Hindu-Muslim Unity Factor - 1857 Revolt

Introduction

Revolt of 1857 was characterised by Hindu-Muslim unity. The Sepoys and the common people of both the major communities i.e. Hindus and the Muslim, fought together against the British. Though, there were some cleavages between the Hindus and Muslims before beginning of the revolt, the two communities sank their differences to get united and fight against the British Raj in 1857, which provided a new strength and energy to the uprising.
Relations between Hindu and Muslims in the years preceding the revolt
  • In the beginning of colonial rule, Muslims who suffered from loss of power and prestige due to colonization, had kept themselves aloof from the British, on the other hand some members of Hindu community welcomed the British due to their strong aversion to the Muslim rule.
  • The Hindus and Muslims were regarded both by the British and the Indians as two separate communities with distinct cultures.
  • In general, there was communal harmony in India with a mutual respect for each other's faith and incidents involving communal clashes were very insignificant.
  • Before 1857, people from both faiths had started to perceive British rule as a threat to their religion due to missionary activities, rumour of mixing bone dust in the flour and the infamous Enfield rifle. These rumours had, in fact brought them together.
Hindu-Muslim Unity Factor
Rumours brought them together
There was the rumour that the British government had hatched a gigantic conspiracy to destroy the caste and religion of Hindus and Muslims. To this end, the rumours said, the British had mixed the bone dust of cows and pigs into the flour that was sold in the market. There was fear and suspicion that the British wanted to convert Indians to Christianity.
Introduction of the Enfield rifle in the army worsened these fears. The loading process of the Enfield rifle involved bringing the cartridge to the mouth and biting off the top. There was a rumour among the Sepoys in January 1857 that the greased cartridge contained the fat of cow and pig. The cow is sacred to the Hindus and the pig is forbidden to the Muslims.
The sepoys were now convinced that the introduction of greased cartridges was a deliberate attempt to defile Hindu and Muslim religion and their religious feelings.
Loyalty to Mughal crown
After the outbreak of the revolt in Meerut, the rebels captured Delhi, the Muslim Imperial capital and declared the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah, a Muslim as the emperor of India. All the rebels, from both faiths acknowledged Bahadur Shah Zafar as the emperor. Long reign of Mughal dynasty had made the Mughals the symbol of political unity of India and people felt a deep sense of loyalty towards the Mughal crown. This was evident from proclamation of Bahadur Shah as the emperor of India, soon after the breakout of the revolt.
Representation in leadership
People from both faiths were well represented in the leadership and administration in the rebellion affected areas. For example, Nana Saheb had Azimullah, a Muslim as an aide and advisor and Rani Lakshmi Bai had support of Afghan soldiers. Among the rebellion leaders, Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah, being a Muslim had wide following of people from both faiths. This strong unity along religious lines among the rebel ranks had in fact made British uncomfortable, who in turn made various attempts to divide Hindus and Muslims, but failed to divide them.
Mutual respect for each other s faiths and sentiments
Rebels and sepoys included people from both faith viz. Hindu and Muslims. The leaders of the rebellion understood the importance of Hindu-Muslim unity and special care was taken not to hurt religious sentiments of any community. People from both faiths respected each other's religious sentiments. For example, immediate banning of cow slaughter was ordered, once an area was captured by the rebels.
The vision of unity
During the revolt, proclamations in Hindi, Urdu and Persian were put up in the cities calling upon the population, both Hindus and Muslims, to unite, rise and exterminate the British.
The rebel proclamations in 1857 repeatedly appealed to all sections of the population, irrespective of their caste and creed. Many of the proclamations were issued by Muslim princes or in their names but even these took care to address the sentiments of Hindus. The rebellion was seen as a war in which both Hindus and Muslims had equally to lose or gain.
Conclusions
It was remarkable that during the uprising religious divisions between Hindus and Muslim were hardly noticeable despite British attempts to create such divisions. The revolt of 1857 had demonstrated the fact that people and politics in India was not communal before the revolt of 1857.

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