Civil Rebellions in North India
- Wahabi Movement: The Wahabi movement was founded by Syed Ahmed of Rae Bareli. It was an Islamic revivalist movement, influenced by the teachings of Abdul Wahab of Arabia and those of saint Shah Waliullah of Delhi. Syed Ahmed condemned all accretions to and innovations in Islam, particularly those under the influence of the West, and advocated a return to the pure Islam which he identified with the society of Arabia of the Prophet's times.
- Syed Ahmed got popular as the desired leader, or the Imam. The movement set up an elaborate countrywide organization with a secret code for its working under four spiritual vice-regents, also known as the Khalifas. Sithana which was in Dar-ul-Islam and situated in the North-Western tribal belt was chosen as the center of their operations. The movement had its important center at Patna with its missions situated in other parts such as Hyderabad, Madras, United Provinces, and Bombay.
- With an aim of converting the Dar-ul-Harb, or the world of nonbelievers, into Dar-ul-Islam, or the world of Islam, a jihad (holy war) was declared against the Sikh kingdom of Punjab. Syed Ahmed got killed in a battle in 1831. After the defeat of the Sikh ruler by the East India Company and the incorporation of Punjab into the Company's dominion in 1849, the English rule became the sole target of the Wahabis in India.
- They played a significant role in the spread of anti-British sentiments among the Muslims and they continued to challenge the British supremacy during 1830 to 1860. The British government launched a series of military operations against the Wahabis. In the 1860s, the Wahabi base of Sithana got weakened due to the British military efforts, which were aided and abetted by the frontier tribesmen, and also a number of court cases were filed against the Wahabis for sedition. However, their sporadic encounters with the English continued in the 1880s and 1890s.
- Kuka Movement: This movement was started in Punjab under the leadership of Bhagat Jawahar Mal in 1845. Its aim was to purify the Sikh religion but soon it drifted to become a political movement after the annexation of Punjab by the East India Company. Jawahar Mal came to be popularly known as Sion Saheb. Ram Singh was an important leader of the movement. In 1872, he was arrested and deported to Rangoon and the movement was crushed.
Weaknesses of these Uprisings
Though these rebellions and uprisings reflected a culture of local resistance against an authoritarian rule, they also suffered from many weaknesses:
- They were mostly localised and isolated in nature. They were a result of local grievances. They did not have a nationalist outlook.
- Their leadership was backward and semi-feudal in nature. The leaders were traditional in their outlook. They wanted a revival of pre-British socio-economic conditions, rather than presenting an alternative social order befitting a modern nation.
- Modern ideals such as democracy, rule of law etc., were alien to these uprisings and they could not comprehend the new administrative and law and order set up by the British. The ideological and cultural content of these rebellions was centuries old in form.
- They had underestimated the superiority of the British might. These uprisings were not organized based on any modern military strategy, nor did the fighting tribesmen possess any modern weaponry. They mostly used traditional weapons such as bow and arrow, axe and sickle etc. Hence, they were easily crushed by the British.
- Since these uprisings took place at different places and at different points of time, their efforts were not coordinated, which could have otherwise presented a united fight against the British rule.
- These uprisings could not comprehend the colonial character of the British rule and were mostly directed against their immediate oppressors such as the zamindars, moneylenders, colonial officials, or at the symbols of state power such as administrative offices, police stations etc.
- Some of them were pacified by the British authorities by doling out minor concessions.
Nevertheless, these rebellions served as inspiration for the upcoming freedom struggle. The leaders of the freedom movement could realise the might of the British Empire and devised a strategy of non-violent mass movement which ultimately resulted in independence from the colonial rule.