2ndlook

How 1857 changed world history …

A war of a different kind

During the 1857 War against the colonial rule of Britain in India, unable to gain military advantage, British armed forces started using Indian populations as human shield. For each military success of the Indian armies, the British armies exacted retribution on the local non-combatant populations.

This reign of terror and brutality on home populations disarmed Indian armies and ended the war. A impressive work on this period is by Amaresh Misra – a film critic and journalist, who was moved sufficiently to research for a few years, because, “Since 1957, no Indian has written a comprehensive account of the Revolt. Indian historians have done a limited work”. Another step in this direction is Parag Tope’s forth coming book, Operation Red Lotus, on the life and wars of Tatiya Tope.

And after subduing the Indian population with this brutal campaign, Britain started a more insidious war – a propaganda war. History started getting twisted, perverted, mutilated – and over the next 100 years, Indian and world history was changed beyond recognition.

    Semiramis Receiving Word of the Revolt of Babylon, 1624 by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)

Semiramis Receiving Word of the Revolt of Babylon, 1624 by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)

Let the games begin

After 1857, British racist propaganda and cultural baggage came covertly – to gain better traction at home and in the colonies. For instance, Priya Joshi, a researcher shows that after 1857, book shipments from Britain to India increased by a factor of three.

The death of Semiramis

In this propaganda campaign, the most interesting bit is the cold-blooded murder of the historical Semiramis. Readers will find that Semiramis as an Assyrian Queen till the 1850-60 period Western histories.

The Marchese Tommaso II of Saluzzo commissioned Jacques Iverny in 15th century to paint Semiramis, (alongwith Lampheto, Marpasia, Synoppe, Thamiris, Menalippe, Hippolyta, Orithyia, and Penthesilea) now known as The Nine Worthies. Chaucer’s character, Sowdannesse, is charged of being a ‘Virago, thou Semyrame the secounde’ in his Man of Law’s Tale. Edward Degas and Guercine made Semiramis the subject of their paintings. Calderon used her character in his plays. Mozart died before he could complete his melodrama based on Semiramis. A 16th century painter, Philip Galle used Semiramis and Babylon as the subjects of his paintings.

    Philippe Galle – The City of Babylon with the grave of Semiramis

Philippe Galle – The City of Babylon with the grave of Semiramis

Mired in legend and prejudice, Semiramis is discredited in modern Western history – especially starting from 1853-1857. Her very existence denied, accused of incest, Semiramis has been tarred and condemned to the rubbish heap of modern history – and the Bible.

Semiramis established an empire that lasted, practically till WW1. Some 300 years, after the reign of Semiramis, the Assyrian Empire passed into Persian hands. From the Persians, into Alexander’s lap.

Suddenly, from 1860 onwards, Western history started treating Semiramis as a wanton, decadent, probably mythical, a perverted sluttish character.

The reason.

Semiramis biggest defeat was at the hands of Indians. And soon after her defeat, was the defeat of Cyrus the Great, at the hands of Indians again. And before that were the Battles of Meggido and Kadesh, in which Indic armies confronted the Slave Empire of the Egypt. Such an Indian history was very inconvenient for the British Raj.

Edgar Degas. Semiramis Building Babylon. 1861

The Alexander mythos

Alexander’s raid of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, finally turned out to be a overthrow of the Achaemenid dynasty, usurpers of the Assyrian Empire. Unable to make headway into India, as the Indian Brahmins had helped and influenced Indian princes to organize and support the Indian war against Alexander. Greek sources cite, after this realization, at ‘The City of Brahmans’, Alexander massacred an estimated 8000-10,000 of these non-combatant Brahmans.

Alexander’s massacres in India, a colonial historian informs us (without naming a source), earned him an “epithet … assigned (to) him by the Brahmins of India, The Mighty Murderer.” This Indian Brahmanic characterization of Alexander, commonly taught to English schoolchildren and present in English college texts, as The Mighty Murderer, curiously disappeared from Western-English texts soon after 1860 – and instead now “a positive rose-tinted aura surrounds Alexander” … !

Since Indian texts were completely silent about the very existence of Alexander, colonial Western historians had a free run. Using hagiographic Greek texts as the base, Alexander became the conqueror of the world.

Max Mueller – Son of Hegel

Behind this propaganda was possibly a man who is much admired (wrongly) in India today – Max Mueller. For instance in Max Muller’s colonial propagandist history, when it comes to Indian triumphs over Semiramis, she becomes half legendary. Yet in another book, the same Semiramis becomes one of ‘the great conquerors of antiquity.’ In a matter of a few pages, he dismisses Indian history completely, in a half-Hegelian manner.

Among Max Mueller’s cohorts, was Karl Marx, who wrote from London, on Friday, June 10, 1853 on India, for the New-York Herald Tribune thus

Hindostan is an Italy of Asiatic dimensions, the Himalayas for the Alps, the Plains of Bengal for the Plains of Lombardy, the Deccan for the Apennines, and the Isle of Ceylon for the Island of Sicily. The same rich variety in the products of the soil, and the same dismemberment in the political configuration. Just as Italy has, from time to time, been compressed by the conqueror’s sword into different national masses, so do we find Hindostan, when not under the pressure of the Mohammedan, or the Mogul[104], or the Briton, dissolved into as many independent and conflicting States as it numbered towns, or even villages. Yet, in a social point of view, Hindostan is not the Italy, but the Ireland of the East. And this strange combination of Italy and of Ireland, of a world of voluptuousness and of a world of woes, is anticipated in the ancient traditions of the religion of Hindostan. That religion is at once a religion of sensualist exuberance, and a religion of self-torturing asceticism; a religion of the Lingam and of the juggernaut; the religion of the Monk, and of the Bayadere.[105]

Aiding Karl Marx-Max Mueller, English poets were press ganged into this propaganda war. Matthew Arnold wrote how, India, a ‘nation of philosophers, from

“The East bowed low before the blast
In patient, deep disdain,
She let the legions thunder past,
And plunged in thought again.”

Matthew Arnold’s influence in Indian education can be gauged by the fact that Indian-English language poetry was for long called derisively as Matthew Arnold in a Saree”. Just before 1857 War, the works of another ‘influential’ poet, John Keats, became popular. In his hubristic haze, Keats wrote how,

The kings of Ind their jewel-sceptres vail,
And from their treasures scatter pearled hail;
Great Brahma from his mystic heaven groans,
And all his priesthood moans,
Before young Bacchus’ eye-wink turning pale.

Much of modern history’s debates and questions were born during this time – verily created to wage a propaganda war against India – and the world. India’s cultural stature in the pantheon of world’s societies was reduced to a minimal role – and the Greek Miracle was born.

In the dying days of the Raj

This propaganda war continued well for another 100 years. In the middle of WW2, Britain pulled out a general from the Italian theatre of war. Brigadier General Mortimer Wheeler, the general in question, was sent to India – to head colonial India’s archaeological operations.

One evening in early August 1943, Brigadier-General Mortimer Wheeler was resting in his tent after a long day of poring over maps, drawing up plans for invasion of Sicily. Mortimer Wheeler was invited to become the director general of archaeology by the India Office of the British government in its last years of rule in South Asia … Summoning a general from the battlefields of Europe was an extraordinary measure, an admission both of the desperate condition of Indian archaeology and an acknowledgment of its vital importance. (from The Strides of Vishnu: Hindu Culture … – Google Books).

Amazing!

Why would the glorious British Empire, on which the sun never set, struggling for its very existence, in the middle of WW2, suddenly pull a general back from the battlefield? Remember, the deceptive Operation Mincement had just been completed. The Allies for readying their armies for their assault on Hitler in Europe. The outcome of the war was far from certain.

And they put a Brigadier-General into archaeology! That too, Indian archaeology. Not Egyptian, not Greek! Especially, when it was clear, that they would be departing from India – sooner rather than later.

Rule Britannia
Rule Britannia

Right choice … right time

Considering what theories came from Mortimer Wheeler’s rather fertile ‘imagination’ and his rigourous archaeological process, in hindsight, from a Western perspective, this was sound decision. There may be the facile answer that the British were, after all ‘searching for history and truth’.

And it led Mortimer Wheeler to remark,

“They demonstrate with astonishing clarity the extent to which the brief transit of Alexander did in fact Hellenize almost instantly vast tracts of Asia populated previously by nomads or semi-nomads and villagers”

It is this one incident which possibly contains answers to many unanswered questions like: –

  1. The amount of energy expended by the West in defending the Aryan Invasion /Migration Theory,
  2. The lack of access to Indian scholars of the archaeological sites in Pakistan
  3. The many myths in Indian history
  4. The clues to the partition of India
  5. The dating problems

et al.

Just why did the world’s foremost imperial power, struggling for its very existence, suddenly pull a general from the battle field, in the middle of WW2 – and put him onto the job of digging dirt.

Only one explanation fits – it had to be a struggle for its own existence at a higher level!

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India – Beyond Individuals

Posted in Current Affairs, History, Uncategorized by Anuraag Sanghi on January 26, 2008

Bhagvad Geeta4, 7Bhagvad Geeta4, 8“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in righteousness, O descendant of Bharata, and a rise of evil — at that time I manifest myself. To deliver all those who believe in goodness and to annihilate the evil, to reestablish righteousness, I will appear, in millennium after millennium.” Bhagwad Geetha IV, 7-8.

Who was Kalidasa? No one quite knows. After composing some of the best lyrical poetry ever, (in Sanskrit), little is known about him. His life lives in his works. Who was Ved Vyasa – the writer of Mahabharata? Or for that matter Valmiki! No one knows. About any one of these people.

Yet, whenever, India had needed, inspirations have come. To lead us … असतो मा सद्गमय From untruth to the truth … तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय … From darkness to light … मृतयोर् मा अमृतं गमय … from termination, to eternity …

Portrait Of Tipu SultanTipu Sultan unceasing opposition for more than 30 years (The Mysore Wars – 1767-1799) to the foreign rule before the 1857 War made the British rulers cautious about waging war in India. Immediately thereafter was the challenge of the Sikh qaum – led by Ranjit Singh. The death of Ranjit SinghRanjit Singh & Laili - His Favorite Horse in (1839) gave them another opportunity. Then followed the Afghan wars and the Sikh Wars (between 1839-1850). In 1857 was the India‘s first war of Independence.

From 1857 to the 1900, the British colonial government decimated Indian leadership. Bahadur Shah Zafar was sent to Rangoon. Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi. Ahalyabai Holkar. Tantia Tope. Leader after leader came to the fore. And India continued to redefine itself.

Swami VivekanandaFrom feudal and hereditary leaders, the leadership slowly changed. From political to social. In parallel. In 1828, Raja Ram Mohan Roy formed the Brahmo Samaj. In 1875, Swami Dayanand formed the Arya Samaj. On 24th December 1892, Swami Vivekananda reached Kanyakumari – after travelling across India. He was entertained by rajas and the रंकDadabhai Naoroji (commoners) of his day.

Then followed the political leadership. Dadabhai Naoroji’s (Congress President in 1886, 1893 1906) research and quantification of the British Loot from India started a new set of leaders against colonial rule – and a new definition of India. Tilak’s demand for ‘swaraj’ and ‘swadeshi’ Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilakgoods unnerved the colonialists. The colonial British Government deported Balgangadhar Tilak to Rangoon. He came back stronger than before. In other countries, when old leaders and rulers were removed or replaced, those countries descended into dictatorship, confusion, poverty. In India, we had wave after wave of leaders – and each time India moved forward. In a direction which has no precedents in world history.

What Happened In Other Countries

Why do Australia and Canada still acknowledge the British Queen as the head of the state? Spain has Juan Carlos I as its king! Did you know that Belgium has Albert II as it King? And Queen Beatrix rules over Holland (The Netherlands). King Akihito is venerated by the Japanese – and is the head of the state. Sweden is ruled by King Carl XVI Gustaf. Luxembourg has the Grand Duke Henri as its equivalent to a King! King Harald V lords over Norway! Queen Margrethe II rules over Denmark. The world still has quite a few monarchies – especially in the OECD. Why?

France removed and guillotined the monarchs – and they got Napoleon Bonaparte, as dictator! Russia tried – and they got 70 years of communist dictatorship. Italy asked King Victor Emmanuel III to go – and got Mussolini. The British exiled the Kaiser of Germany – and the Germans had to put up with Hitler thereafter.

Britain terminated the Turkish Ottoman Empire – and Turkey got a benign dictator, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, and then not so benign dictators – and is yet to recover! East Europe (Romania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Albania, etc) promptly started fighting with each other, within and without – after the kings were removed. China became communist after the last emperor – and still has a communist dictatorship. Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, most of Africa, South America – same or similar story.

This history is why Canada and Australia cling to the skirts of British Monarchy.

Republican Democracy

America became one of the first successful Republican democracies – from 1789, when George Washington became the first elected President of USA. (70 years later there was a Civil War). America survived.

Israel, (propped up by massive US aid) is another country which has been a republican democracy for more than 50 years. Switzerland (with guaranteed neutrality from the European powers) is another in modern history to survive 50 years of republican democracy. Srilanka has been another country which has survived 50 years as republican democracy – but just about.

India is the youngest Republican democracy – and we have completed a historic 50 years as republican democracy – Jan 26th 1950, till date.

Gandhiji’s Conquest

But before the republic, came the unification of India – the crowning achievement of Gandhiji. Not the political union (achieved by Sardar Patel) – but the ideological union!

Garibaldi (united Italy), Bismarck (united Germany), Simon Bolivar (liberated and united South American countries) were unifiers who succeeded with the help of armies.

Gandhiji (armed with a walking stick) unified a larger India (and Pakistan) without an army. An India and a Pakistan – bigger than what the largest empire in the history of the world, the British Empire could not conquer with its armies.

One Clean Break

To make a one clean break from the feudal-colonial past – and succeed! That is a dream – never before in the history of the world. India made history – by surviving for 50 years with a republican democracy.

In 1947, India was a feudal society with more than 500 Kings and (some) Queens at the time of Independence. (No, the British did not rule over all of modern India). Large parts of India also had to change from a colonial mindset.

How Is India Unique

However, no other country has 15 official languages.

Switzerland has only 4. Sri Lanka’s Sinhalas do not want to accept Sri Lankan Tamils as full and equal citizens – hence the 20 year old civil war.

Social Equality

The liberation of Blacks in the USA is a 1970s phenomenon. It took non-violent protests (Martin Luther King) and violent threats (Malcolm X) for some kind of real emancipation and equity to come in.

Blacks in the USA legally got full and equal liberty only in 1964 after President Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act of 1964. Earlier in 1954, President Eisenhower had to send in the army (the National Guard). In the Cold War scenario, under international media glare, during the Little Rock School stand-off, Eisenhower (a Southerner himself) reacted. The Mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas closed down the school rather than de-segregate. De-segregation (between the Blacks and Whites) happened clearly and fully only by 1970-75. Non-violent protests by Martin Luther King (inspired by Gandhiji’s) till 1968 and violent threats by Malcolm X thereafter, made desegregation a reality. Not to forget Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. The eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation during the Kennedy years produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But, Gandhiji’s first step, after coming back from South Africa, (many decades before India’s Independence, Unification and the creation of the Republic) was to start social reform against untouchability.

Enforcement – or Help

India and America, created their own constitutions without external enforcement. Republican democracy in Germany was imposed by the Allied Powers – hence their record is blemished.

Religions

In most countries, religion divides. In India, we are different. India has the world’s second /third largest Muslim population. The Indian Christian population is equal to that of most majority-Christian countries – excluding just a few big one like USA, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, etc. Buddhists number nearly 50 lakhs. Sikhs, Parsis (Zoorastrians), Bahais, follows their own religion. Iranians, Armenians, Jews, Chinese have come to India – when persecuted in their homelands.

Racism! Anyone?

No, thanks!

India has the Caucasoid stock – spread over the North and West India; Australoid stock spread over South India and the Mongoloid stock spread over of East and North East. There is also a very small sprinkling of the Negroid stock – less than 1%.

The Challenges Ahead

The challenges ahead are defence and economics.

India’s defence unpreparedness is beyond comprehension. Worse, is the lack of threat perception. Indians (sadly and truly) limit their threat perception to the Pakistanis – and the Chinese. with the world’s largest private reserves of gold India becomes a target. The resultant global and emerging threats are unrealised. We spend billions of dollars on buying arms all over the world – but our domestic arms industry is starving.

The second is economics. The world trade systems, financial agreements, currency management continue to drag down India – and many other countries. Navigating these uncharted waters successfully is the other.

And I am sure that another set of new leaders will arrive and take India forward to another level.

Sooner – not later.

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