Today our topic is resistance to the British in Bengal and consequences of such opposition. The British in Bengal were not unopposed. After the Great Famine of 1769-70, the Fakir Sanyasl Movement caused serious disruption to British rule, as did the forces of Titu Meer and the Farizi Movement, led by Haji Shariatullah.
However, the greatest threat came with the war of independence in 1867, though Births historians tend to dismiss this uprising as no more than a troublesome revolt.
Resistance to The British
British ban collection of alms
The famine of 1769-70 was just one of the consequences of the EIC rule of Bengal. Another was a disruption of the way of life of religious people like the Muslim fakirs and Hindu sanyasis. Both these groups lived on alms provided by their followers.
The EIC administrators, who had little understanding of the religious practices in Bengal, saw the alms collection as illegal impositions on the village people. So they banned the collection of alms by fakirs and sanyasis. In response, a resistance movement was started.
The group quickly won support from the peasants, who were already suffering under the new land revenue policy and the calamity of the famine.
The resistance movement
The Fakir-Sanusi resistance movement was planned and led by Majnu Shah, a Muslim Sufi saint of the Madaria sect.
Bhabani Pathak, a Bhojpuri Brahmin, formed a common alliance with Majnu Shah and also led the Sanyasi rebels. They targeted those zamindars loyal to the British and undertook a guerilla-style of warfare, often making surprise attacks on company personnel.
The rebels were fed information by villages who often told them about the movement of the company troops.
The number of fakirs and sanyasis rose to around fifty thousand or more in the 1770s, and on those occasions when they took apart in open warfare with the EIC they could put as many as 6000 troops into the field.
Since the rebels were very mobile, compared to the British army, and were able to seek shelter in inhospitable terrain when threatened, the EIC found it difficult to defeat them. On the few occasions that the British caught them in the open, they were defeated thoroughly, but due to their mobility, they were always able to retreat and regroup in jungles and along the border with Nepal.
The EIC army soon found that stationing an army at one site could not stop the guerilla raids from being conducted at another place. From 1767 to 1786, the rebels carried out numerous attacks on EIC bases in places such as Rangpur, Rajshahi, Kuch Bihar, Jalpaiguri, Comilla, and Dhaka.
The decline of the Movement The raids would have continued indefinitely but on 8 December 1786, the Fakir-Sanyasis were unfortunate enough to engage in a pitched battle with a British army. The rebellion was finally broken. Scattered raids took place until 18712. But after the death of Majnu end and all parts of Bengal came under firm British control.
Concern for Muslims and peasants
Another serious, but more localized and short-lived rebellion was that of Titu Meer. He was a Muslim religious leader who aimed to improve the position of Islam in Bengal. He was worried that Muslims were losing their faith under the rule of the British.
But he was also disturbed by the inhumane way the indigo planters and the zamindars treated the culti9bvators. His ideas brought him into conflict with several Hindu zamindars.
To give protection to the exploited peasants, Titu Meer formed a makeshift army and trained it in the use of Iathi and other indigenous arms. His disciple and nephew Ghulam Masum was made commander of the force.
Zamindars involve British in the fight against Titu Meer
The increasing strength of Titu Meer’s forces alarmed the zamindars, who attempted to take a united stand and to involve the English in their fight against him. However, a force led by Davis was defeated by Titu Meer and the zamindar of Gobra Govindpur was killed in a conflict with Titu Meer.
Alexander, the collector of Barasat, advanced against Titu Meer with the Daroga of Bashirhat but also sustained a severe defeat.
At this time, Titu Meer filed a complaint to the East India Company against the oppression by the zamindars, but to no effect.
Titu Meer declares war against British
Titu Meer built a strong fort with bamboo poles at Narkelbaria in October 1831, recruited mujahids, and gave them military training. The number of Mujahids rose to nearly five thousand. Having completed his military preparation, Titu Meer declared himself a king and urged the people to participate in a war against the British.
He soon established his control over the districts of 24 Parganas. Nadia and Faridpur. Titu Meer demanded tax from the zamindars of Taki and Govardanga who turned to the British for protection. They sent forces but they, too, were defeated.
Defeat for Titu Meer
As a result, Lord William Bentinck sent a regular army against Titu Meer under Lieutenant Colonel Stewart, consisting of 100 cavalries, 300 native infantry, and artillery with two cannons. These forces attacked the revels on 14 November 1831, who were forced to take shelter inside a bamboo fort. The English opened fore and totally destroyed the fort.
There wer4e heavy casualties on the side of the rebels. Titu Meer, along with many of his followers, fell in the battle (19 November 1831). 350 rebels, including their commander Ghulam Masum, were captured. Ghulam Masum was sentenced to death and other 140 captives were sentenced to imprisonment.
Activity: Making a Speech
You have been asked to make a speech at a conference on ‘great Leaders from Bengal’ a past. Your chosen leader in Titu Meer. You have just 90 seconds to make your points. What would you say?
Muslim resistance to zamindars and European cultivators
A different kind of resistance movement was the Faraizi Movement. This was also set up to protect the peasants form the exploitation of the zamindars and European indigo cultivators and also to remove what were considered to be Hindu practices that had crept into Muslim worship. The movement was started by Haji Shariatullah.
What was unique about his faction was that it did not resort to the violent methods used by other opponents of the British such as Titu Meer.
Haji Shariatullah (source: Banglapedia, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh)
Refusal to pay taxes and to observe bans
The Faraizi movement spread rapidly in the districts of Dhaka, Faridpur, Bakerganj, Mymensingh. Tippera (Comilla), Chittagong and Noakhali, as well as to the province of Assam. The movement gained the greatest momentum in those places where the Muslim peasantry was depressed under the oppressive domination of Hindu zamindars and European indigo planters.
Shariatullah objected to this exploitation and directed his followers not to pay illegal taxes charged by the landlords. The Landlord had even imposed a ban on the slaughter of cows, especially on the occasion of Eid-ul Azha. The Farizis ordered their peasant followers not to adhere to such a ban. All these contributed to strained relations between the Faraizis and the landlords who were mostly Hindus.
Campaign against Sharistullah
The offended landlords launched a propaganda campaign with the British officials. They accused Shariatulah of attempting to set up a kingdom of his own like that of Titu Meer. They also brought numerous lawsuits against the Faraizis in which they gained the active co-operation of the European indigo planters.
Shariatullah was more than once in the custody of the policed for allegedly causing agrarian disturbances in Faridpur. In 1831, the landlords of Dhaka secured the expulsion of Shariatullah from Nayabari, where he had set up his propaganda center.
Shariatullah died in 1840, but his work was carried on by his son, Dudu Miyan.
Through continuous hostility with the Hindu landlords and European indigo planters, the movement gradually developed into a socio-economic program. He organized the peasantry against the oppressive landlords and declared a jihad against the British government.
In retaliation, the landlords and indigo planters tried to contain Dudu Miyan by bringing false cases against him and the British arrested him and put him in prison.
After his death in 1860, the Faraizi Movement continued to influence agrarian life in eastern Bengal as late as the early 1880s, under the leadership of Noa Miyan, Dudu Miyan’s son, but the movement lacked the spirit of earlier years.
Importance of the movement
The Farazi Movement was important for a number of reasons:
It encouraged the Muslims at a time when they were demoralized by the oppression they suffered from Hindus and the British.
It brought about spiritual revival, which led to a revival in Islam in east Bengal.
It also had an important political and economic impact. The Bengal peasants became united in their opposition to the harsh treatment they revived. They also became more aware of their rights and political unity began to develop amongst them.
Activity: Assessing the Importance
Which of the four points made about the importance of the Faraizi Movement do you think is the most important? Explain your answer.
The war of Independence of 1857
Causes of the war
The basic causes of uprising embraced all aspects of the impact of British rule on Indian society.
Ever since the battle of Palashi, the territorial power of the EIC Company had been growing very fast and the Indian States began to feel the weight of it. By 1818, when the last Peshwa was dethroned, practically all the Indian states had either been annexed or had entered into a treaty with other companies on humiliating conditions.
In 1852, Governor-General Dalhousie introduced the Doctrine of Lapse. This said that when a ruler died without a natural heir, his territory would become British. Not surprisingly, this was very unpopular, especially as the British often used it as an excuse to take the land. For example, in 1856 the Nawab of Oudh died. He had several legal heirs, but the British still took the land. So no Indian prince felt secure and there was widespread resentment.
The administrative reformers of Cornwallis, introduced at the close of the 18th century, meant the virtual exclusion of Indians, especially the Muslims, from high posts. The English believed that the Muslims were upset at the loss of their empire and could not be trusted. So they were not put in any important posts of the State.
The mistreatment of the Mughal emperor was another cause of unrest. By 857, the emperor had little power but was an important symbolic figure. The British decision to move the royal family from the Red Fort of Delhi to the more obscure Qutub Sahlb was seen as being disrespectful.
The land-holding classes became resentful towards the agrarian policy of the ELC. Many landowners were deprived of their lands as they failed to establish their rights by documentary proof. Zamindars and talukdars had lost their ancestral lands as well as social status.
The grievances of the land-holding classes were further aggravated by excessive taxation which ruined both landlords and peasants. British merchants made huge profits from their trade in goods such as textiles and prevented local traders from having access to much of this business.
Religious and social
In the 18th century, the British showed a friendly attitude towards Indian society and religions. But as British political control grew, so did the spread of British culture. Many British considered it their duty to spread their superior culture and in 1835 one British administrator said a single shelf of English books is worth more than the whole of the native literature of India and Arabia.
The princes lived in an atmosphere of insecurity, the landed aristocracy had seen alienated and the mass of the people was dissatisfied. But their discontent might not have led to revolution so long as the Sepoy Army remained loyal. The Sepoys of the Bengal Army were mostly from, Oudh and the North-Western Province.
They had fourth with devotion in the most difficult circumstances and won many wars for the Company. In spite of this, they did not get a fair deal. Their salaries were very low in comparison with those of the British Soldiers and they had little chance of promotion.
They had also grievances with those of the British soldiers and they had little chance of promotion. They had also grievances regarding the payment of extra allowances for service in newly conquered territories like Sindh, which were foreign lands to them.
While the country was thus seething with discontent and the Sepoys, too. Were agitated, the affair of the greased cartridge came up. It was the immediate cause of the rising of 1857. In January 1857, a rumor went round in Calcutta that this had been done to defile both the Hindu and Muslim Sepoys who would use the cartridges.
The news soon spread to all the military stations. This aroused a storm of indignation and kindled the embers of discontent. The introduction of the cartridges hastened the revolt, which had long been brewing.
Activity: Showing history in a visual way
The above passage divides the causes of the War of Independence under four headings. It then gives different pints under those headings. Identify those points and find a way to organize the points as headings on the chart which sums up the causes of the war, using as few words as possible.
Events of the war
Rebellion spreads to the region of Bangladesh
The war started at Barackpur under the leadership of Mangal Pandey on 29 March 1857 and soon spread to Meerut, Delhi, and other parts of India.
It created serious tension throughout the region of what is now Bangladesh. The resistance in Chittagong and Dhaka skirmishes at Sylhet, Jessore, Rangpur, Pabna and Dinajpur had left the region in a state of alert and excitement.
On 18 November 1857, the Native Infantry of Chittagong rose in open rebellion and released all prisoners from the jail. They seized arms and ammunition, ransacked the treasury, set the Magazine House on fire, and preceded towards Tipperary.
Military sent to stop the rebellion
The EIC was concerned about a further uprising of the sepoys and sent three companies of the 54th Regiment and one hundred seamen to hundred seamen to the Dhaka. Simultaneously a Naval Brigade was sent to Jessore, Rangpur, Dinajpur, and some other distant from Bangladesh.
Organized local volunteers, consisting mostly of European residents, took special measures for the protection of Dhaka. The situation became tense when the Naval Brigade arrived at Dhaka to disarm the sepoys stationed there. On 22 November, the sepoys stationed at Lalbagh Fort resisted the process of disarming.
In the skirmish that followed, several sepoys were killed and others arrested while many of them fled towards Mymensingh. Most of the Fugitives were, however, arrested and put up for summary trial by a hurriedly constituted Court Martial. Of the accused sepoys, 11 were sentenced to death and the rest were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Tension and excitement persisted in different parts of Bangladesh, especially in the districts of Sylhet, Mymensingh, Dinajpur, and Jessore. Several skirmishes occurred between the fugitive sepoys and European soldiers and resulted in the loss of lives on both sides.
Summary trials by local judges of the captured and disarmed sepoys took place in Sylhet and Jessore. Hanging and deportation were common features of these trials.
British too strong to be defeated
Although both Delhi and Lucknow had fallen to the sepoys, the British proved too strong to be defeated by an uncoordinated uprising across many areas. By September 1857, both Delhi and Luck now had been regained and the British finally put down the last pockets of resistance at the end of August 1858.
Reasons for the failure of the uprising
Lack of unity
The role and reaction of various classes of people of Bangladesh during the sepoy revolt present a gloomy picture. The landed aristocracy was decidedly opposed to the sepoys and some of them even supported the British by supplying carts, carriages, and elephants, by informing them about the movements of the fleeing sepoys and by organizing local volunteer corps to resist the sepoys.
The government acknowledged such services of the landed aristocracy with thanks and subsequently awarded titles of Nawab, Khan Bahadur, Khan Shaheb, Rai Bahadur, Rai Shaheb, etc. and financial rewards.
Following the example set by the landed aristocracy, the middle class also sided with the company’s government. The common people and the peasantry as a whole were apathetic and remained untouched by the sepoy revolt, though they suffered much from increased prices evident in times of war.
A major reason for the failure to win the war was that the British were just too strong. Britain was one of the most powerful nations in the world and its troops were experienced in warfare and highly trained in modern methods of fighting.
The British were skilled at playing various groups off against each other and at playing on the fears of the aristocracy by portraying the uprising as a threat to the established social hierarchy.
Activity: Expressing an opinion
Do you think that the uprising failed because the Indians were too weak or the British were too strong? Support your answer with evidence from this section.
Impact of the war on the Muslims of the subcontinent
Aside from the overall deterioration in relations between the British and their Indian subjects after the rebellion. There was also an impact on the Indians themselves. The Muslims lost much of the influence and power they held before the rebellion and the Hindus filled the vacuum left by the Muslims.
While the British attitude changed radically towards the Indians, the most bitter and widespread hostility was reserved for the Muslim community. They were blamed by the British for much of the rebellious activity, which the British saw as an attempt to restore the authority of the Moghul emperor.
Because ‘Muslims stood prejudiced against western education’, they had to remain in the background for some time, while the Hindus, who were more favorable in the adoption of this western style of education and learning English, benefited under the government.
This situation of a Muslim decline in influences had long-term effects on the Muslim community right up until the early part of the twentieth century.
The events of 1857 show how history can be a matter of interpretation.
To Indian historians, the war of independence of 1857 was an important landmark in the history of the subcontinent. It marked the beginning of the country’s struggle for independence after a century of foreign domination.
The country witnessed a popular upsurge of deep-seated and widespread discontent against the foreign rulers. The revolt of the sepoys, accompanied by that of the civil population, was so fervent that the very foundation of the British rule in India was shaken. It appeared for some time that British control had disappeared.
However, to the British, the events of 1857 are known as ‘The Indian Mutiny’, and until well into the 20th century were considered to have been a revolt against British authority that had to be crushed in order to maintain control.
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