Names of the Indian Rebellion of 1857

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The Indian Rebellion of 1857 has been variously termed as a war of independence, a rebellion, and a mutiny. Several Indian writers, who consider it as a part of the Indian independence movement that ultimately led to the country's independence in 1947, have termed it as "The First War of Independence", the "great revolution", the "great rebellion", and the "Indian freedom struggle". Several British writers, who view it as a military disturbance, have termed it as "sepoy revolt", "sepoy war", "Indian rebellion", and the "great revolt". Since the 19th century, a section of British writers have challenged the choice of the word "mutiny" to describe the events.[1]

British nomenclature[edit]

The British and colonial press along with contemporary European referred to the events under a number of titles the most common being the Sepoy Mutiny or the Indian Mutiny.[2][3][4] Contemporary 'anti-imperialists' viewed this term as propaganda, and pushed to characterize it as more than just the actions of a few mutinous native soldiers although the term The Indian Insurrection was used in the British and colonial press at the time.[5] Karl Marx was the first Western scholar to call the 1857 revolt a "national revolt",[6][7] though he used the term Sepoy Revolt to describe the event.[8]

Indian nomenclature[edit]

In India, the term First War of Independence was first popularized by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his 1909 book The History of the War of Indian Independence, which was originally written in Marathi.[8][9][10]

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, insisted on using the term First War of Independence to refer to the event, and the terminology was adopted by the Government of India.[9]

Some South Indian historians have opposed the use of the term First War of Independence by the Government to describe the 1857 revolt, and have unsuccessfully taken the issue to the court.[11] These historians insist that several other anti-British uprisings in South India, such as the Vellore Mutiny in 1806 had preceded the 1857 revolt, and should be called the First War of Indian independence. In 2006, when the Indian postal department issued a postal stamp to commemorate the Vellore Mutiny of 1806, M. Karunanidhi, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, said that the move had given "due recognition" to India's "first war of independence".[12]

Some Sikh groups have also opposed the use of the term, they insist that the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845–46) should be called the First War of Independence instead. In May 2007, the Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker Charanjit Singh Atwal and three other MPs from Punjab protested against the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the 1857 revolt over this issue.[13] Although many such wars had taken place before the First Anglo-Sikh war, like the First Anglo-Maratha War and First Anglo-Mysore War.

Some Indian writers also insist that none of the armed uprisings against the British in India, including the 1857 uprising, should be termed as a "war of independence", since they were not national in nature, not motivated by nationalist sentiment and only involving a minority of people or soldiers.[11][14]


  1. ^ Nicola Frith (2014). The French Colonial Imagination: Writing the Indian Uprisings, 1857-1858, from Second Empire to Third Republic. Lexington Books. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-0-7391-8001-3. 
  2. ^ "Indian History - British Period - First war of Independence". 
  3. ^ "Il y a cent cinquante ans, la révolte des cipayes". 1 August 2007. 
  4. ^ German National Geographic article Archived 2005-05-03 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ The Empire, Sydney, Australia, 11 July 1857, or Taranaki Herald, New Zealand, 29 August 1857
  6. ^ Marx, Karl; Friedrich Engels (1959). The first Indian war of independence, 1857-1859. Moscow: Foreign Languages Pub. House. OCLC 9234264. 
  7. ^ Prakash Karat. 1857: In The Hearts And Minds Of People
  8. ^ a b K. Natwar Singh (2004-08-23). "Marx, Nehru and Savarkar on 1857". Asian Age. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  9. ^ a b Inder Malhotra. "The First War of Independence". Asian Age. Archived from the original on 2009-08-16. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  10. ^ Amberish K Diwanji (2004-08-23). "Who was Veer Savarkar?The First War". The Rediff Special. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  11. ^ a b S. Muthiah (2007-03-25). "The First War of Independence?". The Hindu. Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  12. ^ LR Jagadheesan (11 July 2006). "Tamils dispute India mutiny date". BBC News. Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  13. ^ "1857 anniversary: Dy speaker creates flutter". The Hindu. 2004-05-10. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  14. ^ Ganda Singh. The Truth About the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Issue No.17, August 2004. (originally published in The Sikh Review, August, 1972, pp.32-44.)

Further reading[edit]