History of the *Bijnor* Rebellion (1858)
*This letter in Sir Sayyid's original handwritten version* from Asbab-e baghavat-e Hind, ed. by Salim ud-Din Quraishi (Lahore: Sang-e Meel Publications, 1997), pp. 122-127
21 Meeklenburgh Square W.C.
My dear Sir,
With many many thanks I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your favour of the 30th ultimo and at the same time to ask your pardon for the delay which has taken place in answering it. I am sorry to learn you are unwell, but hope that under God's blessing you may ere long be restored to your wonted health.
In yours now under reply you honour me by asking my opinion "as to the extent to which the Mutiny of 1857 grew into a popular rebellion in the N. W. Provinces," and express your opinion that "it was not a mere military mutiny." As far as my personal knowledge extends respecting the Sepoy Revolt of 1857, and from all that I have learnt from investigation, I find that even the use of the expression "Military Mutiny" conveys an idea of something more than the real fact.
It cannot be denied that the use of the greased cartridges did violence to the superstition of the sepoys, who consequently determined not to bite the same. Almost all the sepoys had unanimously resolved never to bite the cartridge, which determination was the only charge that could be brought against them, till a very severe punishment was inflicted upon them at Meerut, a punishment which produced a strong impression on the minds of those men, that they must either bite the greased cartridges or suffer the punishment of their disobedience. And it was then and not before that the discontent of the sepoys grew into a Military Mutiny. I am strongly of opinion that if before the infliction of punishment the alternative either of biting the cartridges or resigning the service had been offered to them, the sepoys would undoubtedly have peaceably withdrawn themselves from the Company's service. If the real facts connected with the revolt in the N. W. P. be calmly inquired into, I do not think that the events which happened there can properly be designated as a "popular rebellion."
Undoubtedly the people of the N. W. P. were dissatisfied with the Company's rule, and this in a great measure was owing to the following causes: -- the decay of respectable families, without the void they left being filled up by others; -- the non-existence of any means by which the native community could procure honorable situations; more especially -- the forfeiture of the Muafee (right of holding lands without paying any rent to Government), which act of the authorities was considered a great injustice by the natives; and lastly to some other causes of less importance. It may also be safely asserted that the Gov't's exercise of the right of "Predominant Power," a power subject to no regulations and unlimited, and the interference, in a way till then unknown, in the cases of adoption and lapse, had created a distrust in the mind of native chiefs, who perhaps did no longer think themselves secure. It does, however, by no means appear that even this stimulated them to revolt or take any part in the rebellion, for no native chiefs whatever, who were in possession of their principalities, notwithstanding the distrust with which they looked upon the Company's rule, committed themselves by any act of rebellion against the Government.
Quitting the subject of the Military Mutiny I shall now briefly describe the character of the rebellion in the N. W. Provinces. The rebellion in the N. W. P. assumed three forms:
1st. Robbers and Dacoits who were kept down by the power and strength of the Government, now assembling in numbers, not only attacked way-farers but also plundered villages and even towns.
2nd. Some of the minor chiefs whose families had fallen into decay, endeavoured the resuscitation of their ancestral power. This sort of mutiny occurred in four places only: Cawnpore, Bareilly, Bijnaur, and Farrukhabad. Some of these parties tried to have themselves restored, while others were compelled by the mutineers to make an effort.
3rd. Some of the lower classes, variously employed, entered the service of these rebellious chiefs.
The first kind of rebellion cannot strictly by deemed one against the Government. The third sort of rebellion also, although undoubtedly a crime, cannot be called a regular rebellion, if we take into consideration the then state of India, where serving a rebellious chief was not considered equivalent to an act of rebellion. This notion had taken deep root in the native mind in times previous to the Company's rule, when chiefs fought with each other, and when engaging in the Military service of either party was not considered as a crime. The second sort of revolt was indeed of a serious nature, but this bad feeling was exclusively confined to the above-mentioned rebellious chiefs and was never general. As far as I know the population of no part of the N. W. P. tried to render, or even thought of rendering, any assistance to the native rebellious chiefs, much less of subverting the British rule. A great proof of the justice of this assertion lies in the fact that as soon as the mutinous troops and the rebellious chiefs were expelled from a District, peace was immediately restored.
I therefore think that the mutiny of 1857 was not a popular rebellion. To a European mind unacquainted with the state of India, the very name of rebellion at once carries with it an idea that the people of the country must have taken part in it, and real facts are thus ignored.
With feelings of sincere regard, and hoping the above will suffice to give you some idea of my humble opinion.
I remain, Dear Sir,
Very truly yours,