A Subtle Discourse of Imperialism Frédérique Desaulniers
R. Semple 283:20 Le 4 Février 2008
Historical events are sometimes subjected to the distortion of witnesses. Race,
ethnicity, culture, religion, economic status and castes are all definite influencing factors
that can change ones perspective on a situation. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 had been
extensively explored from numerous view points. Adrian Preston, a historian of military
tactics, wrote the article named IV Sir Charles MacGregor the Defence of India, 1857-
1887. The work argued that Sir MacGregor’s actions were advantageous though not
followed through. In other words, the author demonstrated this study of the Indian
defence policy in a new light. It also portrayed him as a longstanding general whose
advice was valued. Therefore, his plan to devise an army derived from the “reservoir” in
India was acceptable. Moreover, he took risky plunges that could have completely
debunked his reputation but reaffirmed his authority. Consequently, the author, adopting
a military view point, defended the measures taken against the said rebel Indians.
Conversely, the article titled Satan Let Loose Upon Earth: The Kanpur Massacres in
India in the Revolt of 1857 by Rudrangshu Mukherjee argued that the acts of the Indian
rebels were acceptable. The violence which they used against the British troops was
unparalleled as well as justified because of the oppression of the foreign rule. The
pressures exercised upon India at a rapid pace forced the population into a revolt.
Therefore, the author addressed the situation through a socio-historical perspective.
Furthermore, the eye witness accounts that the author included almost seemed unrealistic.
There exist two reasons why there is an appearance of sensationalism or exaggeration.
The first included distortion by fear and the second would be by the Indian’s work to
maintain their power. Ultimately, both authors defended their respective articles and the
courses of action proposed which coincided with their nationality lineage.
The first article, written by Adrian Preston, attempted to understand the origin of
MacGregor’s scientific undertaking about the Indian defence policy. It promoted the
numerous works, namely this specific study, of Sir Charles which had been overlooked in
the past as this next passage demonstrates: “The military revolution he endeavoured to
bring about was contested on many different levels.”1 In other words, it granted credit to
MacGregor as a general who possessed radical ideas as well as ulterior motives. The
investigation that he conducted was extremely thorough and addressed numerous aspects
of warfare such as: organization, equitation, dress and tactical training. He sought the
transformation of a very ceremonial type of fighting to a tactical warfare in India.
Consequently, he formalized the Indian army as this next passage portrays:
“MacGregor’s groundwork there was logically bound to arise a sense of Indian Army
professionalism.”2 This already, suggested that a stereotype of savageness was associated
with this culture. The innovative tactical education of the defence policy was to be
implemented as soon as possible for the betterment of India’s defence against foreign
nations and internal nationalist. Hence, there laid a subtext of hidden intentions that
justified his action of the greater objective for Britain. The motivation to undertake such a
vast makeover of the army indirectly addressed the central Asian question. Consequently,
this article promoted in a sense and standardized the process of expansionism. Not only
did the British Crown annexed India physically it superposed its culture. This
demonstration of superiority was part of a broader picture. This subtext of British
A. Preston, “IV. Sir Charles MacGregor and the Defence of India, 1857-1887”, The Historical Journal,
XII, I (1969), 59.
Preston, “IV. Sir Charles MacGregor”, 58.
imperialism justified their attempts to counter the rebel armies. They represented the
impediment to the complete superposition of British power, rule and control. Ultimately,
the success of this campaign determined their triumph over other sough for territories
throughout Europe. If the insurgency prevailed, Russia would be enabled to invade India
and steal an important position for Britain as this next passage depicts: “The immediate
danger to India […] was not that of full-scale invasion, but the seizure by Russia of a
strategic point enabling her to paralyse British action in Europe.”3 As a result, Britain
would loose pieces of her Empire. Furthermore, the speech adopted included technical
military terms and embraced a very logical type of discourse which augmented its
credibility as well as its worth. Moreover, this article was printed in the Royal Military
College of Canada. The author is also a scholar who wrote extensively about Canadian
warfare. Consequently, this adds to its substance as a historical piece but also as an
indicator of British military greatness. Nonetheless, the extensiveness of his arguments
and the language used might be too heavy for the unaccustomed reader. In conclusion,
this article defended Britain in its position as a European powerhouse overseeing the
transformation of a “reservoir” of Indians to protect India as a colony against its peers as
this next passage shows: “India constituted a vast manpower reservoir, greater than that
of Ireland and Egypt together, upon which Britain relied for the prosecution of her
imperial, military and foreign policies.”4 This wording even illustrated the Indian as an
inexhaustible commodity, taken for granted for British purpose.
Preston, “IV. Sir Charles MacGregor”, 68.
Preston, “IV. Sir Charles MacGregor”, 58.
The second article written by Rudangshu Mukherjee embodied the antithesis of
Preston’s essay. This commentary stirred controversy and shocked an entire community
of historians as well as Indians. It was originally written as a thesis for a senior class
which resulted in its publication. The author is also a scholar who taught at Calcutta
University and held conferences at Princeton, Oxford as well as Harvard. Therefore, the
reader can attest, in retrospect that the writer is highly credible and certified. The article
portrayed a deep fascination for the violence that ensued to a counter attack to the armed
insurrection. The perspective depicted a promotion of the hostility and therefore clearly
took a defensive position on the matter: the brutality was accepted. The British exercised
a form of violence upon India as this next passage illustrates: “Violence […] was an
essential component of the British presence in India.”5 Nonetheless, it turned against the
superior force by claiming the right to rule with violence as this next passage mirrors:
“The right to violence is, therefore, everywhere a privilege that authority enjoys and
refuses to share with those under it: power always insists on violence as its exclusive
monopoly.”6 The arguments lifted by the article all justified the aggression unleashed
upon the Britons during the 1857 Indian Mutiny in Kanpur. The rebel Indians, in his
outlook, solely wanted to preserve their culture, religion and mode of life. The
destruction that India experienced such as the disappearance of their culture, religion and
customs completely oppressed the populace. In return, they revolted. The suffering they
encountered as being penetrated by a foreign country also resurfaced imperialism
throughout the discourse. Contrary to the other article, this downplayed and shunned the
optimism surrounding imperialism and expansionism. Consequently, the transformation
Preston, “IV. Sir Charles MacGregor”, 59.
R. Mukherjee, “Satan Let Loose Upon Earth: The Kanpur Massacres in India in the Revolt of 1857”, Past
and Present, 128 (1990), 93.
of Christianized Indians was not promulgated. This engendered internal tensions which
the author did not address. Several testimonies inserted in the article served as proof. The
different accounts of the British and Indians in regards to the mutiny seemed to recreate
an exaggerated portrait of the occurrences as this next passage exemplifies: “British
officers, she said, were severely beaten, and when an officer objected to such behaviour
they abused him in so gross a manner that it made the ears of all tingle”7 Though the
sources are not questioned, there are two possibilities for this sentiment of melodrama.
The first was attributed to the fear that distorted the reality of the situation. As it stated in
the article, the Britons were never subjected to the type of violence inflicted upon them
and it “frightened us to death”8 . Therefore, the fear of the unknown proved to be a major
factor into the given accounts. Moreover, the article being published led the unused
reader to believe word for word these eye witness accounts. The second possibility
included the exaggeration on the part of the rebel Indians. The overstatement by the
Indian rebels promoted the power they held. This enabled the opportunity to support and
promulgate the fear. As a result, the terror stricken Britons would probably resigned their
repression tactics. This propaganda accentuated the natives’ brutishness and savageness.
This engendered the controversy over the article because it generated a negative stigma
unsympathetic to the Indian cause. Conversely, the article generated a reason for foreign
rule: to conquer and civilize. Therefore, the article is directed towards an Indian audience.
In conclusion, Mukherjee argued the rebel Indian actions as justifiable under pretext of
conservation of one nation’s culture and independence. In a broader sense, it advocated
against imperialism and expansionism as well as the use of a colony for economic
Mukherjee, “Satan Let Loose Upon Earth”, 101.
Mukherjee, “Satan Let Loose Upon Earth”, 101.
purposes. The writer also uses a different type of discourse than Preston which seemed
more passionate than technical. This enabled him to gain a connection with a wider pool
of readers and acquire their sympathy.
In comparison, the two articles took different approaches. The Mukherjee article
used a religious-historical analysis whereas the first used a military-historical analysis.
The Preston work really focused on the practical side of the military while the Mukherjee
observed the drive and ambition that is derived from emotions. They both defended their
own tactics to shield their culture and superiority in a given territory. There is an interest
to look into the nationality of each author. Preston, a Canadian, is addressing the issue of
the Indian Mutiny through the perspective of the British. Is it a coincidence that Canada
was formerly a colony of the Empire where the sun never sets? Rudangshu Mukherjee,
on his part, devoted his career to Indian affairs. Therefore, he viewed this problematic
through the Indian perspective. Is it a coincidence that this professor is a popular Indian
historian who teaches at the Calcutta University? We are all a product of passed
experiences through our family and peers as well as personal current encounters.
Therefore, it is surprising that the authors defended the arguments passed down from
previous generations. The violence used by the Indians targeted everything that
represented Britain or their property which is also intertwined with old beliefs. This is the
type of symbolism used to critique the invasion as well as the oppression felt by the
populace. India was used by the Brits and compared to a reserve of men, which was far
better and easier to spare than the Irishmen. This negated the right for Indians to be
treated as human beings and enabled the British to consider them as animals; reaffirming
their right to use abuse. Both articles also tended to use a plethora of themes which were
quite different. The Preston article seemed to use broad themes such as: Central Asian
Question, military training and counter-insurrection. This reaffirmed the logical and
tactical aspect of the work. On the other hand, Rudangshu promoted race, religion and
revenge as the themes of the essay as this next passage portrays: “but we had a war of
religion, a war of race, and a war of revenge, of hope, or national prompting to shake off
the yoke of a stranger, and to re-establish the full power of native chiefs, and the full
sway of native religion.”9 This perfectly demonstrated the nature of the article which
defended a nation who fought for her nationhood. This dichotomy categorized the writers
in political or humanitarian methods.
To conclude, these articles are similar in a way which they both defended their
own nationalistic pride. With rigour, they threw arguments left and right to defend their
view points with a subtext that could seem invisible. Preston’s article pressed on to
characterize military tactics to be the core of the British excursion in India. Their
superiority in terms of race also justified their overthrowing of the present king as well as
superposing their culture onto theirs. In other words, he acknowledged the benefits of
imperialism. Conversely, Mukherjee pushed for cultural markers and its viciousness. He
portrayed the invasion as a pervasive act of penetration by the British Crown. It destroyed
an entire system of belief, rule and societal order. In other words, he denied the said
benefits. Moreover, Mukherjee was more passionate in his writings and truly convinced
the audience with his arguments. His degree and peer review in the field also gives him
more credibility. Preston who seemed to have a degree of detachment is less convincing
and tended to make his arguments lengthy and heavy. Hence, Mukherjee had a special
Mukherjee, “Satan Let Loose Upon Earth”, 92.
closeness to his article and the subject. Consequently, the latter’s article, I find is more
evocative and therefore more convincing.
Mukherjee, R. “Satan Let Loose Upon Earth: the Kanpur Massacres in India in the Revolt
of 1857.” Past and Present, 128 (1990), 92-128.
Preston, A. “IV. Sir Charles MacGregor and the Defence of India, 1857-1887.” The
Historical Journal, XII, I (1969), 58-77.