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The War of Independence of 1857 and Harsh Realities

America and its allies committed aggression against Iraq, claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to the security of America and other Western countries. But eventually, it was proved that Iraq did not possess any such weapons. After this situation, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair suddenly changed his stance and said that we are certain that history will prove our actions to be right. Tony Blair spoke as if the task of writing history would be in their hands in the future, and they could write whatever they wished about their aggression. If this was not the case, Tony Blair would have known that history is ruthless. It not only separates facts from fiction but also revives the sorrows and bitterness of the past. The latest proof of this is that after 9/11, the Western world has associated Islam and Muslims with terrorism and extremism to such an extent that Muslims are forced to recall the colonial history and experiences under the European powers.

One of the most bitter colonial experiences of Muslims was the War of Independence of 1857. To keep Bahadur Shah Zafar away from this war of independence, the British assured him that if he stayed away from the freedom fighters, his kingdom, and privileges would not be in danger. However, the British did not fulfill the promise made to Bahadur Shah Zafar. On the contrary, they beheaded the princes and sent their heads to Bahadur Shah Zafar as gifts. Moreover, the British did not even allow Bahadur Shah Zafar to die and be buried in India.

The ruler of the world’s most magnificent kingdom was forced to live an anonymous life in a room in Rangoon and died in obscurity. This helplessness and confinement was expressed in the poetry of Bahadur Shah Zafar, whose couplet captures this tragedy as:

کتنا ہے بدنصیب ظفر دفن کے لیے
دو گز زمیں بھی نہ ملی کوئے یار میں

How unlucky is Zafar, for his burial

He couldn’t even find two yards of land in the beloved’s street

However, the personal tragedy of Bahadur Shah Zafar is only one percent of the War of Independence of 1857. The British termed this war of independence as mutiny and rebellion, although from the British point of view, this war of independence deserved to be called a “civil war” at most. The reason for this is that the whole of India was under British rule, and not only Hindus but Muslims were also “subjects” of the British. If subjects become unhappy with their rulers, they are not made victims of genocide and ethnic cleansing, but it leads to discussions, efforts are made for negotiations, legitimate grievances of subjects are removed and they are reassured and thus made “more loyal”. An example of this is the relationship between Britain and Ireland’s freedom-fighting organization, the Sinn Féin. The Sinn Féin waged an armed struggle against the central government for decades, but Britain did not turn Ireland into a slaughterhouse, rather it finally negotiated with the Sinn Féin and found a peaceful modus vivendi. However, the extent of the atrocities during the War of Independence of 1857 is unparalleled in history. According to books written on the War of Independence, in just a few days, 27,000 people were martyred in Delhi alone. According to an estimate 52,000 religious scholars were martyred throughout India. British soldiers were so overwhelmed with power and revenge that being a Muslim had become a crime in itself. British soldiers would catch people and ask “Hindu or Muslim”? As soon as it was found out that the captured person was a Muslim, he would be killed. A wounded British soldier entered a neighborhood in Delhi and attempted to break into a women’s quarters of a house. The residents of the house prevented him from doing so, and this simple resistance turned into a serious crime for the entire neighborhood. All the men of the neighborhood were taken to the banks of Yamuna and told that whoever could run and cross the water would survive, and whoever could not should be prepared to die. In no time, the sand of Yamuna was soaked red with Muslim blood. Those who jumped into the Yamuna River drowned and died. The War of Independence had degraded the morals and psychology of the British to such an extent that it can be well gauged from this quote by British author Bosworth Smith:

“Some officers in a frenzy of Roman barbarity insisted that Delhi city, which was the pride and capital of India… should be completely destroyed and reduced to rubble. Others went even further in religious madness and urged that the Jama Masjid, which was one of the most beautiful and precious buildings in the world, should be demolished or at least its domes destroyed and converted into a church.”

According to Bosworth, some British proposed wreaking havoc in Delhi. A large number of mosques were converted into barracks. Dogs were kept and pigs were slaughtered there. Outside Delhi, even other cities and villages could not escape British brutality either. It was the resistance and strategy of the Muslims that enabled them to survive, otherwise, the British would have spared no effort in exterminating them. The British rule was an era of injustice, coercion, and state terrorism in which the elimination of Muslims was attempted. It was a bigger holocaust than Hitler’s Holocaust against the Jews in which over 6 million people were killed.

Despite these facts, for the past one and a half centuries, Britain is considered as the mother of democracy. It is the center of the Magna Carta of human rights. It is a symbol of civilization and sophistication. It is a symbol of thought and reflection. It is the minaret of diplomacy, and their Prime Minister, while creating a hostility that killed 600,000 Muslims in just five years, says that history will applaud our action and will justify it. But the truth is that if history stands witness against the Western world, the people of the West will not be able to show their faces for centuries.

But the War of Independence of 1857 does not only have negative aspects. This war of independence saved the Islamic nation of the subcontinent from becoming prisoners to the psychology of slavery, and just 80 years after this war, the Muslims of the subcontinent became capable of launching a great movement for the creation of an independent homeland in the subcontinent. It was not easy to absorb the huge loss of life and property suffered by Muslims in the War of Independence of 1857, but the Islamic nation of the subcontinent absorbed it and showed that it could think and act despite the extremely negative experiences.