Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan's
History of the *Bijnor* Rebellion (1858)
Introduction by FWP

For years, I used to xerox for classroom use parts of a notable red workbook called, to give it its full title, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan's History of the Bijnor Rebellion, translated with notes and introduction by Hafeez Malik and Morris Dembo (Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing; South Asia Series, Occasional Paper No. 17). The workbook was undated but was certainly published in the 1970's. Eventually the same content (with the exception of the appendix containing "The Old Pindaree") was published in book form in India (Delhi: Idarah-i Adabiyat-i Delli, 1982).

When the internet became a part of our lives, it occurred to me to take the 1873 translation of Sir Sayyid's Causes of the Indian Revolt, which featured as "Appendix A" in the Hafeez and Dembo book, and put it online for the benefit of my students and others. When I did, I discovered that there were some textual problems; I ended up comparing that text with other editions, then preparing my own edition of the 1873 translation-- and then even doing my own extremely literal translation of the original Urdu text. Recently when I was cleaning up my office, my eye again fell on that original red workbook, and I thought how handy it would be if the macrocosmic Causes of the Indian Revolt could be joined online by its microcosmic companion, the History of the Bijnor Rebellion. But in this case the translation was very recent, and I wondered whether permission would be available. The only one of the two translators I was able to contact was Prof. Hafeez Malik, and to my satisfaction he willingly authorized me to put the translation online. I invited him to contribute a new introduction, in addition to his original one, but as yet he hasn't had the time to do so.

So I scanned that red workbook, ripping out each page for convenience as I did so, and admiring the beautiful clean typing on a fine electric typewriter, and the 8 1/2 x 11 format; the OCR result was unusually clear and accurate. But when I began to look closely at the text, I realized that I did need to make a few corrections. It was necessary to fix some small typographical errors, and to standardize the spelling a bit: the translation used haphazardly both "Mohammed" and "Muhammad," "Saroop" and "Sarup," "tehsildar" and "tahsildar," and so on in many similar cases. I decided to standardize such instances toward the translators' dominant choices, or toward the forms preferred in modern scholarly transliteration. (Many Hindu names tend to look a bit strange in Urdu transliteration anyway, and I haven't tried to correct these.)

Then as I became more deeply involved in reading and rereading this very compelling text, I ended up getting an Urdu edition (Sarkashi-e zila-e bijnor, ed. by Sharafat Husain Mirza, Delhi 1964) from the CU library in order to check on a few obscure readings. This was the text that Malik and Dembo followed most closely, of the three that they consulted (see Malik's "Preface" for details). On a number of points, where they must have been following other texts, I found small discrepancies between this edition and their English version. But I decided to stay with Malik and Dembo's editorial and textual judgments, in order to avoid getting bogged down in the extremely time-consuming business of text collation or re-translation. All footnotes are those of Malik and Dembo, as are editorial annotations in square brackets. My own few editorial annotations are in double square brackets. Beyond those few annotations, I have made a tiny handful of changes in sentence structure or particular words, in the interests of clarity or accuracy. These are few and careful, and for the most part don't amount to much in substantive terms; but in the interests of truth in labelling, I wanted to mention them. I've also numbered the sub-headings within each chapter, for convenience in reference, which the original translation does not do. (Actually the Urdu text has about twice as many such sub-headings, which the translation has understandably consolidated.)

Only one kind of change that I've made is more extensive and systematic, so I want to mention it particularly. Much of the political and military action so painstakingly documented by Sir Sayyid concerned the mutual relationships of various local elites. By far the most common title held by such locally powerful figures was that of "Rais." In the translation, that Urdu title was variously rendered as "Rais," "Reis," "landlord," or once in a while "headman." Similarly, the second most common title, "Chaudhri," was also sometimes rendered as "landlord," "Hindu landlord," or sometimes "headman." I have gone through and checked the translation against the Urdu, and done my best to standardize in favor of "Rais" and "Chaudhri" exactly where those appear in the Urdu text; I've also standardized "padhan" and "headman" to "Pradhan" in the few cases where that title appears. Some readers might value this kind of precision in the treatment of a few such key titles.

I've also standardized "horsemen," "mounted troops," and "horse-soldiers" to the translation's more commonly preferred "sowars"; I've standardized "jiza'il", "jizail," and "small cannon" to the more commonly preferred "jezail." And so on in a few other, even smaller cases. Note that the translation calls one character "Mareh" Khan, when a normal transliteration would be "Mare"; but to avoid evoking female horses, that choice seems sensible.

To my mind, one of the strangest features of the work is Sir Sayyid's remarkable claim, in Chapter 3, Section 8, that there had never, ever, been even the smallest religious conflict anywhere in the whole Bijnor district. I scrutinized this remarkable paragraph very closely in the Urdu; and somewhat adjusted the section title (by removing the word "immemorial," which doesn't appear in the Urdu, and which indeed contradicts the author's argument). In a way, this paragraph summarizes Sir Sayyid's whole story of the Bijnor revolt, as he himself observes.

8) The Reason that Enmity became Established between Hindus and Muslims

Before this fighting there had never been a dispute, nor feelings of hatred, nor even a religious altercation, between Hindus and Muslims of this District. On the contrary, Muslim servants prevailed in numbers in the houses of the Chaudhris. Hindus were employed in the same way, as soldiers, etc. at the Nawab's palace. However, in this fighting, the growth of hatred between Hindus and Muslims became more and more unavoidable. On the one side there was the group of Hindu leaders, while there was the group of Muslim leaders on the other side. To the extent that the Hindus reinforced their position, it was unavoidable that this new support was exclusively Hindu. The same happened for the Nawab; the support which he brought together was all Muslim. So it was that the growth of the dispute between Hindus and Muslims became unavoidable. Besides this factor, events had been continually taking place which led to an increase in religious hatred. For example, the Hindu temples in Sherkot were damaged by Muslims, while in Chittawar and Sowaheri, Hindus damaged the mosques. Also, Hindus singled out Muslims for killing, or Hindus were singled out for killing by Muslims. The whole story will appear in what is to follow.

While the general lines of the argument are clear enough, the absoluteness of the initial assertion looks a bit suspicious; and indeed, at other points in his argument Sir Sayyid contradicts it himself-- as in Chapter 5, Section 8, in which he recognizes a "long history of bad blood" between some Muslim and Hindu groups in Haldaur that seems to have included religious as well as commercial disputes:
No doubt the cloth printers and confectioners, who were all Muslim residents of Haldaur, had set these buildings belonging to Hindus on fire. There was a long history of bad blood between the Chaudhris and them about house rentals, the building of a mosque, and other matters. This rancor was so profound that all the buildings of the Hindus were ablaze in a short while; there were 10 to 12 Hindu fatalities, in addition.
Sir Sayyid's passionate overstatement of his own case helps to explain Hafeez Malik's use of the term "traumatized" to describe the effect on his mind of these Bijnor experiences. He had seen communal hatred and mutual massacres develop out of nothing more than normal political rivalries, reinvigorated feudal loyalties, and a desire for vengeance and loot-- he had seen the whole process unfolding, and he had found himself a helpless spectator, unable to prevent the violence. It's not surprising that he despaired, and that he held to the firm and religiously neutral British presence as to a lifeline. He was also bound by ties of real affection to some of his British superiors in the district, and was prepared to lay down his life for them, as he makes clear in Chapter 1, Section 8:
We speak the truth in our hearts when we say that Mr. Alexander Shakespeare (may he be fortunate!) and Mr. George Palmer showed such regard and consideration for us that we had come to love them dearly. In their service we truly had little regard for our own lives. I am sincerely revealing my inner feelings in saying that love for these gentlemen had filled my heart with profound anxiety on their account. As a consequence,. a flame of love, as it were, arose from my heart in order to surround them. We truly intended at the time to sacrifice ourselves first, like the moth, should -- God forbid -- that evil hour come; and then so be it. I do not have the slightest doubt that my two comrade officers felt the same way. We did not come to sit on watch that night at the Residence with the intention of leaving that place alive to return to our own homes again.
Here as in so much of this remarkable narrative, Sir Sayyid's sincerity and deep personal emotion shine through. The conclusions he drew from his Bijnor experiences may look, in retrospect, sadly unfortunate and misguided; but this memoir, more than any of his other writings, makes it clear how he reached them. It is a primary source of the first importance, and I'm glad to be able to make this English translation-- the only one ever made-- available to a wide audience.


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