Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan's
History of the *Bijnor* Rebellion (1858)
Preface by Hafeez Malik

No single event in the history of modern India excites the scholarly, as well as the popular, imagination more than the Revolt of 1857. The controversy still continues: was it a mutiny, a rebellion, or a war of independence? It is doubtful that Indian, Pakistani, and British scholars would ever share a common interpretation of the events of 1857, any more than American and British historians would view alike the nature of the American Revolution or the American War of Independence. This disagreement, the passion and prejudice, make the study of 1857 an intriguing enterprise.

The contemporary British view described 1857 as a "great mutiny," a "Dalhousie aftermath," a "Brahmanical protest," and a ''Muslim rebellion." An underlying theme in all these interpretations was the British concept of "Divine chastisement," which implied their failure to fulfill the "Sacred Mission" of spreading Christianity among the peoples of India. Consequently, the Palmerston Government designated October 7, 1857, as a day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayers. Thousands of Britons flocked to the churches to seek Divine forgivness and aid in putting down the revolt of the Indians. As we might expect, therefore, the British victory in 1858 was attributed to Divine intervention against the "heathens" of India. Frederick Henry Cooper, the Deputy Commissionet; of Amritsar, echoed in 1858 this British faith:

It was not policy, or soldiers, or officers that saved the Indian Empire to England and saved England to India. The Lord our God, He it was. Rough hewn as were all the human devices in the vast struggle, Divine Providence shaped their ends. Apparent weaknesses were turned into sources of real strength; foolishness became wisdom.
Not knowing that God was on Britain's side, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan also prayed in 1858, while he was in Moradabad preparing to write the history of the revolt in the district of Bijnor:
May God grant me his guidance so that this history may be full and accurate. One-sidedness in historical writing is such a dishonest action that its effect remains forever, so that the burden of the sin rests on the writer's neck until the Day of Judgment. Much that appears in this history was either seen by me personally or done by me personally. The balance was written after thorough investigation and is completely true and accurate.
Sir Sayyid's avowed impartiality should be discussed. To him impartiality did not include treating the rebels of Bijnor as the equals of the British East India Company; nor were they "patriots" or "nationalists" exercizing their right of political independence. They had defied the lawful British authority in error of judgment, in greed, and out of their ancestral pride. Consequently, Sir Sayyid always referred to Nawab Mahmud Khan, the central figure of the revolt in Bijnor, as Na-Mahmud (the cursed one). Sir Sayyid did provide, however, a faithful description of the events, and distributed the blame and responsibility impartially between the Hindu and Muslim subjects of the Company. To that extent his history is reliable and free from the distortions that frequently occurred in the British literature on the events of 1857.

In the Rohilkhand the rebellion in the district of Bijnor presented the all­India problems in a microcosm: who started the rebellion, who sustained it, and finally who remained loyal to stamp it out? Half of the total population of the Bijnor district, the Muslim minority led by Nawab Mahmud Khan (a descendant of Nawab Najib-ud-Daulah), initiated the rebellion and consequently suffered most when the British Raj was re-established. The Hindu elite remained loyal to Britain and was appropriately rewarded by the British Government. Nevertheless, while the Hindu and Muslim elites pursued mutually exclusive ambitions, Hindu and Muslim employees of the Company (including Sir Sayyid) remained steadfast in their loyalty and devotion to their British superiors.

Also, 1857 taught Sir Sayyid another lesson which was to mould his attitude toward the Hindus in subsequent years. It convinced him that although the British Raj maintained peace between Hindus and Muslims, it did not blend them into a single nationality, aspiring to a common political end. In fact he saw in Bijnor Hindus and Muslims oppressing each other during the interruption of British rule. It was obvious to him that if Hindus and Muslims could not close their ranks and adjust to each other's aspirations and just demands in an emergency, they were less likely to achieve a satisfactory modus vivendi in peaceful times.

Sir Sayyid's account of the events of 1857 comprises three works, composed between 1857-58: Tarikh Sarkashiy-i Dhilla Bijnor (History of the Revolt in the District of Bijnor), Asbab-i Baghawat-i Hind (Causes for the Revolt of India), Prayer For Peace at Moradabad. A letter in 1869 to Sir John Kaye is a fourth pertinent document. To the best of our knowledge they are the only works on the revolt of 1857 produced by an Indian who not only analyzed the event itself, but actually participated in it. Their importance, therefore, cannot be over­estimated. Yet, despite their historical value, they have generally remained unknown or unused by historians. As far as we know, this volume is the first compilation available in the English language.

A word of explanation on the division of labor is in order. The first drafts of the translation of the Tarikh Sarkashiy-i Dhilla Bijnor (the Bijnor rebellion) were produced independently, and a final draft evolved through a series of conferences between Malik and Dembo. Hence, we share equally the responsibility for the merits and demerits of the translation. Three Urdu texts -- one published by Delhi's Nadwat ul-Musannifin and edited by Sharafat Husain Mirza of New Delhi University; the second published by Lahore's Majlis Taraqqi-e Adab and edited by Maulana Muhammad Isma'il Panipati; and the third one edited by Dr. Mu'in ul-Haq of the Pakistan Historical Society in Karachi -­ were consulted and compared. Although we benefited from the learned comments of the three editors, the final responsibility in arranging the history rests entirely on us. In general we followed Mirza's test of Tarikh Sarkashiy-i Dhila Bijnor. Unfortunately, we did not have access to Sir Sayyid's original manuscript.

Originally Asbab-i Baghawat-i Hind was translated in 1873 by Sir Sayyid's two English friends, Major-General G. F. I. Graham and Sir Aucklan Colvin. In comparing the Urdu draft of the Asbab with the English translation we noticed several inaccuracies, but we have made no attempt to correct or even modify them. Since the translation was published under Sir Sayyid's name and supervision, it should be accepted as an independent and self-contained document. These comments are also applicable to the Prayer For Peace at Moradabad, although we could not determine the names of the original translators.

Sir Sayyid's letter of 1869 to Sir John Kaye was found by Hafeez Malik in the India Office Library in London along with the Prayer. Initially dictated in Urdu (as was Sir Sayyid's practice) the letter was translated into English by his son, Sayyid Mahmud, who was then enrolled as a student of law at the Lincoln's Inn in London. (On his return from London in 1967, Malik discovered that the letter was first published in the Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society in 1960.

As a final note, we hope that readers will help us by sending their comments about the quality of the translation. All suggestions will be considered for the second printing of the volume. The translators are grateful to Mrs. Marta Nicholas for editing this volume, and calling our attention to necessary matters of detail which were overlooked by us.

Hafeez Malik

Arden Road
The Village of Gulph Mills

-- *Bijnor index page* -- *Glossary* -- *FWP's main page* --