Opinion and Editorial

Hidden Story of the First-Ever Indian Holocaust

Amaresh Misra (ISSUES)
Filed on September 21, 2008

On August 30th 2008, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi apologised to Libya for damage inflicted by Italy during the colonial era and signed a five-billion-dollar investment deal by way of compensation.

Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Libya was occupied by Italy in 1911 before becoming a colony in the 1930s. The country gained its independence in 1951 after a brief period of UN-mandated Franco-British administration.

The Imperialist brutalities are coming to fore as historical research and political battles unearth facts that are undeniable examples of violations of human rights and liberties during the colonisation of countries in Asia and Africa. The most recent revelation has come from India where during the wars fought during 1857 — called the ‘Mutiny’ by the British but the ‘First War of Independence’ by Indians, British troops appeared to have killed 10 million Indians. The deaths reported are from all religions, communities and castes that fought together during this revolt that lasted 10 years.

The Indian subcontinent at that time had a total population of about 150 million; it can be said safely therefore that during the entire course of the 1857 revolt roughly seven per cent of the Indian population was killed; in World War II, more than 10 million lives were lost—but that amounted to 2.5 per cent of the world’s population.

In 1857, the British faced the first major challenge not only to their rule in India but Asia as whole. After suffering defeats in several 1857 battles fought in the early stages of the revolt, the invincible British army was exposed as possessing feet of clay — in the words of a major 20th century British historian, the ‘Achilles Heel’ of the British infantry, the most efficient killing machine that existed at that point in time, was exposed when even Scottish Highlanders refused to charge against urban Indian, peasant-soldier street-fighters in the September 1857 battle of Delhi.

The British feared the loss of their Empire — and they put this across to the world as a ‘loss for Christendom and civilised world as a whole’. Before major battles, British Commanders reminded their soldiers that all of Europe was watching their war against a `barbarian, heathen, Indian, Asiatic culture’. To win at all costs the British seemed to have decided on mass liquidation.

1857 was proclaimed jointly a jihad by Muslim Ulemas and a dharmayuddha (holy war) by Hindu Sadhus. The Muslims fought all over the present state of Uttar Pradesh (UP)—India’s most populous state, and the custodian of its culture and honour. Western and North UP (the area known today as Ruhelkhand) alone possessed more than 5000 madrasas where Hindus and Muslims studied together. Each madrasa had more than 5000 students; computed to the 56 UP districts, and deducting a large number that might have migrated and melted away, the Ulema and madrasa student death figure crosses the 1500,000 mark. Post-1857 Hindi language records of the Sanatani Niranjani and Juna akhadas (ascetic cum commercial cum warrior orders) of Hindus speak, of a 90 per cent drop in their membership. The records also explicitly claim that 3000,000 Hindu Sanatan Dharmis perished in the Ghadar or the disturbances of 1857.

While recounting the horror of British reprisals in Allahabad and other middle UP districts, Indian chronicles speak of more than 5,000 deaths every weak, for a period extending from June, 1857, to April, 1858. If this figure is computed to all middle UP districts, the figure in UP (barring the central UP area of Avadh) crosses the 5,000,000 mark. Then in Avadh, which the British had to re-conquer virtually village by village, land survey records and Gazetteers published after 1857 record a drop of almost 20 per cent population in all districts. Field officer Mitchell, writing to the Central Road Department in 1871 writes: “on account of the undisputed display of British power, necessary during those terrible and wretched days, millions of wretches seemed to have died. My estimate is 20 per cent in each of the 12 Oudh districts”.

Research in postal records reveals that, following the Ghadar, 2,000,000 letters were returned back from their addresses in Avadh. In the 1870s, in a letter addressed to Mansfield, a senior employee of the Postal Department of the United Provinces (UP), the Avadh Head Post Master Rowling wrote that “I do not know what to do with these letters. When you will hear this figure….it is astounding….more than 2000,000 letters have been lying unmarked in the GPO godown (sic) and it is a damn worry and all the more troublesome since we do not have space….a native employee told me that these letters belong to those who fought and were killed in that mutiny….all of them belong to the Oudh region. The matter that 20,00,000 letters were returned between 1857 and 1861 shows the kind of vengeance our boys must have wreaked on the abject Hindus and Mohammadens….”

As per British records, the rough estimate is about 2,500,000 killed in Avadh; already, the UP figure is touching the 7,500,000 or the 7.5 million mark; this is independent of East UP and the neighbouring province of Bihar — places where again, the Bhojpur district 1870s land survey, records a drop of more than 30 per cent population. The 1860s Bundelkhand road and railway surveys in South-west UP complain of a 70 per cent drop in labour availability; a 1880s Road Survey report of the region claims that “road construction” could “not be sustained” due to labour shortage and people killed in the ‘Mutiny’. When confronted with the horror of Nazi concentration camps, the German public cried saying ‘we knew nothing about this’; about the German situation, the Jews, the victims, at least had an inkling — aided by western liberals, Israel, the Jewish nation, forced the world to punish figures guilty for the Jewish Holocaust. It is time that Britain apologises to India for the loss of life and development that occurred during colonial rule.

Compensation should be given specially to areas that suffered economically because of unimaginable British atrocities in 1857. Most of these areas remain woefully backward and poor to this day and time.

Amaresh Misra is an Indian historian and author; the article is based on ‘War of Civilisations: India 1857 AD’, his new two volume book, recently published in India. Details about the book can be located on the link www.warofcivilisations.blogspot.com

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