The Indian Mutiny and the British Imagination

Maya Jasanoff reviews Gautam Chakravarty’s new book on the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857 and how it was woven into the British imagination, in The London Review of Books.

“From the outset, British writers infused the mutiny with ideological and emotive significance. East India Company administrators made a point of stressing its military origins, pointing the finger at the army. Officers, in turn, sought to blame administrators for enacting policies that led to wider discontent, such as the unpopular annexation of Awadh in 1856. Many British commentators condemned the company, continuing a long tradition of Whig criticism; while the Muslim reformer Syed Ahmad Khan, in his 1858 Causes of the Indian Revolt, attributed the rebellion to the company’s unwillingness to incorporate Indian voices in its legislative council.

Apportioning blame for what had happened was one thing. Describing what happened was another.”