[Reader-list] Karl Marx on the Indian 'Mutiny' (1857)

Patrice Riemens patrice at xs4all.nl
Mon Aug 13 01:25:31 IST 2007

original to:
You can find more articles on the Indian Revolt on:
(foer the year 1857)

(The following article was published in Le Monde Diplomatique of this month.)

Karl Marx in the New-York Tribune 1857
The Indian Revolt

Source: New-York Daily Tribune, September 16, 1857;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

London, Sept. 4, 1857

The outrages committed by the revolted Sepoys in India are indeed
appalling, hideous, ineffable — such as one is prepared to meet – only in
wars of insurrection, of nationalities, of races, and above all of
religion; in one word, such as respectable England used to applaud when
perpetrated by the Vendeans on the “Blues,” by the Spanish guerrillas on
the infidel Frenchmen, by Servians on their German and Hungarian
neighbors, by Croats on Viennese rebels, by Cavaignac’s Garde Mobile or
Bonaparte’s Decembrists on the sons and daughters of proletarian France.

However infamous the conduct of the Sepoys, it is only the reflex, in a
concentrated form, of England’s own conduct in India, not only during the
epoch of the foundation of her Eastern Empire, but even during the last
ten years of a long-settled rule. To characterize that rule, it suffices
to say that torture formed ail organic institution of its financial
policy. There is something in human history like retribution: and it is a
rule of historical retribution that its instrument be forged not by the
offended, but by the offender himself.

The first blow dealt to the French monarchy proceeded from the nobility,
not from the peasants. The Indian revolt does not commence with the Ryots,
tortured, dishonored and stripped naked by the British, but with the
Sepoys, clad, fed, petted, fatted and pampered by them. To find parallels
to the Sepoy atrocities, we need not, as some London papers pretend, fall
back on the middle ages, not, even wander beyond the history of
contemporary England. All we want is to study the first Chinese war, an
event, so to say, of yesterday. The English soldiery then committed
abominations for the mere fun of it; their passions being neither
sanctified by religious fanaticism nor exacerbated by hatred against an
overbearing and conquering race, nor provoked by the stern resistance of a
heroic enemy. The violations of women, the spittings of children, the
roastings of whole villages, were then mere wanton sports, not recorded by
Mandarins, but by British officers themselves.

Even at the present catastrophe it would be an unmitigated mistake to
suppose that all the cruelty is on the side of the Sepoys, and all the
milk of human kindness flows on the side of the English. The letters of
the British officers are redolent of malignity. An officer writing from
Peshawur gives a description of the disarming of the 10th irregular
cavalry for not charging the 55th native infantry when ordered to do so.
He exults in the fact that they were not only disarmed, but stripped of
their coats and boots, and after having received 12d. per man, were
marched down to the river side, and there embarked in boats and sent down
the Indus, where the writer is delighted to expect every mother’s son will
have a chance of being drowned in the rapids. Another writer informs us
that, some inhabitants of Peshawur having caused a night alarm by
exploding little mines of gunpowder in honor of a wedding (a national
custom), the persons concerned were tied up next morning, and “received
such a flogging as they will not easily forget.”

News arrived from Pindee that three native chiefs were plotting. Sir John
Lawrence replied by a message ordering a spy to attend to the meeting. On
the spy’s report, Sir John sent a second message, “Hang them.” The chiefs
were hanged. An officer in the civil service, from Allahabad, writes:
“We have power of life and death in our hands, and we assure you we spare
Another, from the same place:
“Not a day passes but we string up front ten to fifteen of them
One exulting officer writes:
“Holmes is hanging them by the score, like a ‘brick.’”
Another, in allusion to the summary hanging of a large body of the natives:
“Then our fun commenced.”
A third:
“We hold court-martials on horseback, and every nigger we meet with we
either string up or shoot.”

>From Benares we are informed that thirty Zemindars were hanged or) the
mere suspicion of sympathizing with their own countrymen, and whole
villages were burned down on the same plea. An officer from Benares, whose
letter is printed in The London Times, says:
“The European troops have become fiends when opposed to natives.”

And then it should not be forgotten that, while the cruelties of the
English are related as acts of martial vigor, told simply, rapidly,
without dwelling on disgusting details, the outrages of the natives,
shocking as they are, are still deliberately exaggerated. For instance,
the circumstantial account first appearing in The Times, and then going
the round of the London press, of the atrocities perpetrated at Delhi and
Meerut, from whom did it proceed? From a cowardly parson residing at
Bangalore, Mysore, more than a thousand miles, as the bird flies, distant
from the scene of action. Actual accounts of Delhi evince the imagination
of an English parson to be capable of breeding greater horrors than even
the wild fancy of a Hindoo mutineer. The cutting of noses, breasts, &c.,
in one word, the horrid mutilations committed by the Sepoys, are of course
more revolting to European feeling than the throwing of red-hot shell on
Canton dwellings by a Secretary of the Manchester Peace Society, or the
roasting of Arabs pent up in a cave by a French Marshal, or the flaying
alive of British soldiers by the cat-o’-nine-tails under drum-head
court-martial, or any other of the philanthropical appliances used in
British penitentiary colonies. Cruelty, like every other thing, has its
fashion, changing according to time and place. Caesar, the accomplished
scholar, candidly narrates how he ordered many thousand Gallic warriors to
have their right hands cut off. Napoleon would have been ashamed to do
this. He preferred dispatching his own French regiments, suspected of
republicanism, to St. Domingo, there to die of the blacks and the plague.

The infamous mutilations committed by the Sepoys remind one of the
practices of the Christian Byzantine Empire, or the prescriptions of
Emperor Charles V.’s criminal law, or the English punishments for high
treason, as still recorded by Judge Blackstone. With Hindoos, whom their
religion has made virtuosi in the art of self-torturing, these tortures
inflicted on the enemies of their race and creed appear quite natural, and
must appear still more so to the English, who, only some years since,
still used to draw revenues from the Juggernaut festivals, protecting and
assisting the bloody rites of a religion of cruelty.

The frantic roars of the “bloody old Times,” as Cobbett used to call it –
its, playing the part of a furious character in one of Mozart’s operas,
who indulges in most melodious strains in the idea of first hanging his
enemy, then roasting him, then quartering him, then spitting him, and then
flaying him alive — its tearing the passion of revenge to tatters and to
rags – all this would appear but silly if under the pathos of tragedy
there were not distinctly perceptible the tricks of comedy. The London
Times overdoes its part, not only from panic. It supplies comedy with a
subject even missed by Molière, the Tartuffe of Revenge. What it simply
wants is to write up the funds and to screen the Government. As Delhi has
not, like the walls of Jericho, fallen before mere puffs of wind, Jolin
Bull is to be steeped in cries for revenge up to his very ears, to make
him forget that his Government is responsible for the mischief hatched and
the colossal dimensions it has been allowed to assume.

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