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Soldiers of the Raj


Kaushik Roy

TULSI LEAVES AND THE GANGES WATER: THE SLOGAN OF THE FIRST SEPOY MUTINY AT BARRACKPORE, 1824
By Premansu Kumar Bandyopadhyay
K.P. Bagchi and Company, Kolkata, 2003, pp. xvi 239, Rs. 400.00

THE INDIAN ARMY AND THE MAKING OF PUNJAB
By Rajit K. Mazumder
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2003, pp. xxv 281, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 5-6 May/June 2004

The Sepoy Army was one of the principal pillars of British colonialism in South Asia. It consumed about 40% of the budget of the British Indian Empire.1  The Sepoy Army whose size in the nineteenth century fluctuated between 150,000 to 250,000 sepoys and sowars offered one of the biggest employment opportunities to the colonial subjects of British India. About 20,000 men were recruited annually.2  Military recruitment for certain communities proved to be a vehicle for upward mobility. And when the British lost control over their brown sword arm in the aftermath of World War II, the pace of decolonization accelerated.       The officers of the British Indian Empire wrote profusely about the military activities of the Raj. But, independent India’s historiography first under the throes of Marxism and then due to the impact of postmodernism have largely neglected the crucial role played by armies and warfare in shaping the course of modern Indian history. A renaissance in military studies of British Indian Empire started from the 1990s. Historians, sociologists and political scientists have turned their attention towards the social, cultural and political impact of the armies of the Raj. Some enthusiasts have categorized the above mentioned approach as ‘new military history’.3  Whether the study of army and society represents new military history or not could be endlessly debated. The two volumes under review (which are incidentally modified forms of two Ph.D. theses from the School of Oriental and African Studies) are an extension of the so called new military history. While Premansu Kumar Bandyopadhyay analyses the problems faced by the British in constructing a loyal army in the first half of the nineteenth century, Rajit Mazumder shifts the focus on to the second half of the nineteenth century. Mazumder rightly claims that the sepoys recruited from Punjab from the 1880s onwards proved to be loyal. However, the sepoys recruited from Purab were indeed troublesome for the British till 1857. Bandyopadhyay’s monograph turns the limelight on this problematic.       Most of the mutiny literature focuses on the 1857 Mutiny.4  But, as Bandyopadhyay shows, the Barrackpore Mutiny of 1824 seriously threatened the foundations of British rule in India. The Barrackpore Mutiny was the precursor of the great 1857 Mutiny. In Barrackpore, three Bengal Infantry regiments (26th, 47th and 62nd respectively) collectively challenged British authority. If the rebellious regiments acted a bit more aggressively, then they could have captured the Governor General. Most of the historians emphasize on the caste ...


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