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Sikhs and the rebellion of 1857 Sara, Harkirpal Singh


This thesis investigates the relation of the Sikhs to the Indian rebellion of 1857. References to the Sikhs have invariably been made in the histories of the sepoy mutiny, but none of them, not even the celebrated Sepoy War of Sir John Kaye, tackles this problem in detail. As a result, the student of the mutiny at best gets from these histories disjointed, and often inadequately explained, impressions about the role of the Sikhs during the great upheaval. This thesis accordingly sets out to analyze the effects of the sepoy mutiny on the history of the Sikhs. I have examined four main aspects of the problem: (1) the annexation of the Sikh kingdom by the British in 1849 and conditions in the Punjab between annexation and the outbreak of the rebellion of 1857; (2) the actual help given by the Sikhs to the British during the rebellion; (3) the motives of the Sikhs for giving their help; and (4) the rewards of the Sikhs for supporting the British during the crisis of 1857. The Sikhs established their political ascendancy in the Punjab on the ruins of the Mughal empire. During the first two decades of the 19th century most of the twelve misls or confederacies of the Sikhs were conquered and united into one kingdom by Ranjit Singh. However, the timely protection given by the British in 1809 to the Sikh chiefs of the Cis-Sutlej checked Ranjit Singh's expansionist designs beyond the Sutlej River. During his lifetime Ranjit Singh wisely remained on friendly terms with the British, but after his death the factious intrigues of his successors and the Sikh army plunged the Sikh kingdom into hostilities with the British. The defeat of the Sikhs in the wars of 1845-46 and 1848-49 resulted in the annexation of their kingdom by the British. After annexation the British showed moderation in dealing with the Sikhs and did not degrade them to the position of a landless class. Meanwhile the Sikhs, resigned to their fate, quickly adapted themselves to the new institutions which were established in the Punjab between 1849 and 1857. But the indifference of the British toward the interests of the Sikhs, and the Government's policy of extending patronage to Hindustanis, hurt both their feelings and their interests. The rebellion of 1857 provided the Sikhs with a unique opportunity to secure a change of attitudes by the British. They seized that opportunity and gave every help to the British, whose military power they believed was unchallengeable. After the suppression of the mutiny the Sikhs received generous rewards from their rulers. They were also given the one reward that would satisfy them most--British indifference gave way to British interest in their welfare. My investigation of the problem leads me to the conclusion that the outbreak of the sepoy mutiny unexpectedly ushered in brighter days for the Sikhs and laid the foundation for their future growth and strength in the Punjab.

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