegraph system was inaugurated. During the latter half of the 19th century (1850-1900) Anglo-Indians found ample employment on the railways, and in the telegraph and custom services. These departments needed men of adventurous stock who were willing to endure the hardships, risks, and perils of pioneers. The Anglo-Indians had in them the spirit of their forefathers and so the community furnished - `The Navigation Companies with captains, second officers, engineers and mechanics. From them were recruited telegraph operators, artisans and electricians. They supplied the railways with station staffs, engine-drivers, permanent way-inspectors, guards, auditors - in fact every higher grade of railway servant. The Mutiny of 1857 too had proved beyond doubt the absolute loyalty of the Anglo-Indians and removed the suspicion which had been responsible for the repressive measures of the latter part of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. The latter part of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century were once again a period of prosperity and contentment for Anglo-Indians.

The First War of Independence

  India's History : Modern India : First War of Indian Independence: The Sepoy Mutiny : 1857

1857 - The War of Independence

The Revolutionary Upheaval of 1857

Although dismissed by some as merely a sepoy's mutiny or revolt, or as a protest against the violation of religious rights by the British, the great uprising of 1857 is slowly gaining recognition as India's first war of independance. And in it's broad sweep it was the greatest armed challenge to colonial rule during the entire course of the nineteenth century. Attracting people from all walks of life - both Hindus and Muslims, it triggered demands for radical social and economic reforms, calling for a new society that would be more democratic and more representative of popular demands.

Early Precedents

Neither was it a bolt out of the blue. Although not very well known, the period between 1763 and 1856 was not a period during which Indians accepted alien rule passively. Numerous uprisings by peasants, tribal communities and princely states confronted the British. Some were sustained - others sporadic - a few were isolated acts of revolutionary resistance - but nevertheless they all challenged colonial rule. Precipitated by the policy of unchecked colonial extraction of agricultural and forest wealth from the region - the period saw tremendous growth in rural poverty, the masses being reduced to a state of utter deprivation.

Even as official taxation was backbreaking enough, British officers routinely used their powers to coerce additional money, produce, and free services from the Indian peasants and artisans. And courts routinely dismissed their pleas for justice. In the first report of the Torture Commission at Madras presented to the British House of Commons in 1856, this was acknowledged along with the admission that officers of the East India Company did not abstain from torture, nor did they discourage its use. A letter from Lord Dalhousie to the Court of Directors of the East India Company confirms that this was a practice not confined to the Madras presidency alone in September 1855 where he admits that the practice of torture was in use in every British province. Click for more details

Desperate communities had often no choice but to resist to the bitter end. Armed revolts broke out practically every year - only to be brutally suppressed by the British. Lacking the firepower of the British arsenal - they were invariably outgunned. And lacking the means of communication available to the British - individual revolts were also unable to trigger sympathetic rebellions elsewhere. Disadvantageous timing led to crushing defeats. Yet, some of these struggles raged for many years. Click for more details

Amongst the most significant were the Kol Uprising of 1831, the Santhal Uprising of 1855, and the Kutch Rebellion, which lasted from 1816 until 1832. There was also precedence for a soldiers mutiny when Indian soldiers in Vellore (Tamil Nadu, Southern India) mutinied in 1806. Although unsuccessful, it led to the growth of unofficial political committees of soldiers who had several grievances against their British overlords.

Seething Grievances

For instance, in the Bengal Army, the 140,000 Indians who were employed as "Sepoys" were completely subordinate to the roughly 26,000 British officers. These sepoys bore the brunt of the First Britsh-Afghan War (1838-42), the two closely contested Punjab Wars (1845-6, and 1848-9) and the Second Anglo-Burmese War. They were shipped across the seas to fight in the Opium Wars against China (1840-42) and (1856-60) and the Crimean War against Russia (1854). Although at constant risk of death, the Indian sepoy faced very limited opportunities for advancement - since the Europeans monopolized all positions of authority.

Many of the sepoys in the Bengal Army came from the Hindi speaking plains of UP where (excluding Oudh) the British had enforced the "Mahalwari" system of taxation, which involved constantly increasing revenue demands. In the first half of the 19th century - tax revenues payable to the British increased 70%. This led to mounting agricultural debts with land being mortgaged to traders and moneylenders at a very rapid rate. This inhumane system of taxation was then extended to Oudh where the entire nobility was summarily deposed.

As a result, the dissatisfaction against the British was not confined to the agricultural communities alone. By bankrupting the nobility and the urban middle class - demand for many local goods was almost eliminated. At the same time local producers were confronted with unfair competition from British imports. The consequences of this were summarized by the rebel prince Feroz Shah, in his August 1857 proclamation: "the Europeans by the introduction of English articles into India have thrown the weavers, the cotton dressers, the carpenters, the blacksmiths and the shoe-makers and others out of employ and have engrossed their occupations, so that every description of native artisan has been reduced to beggary."

Contrast this turn of events with the arrival of Mughal rule in India. Babar, in spite of his distaste for the Indian climate and customs, noted the tremendous diversity and skill of Indian craftspeople, and saw in that a great potential for expanding Indian manufacturing. Quite unlike the British, the Mughals built on the manufacturing strengths of the Indian artisan - (already well establish in the earlier Sultanate period) - and took them to dazzling heights in the later periods. But by the mid-19th century, this pre-industrial virtuosity in manufacturing had been virtually choked of by British policies. A British chronicler of the period, Thomas Lowe noted how " the native arts and manufactures as used to raise for India a name and wonder all over the western world are nearly extinguished in the present day; once renowned and great cities are merely heaps of ruins..."

All this inevitably prepared the ground for the far more widespread revolt of 1857. Although concentrated in what is now UP in modern India - the 1857 revolt spread from Dacca and Chittagong (now Bangladesh) in the East to Delhi in the West. Major urban centres in Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar including Cuttack, Sambhalpur, Patna and Ranchi participated. In Central India - the revolt spread to Indore, Jabalpur, Jhansi and Gwalior. Uprisings also took place in Nasirabad in Rajasthan, Aurangabad and Kolhapur in Maharashtra and in Peshawar on the Afghan border. But the main battleground was in the plains of UP - with every major town providing valiant resistance to the British invaders.

Starting out as a revolt of the Sepoys - it was soon accompanied by a rebellion of the civil population, particularly in the North Western Provinces and Oudh. The masses gave vent to their opposition to British rule by attacking government buildings and prisons. They raided the "treasury", charged on barracks and courthouses, and threw open the prison gates. The civil rebellion had a broad social base, embracing all sections of society - the territorial magnates, peasants, artisans, religious mendicants and priests, civil servants, shopkeepers and boatmen.

For several months after the uprising began in Meerut on May 10, 1857 - British rule ceased to exist in the northern plains of India. Muslim and Hindu rulers alike joined the rebelling soldiers and militant peasants, and other nationalist fighters. Among the most prominent leaders of the uprising were Nana Sahib, Tantia Tope, Bakht Khan, Azimullah Khan, Rani Laksmi Bai, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Kunwar Singh, Maulvi Ahmadullah, Bahadur Khan and Rao Tula Ram. Former rulers had their own grievances against the British, including the notorious law on succession, which gave the British the right to annexe, any princely state if it lacked "legitimate male heirs".

Expressions of Popular Will

The rebels established a Court of Administration consisting of ten members - six from the army and four civilians with equal representation of Hindus and Muslims. The rebel government abolished taxes on articles of common consumption, and penalized hoarding. Amongst the provisions of it's charter was the liquidation of the hated 'Zamindari' system imposed by the British and a call for land to the tiller.

Although the former princes who joined with the rebels did not go quite as far, several aspects of the proclamations issued by the former rulers are noteworthy. All proclamations were issued in popular languages. Hindi and Urdu texts were provided simultaneously. Proclamations were issued jointly in the name of both Hindus and Muslims. Feroz Shah - in his August 1857 proclamation included some significant points. All trade was to be reserved for Indian merchants only, with free use of Government steam vessels and steam carriages. All public offices were to be given to Indians only and wages of the sepoys were to be revised upwards.

Overpowered by British Might, Betrayed by the Princes

Threatened by such a radical turn of events, the British rulers poured in immense resources in arms and men to suppress the struggle. Although the rebels fought back heroically - the betrayal by a number of rulers such as the Sikh princes, the Rajasthani princes and Maratha rulers like Scindia allowed the British to prevail. Lord Canning (then Governor General) noted that " If Scindia joins the rebels, I will pack off tomorrow". Later he was to comment: " The Princes acted as the breakwaters to the storm which otherwise would have swept us in one great wave". Such was the crucial importance of the betrayal of the princes. The British were also helped by the conservatism of the trading communities who were unwilling to put up with the uncertanties of a long drawn out rebellion.

But equally important was the superior weaponry and brutality of the British in defending their empire. British barbarity in supressing the uprising was unprecedented. After the fall of Lucknow on May 8, 1858 Frederick Engels commented: " The fact is, there is no army in Europe or America with so much brutality as the British. Plundering, violence, massacre - things that everywhere else are strictly and completely banished - are a time honoured privilege, a vested right of the British soldier..". In Awadh alone 150,000 people were killed - of which 100,000 were civilians. The great Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib wrote from Delhi, " In front of me, I see today rivers of blood". He went on to describe how the victorious army went on a killing spree - killing every one in sight - looting people’s property as they advanced.

Bahadur Shah's three sons were publicly executed at "Khooni Darwaaza" in Delhi and Bahadur Shah himself was blinded and exiled to Rangoon where he died in 1862. Refusing to plead for mercy from the British, he courageously retorted: " The power of India will one day shake London if the glory of self-respect remains undimmed in the hearts of the rebels". Thomas Lowe wrote: "To live in India now was like standing on the verge of a volcanic crater, the sides of which were fast crumbling away from our feet, while the boiling lava was ready to erupt and consume us"

The 1857 revolt, which had forged an unshakable unity amongst Hindus and Muslims alike, was an important milestone in our freedom struggle - providing hope and inspiration for future generations of freedom lovers. However, the aftermath of the 1857 revolt also brought about dramatic changes in colonial rule. After the defeat of the 1857 national revolt - the British embarked on a furious policy of "Divide and Rule", fomenting religious hatred as never before. Resorting to rumors and falsehoods, they deliberately recast Indian history in highly communal colors and practised pernicious communal politics to divide the Indian masses. That legacy continues to plague the sub-continent today. However, if more people become aware of the colonial roots of this divisive communal gulf - it is possible that some of the damage done to Hindu-Muslim unity could be reversed. If Hindus and Muslims could rejoin and collaborate in the spirit of 1857, the sub-continent may yet be able to unshackle itself from it's colonial past.

Zanshi - Rani Laxmibai

  India's History : Modern India : Zanshichi Rani Laxmibai - Freedom struggle in 1857

Zanshi - Rani Laxmibai

Lakshmi Bai was born on 19 November 1835 at Kashi (Presently known as Varanasi). Her father Moropanth was a brahmin and her mother Bhagirathibai was cultured, intelligent and religious. Born Manikarnika, she was affectionately called Manu in her family. Manu lost her mother at the age of four, and responsibility for the young girl fell to her father. She completed her education and martial training, which included horse riding, fencing and shooting, when she was still a child.

She married Raja Gangadhar Rao, the Maharaja of Jhansi in 1842, and became the Rani of Jhansi. After the marriage she was given the name Lakshmi Bai. The ceremony of the marriage was perform in Ganesh Mandir, the temple of Lord Ganesha situated in the old city of Jhansi. Rani Lakshmi Bai gave birth to a son in 1851, but this child died when he was about four months old. After this, the couple adopted Damodar Rao as their son. Maharaja Gangadhar Rao also expired on 21 November 1853, when Lakshmi Bai was 18 years old.

At that time Lord Dalhousie was the Governer General of British India. Though little Damodar Rao, adopted son of late Maharaja Gangadhar Rao and Rani Lakshmi Bai was Maharaja's heir and successor as per the Hindu tradition, the British rulers rejected Rani's claim that Damodar Rao was their legal heir. Lord Dalhousie decided to annex the state of Jhansi under the Doctrine of Lapse.

In March 1854 the British announced an annual pension of Rs. 60,000 for Rani and also ordered to leave the Jhansi fort. But Rani Lakshmi Bai was determined to defend Jhansi. She proclaimed her decision with the famous words :'Mai apni Jhansi nahi doongi' (I will not give up my Jhansi).

Rani Lakshmi Bai started strengthening the defense of Jhansi and she assembled a volunteer army of patriots. Women were also recruited and given military training. Rani was accompanied by her generals Gulam Gaus Khan, Dost Khan, Khuda Baksh, Lala Bhau Bakshi, Moti Bai, Sunder-Mundar, Kashi Bai, Deewan Raghunath Singh and Deewan Jawahar Singh. Many from the local population volunteered for service in the army ranks, with the popular support for her cause on the rise.

When the Revolt of 1857 broke out, Jhansi became a center of the rebellion. A small group of British officials took refuge in Jhansi's fort, and the Rani negotiated their evacuation. When the British left the fort, they were massacred by the rebels. Although the massacre probably occurred without the Rani's consent and she protested her innocence, she stood accused by the British.

In September and October of 1857, the Rani led the successful defense of Jhansi from the invading armies of the neighboring rajas of Datia and Orchha. In March of 1858, the British Army advanced on Jhansi, and laid siege to the city. After two weeks of fighting the British captured the city, but the Rani escaped the city in the guise of a man,strapping her adopted son Damodar Rao closely on her back.

She regrouped in the town of Kalpi where Tatia Tope other patriots joined her. On June 1, she and her allies captured the fortress city of Gwalior from the Sindhia rulers, who were British allies. She died three weeks later at the start of the British assault, when she was hit by a spray of bullets while riding on the fortress ramparts. The British captured Gwalior three days later. The 22 year-old Rani was cremated nearby.

Rani Lakshmi Bai, the queen of Jhansi, a Maratha-ruled princely state of northern India, was one of the great nationalist heroes of the Revolt of 1857, and a symbol of resistance to British rule in India. The Rani earned the respect of her British enemies for her bravery, and became a nationalist and feminist hero in India. When the Indian National Army created its first female unit, it was named after her.
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