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Kanpur Massacre During India’s 1857 Revolt

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  • Category: India

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    The brutality of Kanpur Massacre has continued to dominate academic historians’ circles for various reasons. Historians have, for instance, been arguing whether Kanpur Massacre was a mare political revenge or was a mindless violence that had entire society’s participation. This paper will look into how the massacre can be interpretated by analyzing Rudrangshu Mukherjee’s work on the massacre and Barbara English comments on the work. Mukherjee is on opinion that Kanpur Massacre was more than mindless actions by the villagers; it was expression in political grievances on what British had been inflicting on Indians. On the other hand, Barbara disqualifies Mukherjee notions by stating that the selected sources fail to provide balanced approach to the issue.

    The violence inflicted on Europeans by Sapoys is hereby being regarded as politically driven and was directed at revenging against British autocratic rule in India. Sapoys actions was purely driven by the urge of putting British colonialists through that demeaning actions experienced in India. This is in consideration that opportunities to revenge against the British was hard to comedy, which made the Kanpur situation a greater opportunity for Indians. The massacre is largely interpreted as senseless because of the short time that violence had to be undertaken. Achieving maximum casualty was the policy followed by the massacre leaders, because they understood British forces would eventually respond heavily.

Some of the British dehumanization of Indians in 19th century had infuriated the people of India who were in daring need for a time to teach the colonialists a lesson. For instance, notes Mukherjee, Indian women had been forced to become British soldiers’ hostesses against their will (Mukherjee 107). More painful actions included blowing dead bodies in canons as Indians watched; flesh and blood got splashed on onlookers who had been forced to be audiences. The British were further accused of seeing Indians as subhuman that is, putting them in similar class with animals. All these accusations are hardly contested, although Barbara notes that “sub-human” comment was made by a drunken British commander (English 173). Those comments helped determine the British soldiers’ aggressiveness against Indian populations. Supoys were major casualties of British iron fist rule. Mukherjee notes that being a Sapoy was enough to earn execution for petty crimes. The British were unfortunately working on pretext that they were all powerful and took Indians for powerless whose only choice was to put up with European demands. This ignorance blinded the British from seeing the brewing dangers of respective actions in India. On the other hand, Sapoy hardliners were scheming for just one ripe opportunity of revenging against the British. That opportunity availed itself in Kanpur and Sapoys exploited it to the maximum.

Peers (57) has mentioned British soldiers’ reputation of ruthlessness, especially the execution of those challenging their rule as the major cause for massacre’s extent. Sapoys knew that British soldiers will eventually respond, and that the revenge would be big one. In knowing that they will pay for the massacre, Sapoys were determined to inflict maximum harm on their British enemies. It was also understood that the well trained and equipped British soldiers would respond rapidly and cause greater harm to Supoys and their property. It is doubtful that the severity of British response would have changed had there been fewer casualties in the massacre–this understanding caused Supoys’ to inflict more harm that was later referred to as the Kanpur Massacre.

The Kanpur Massacre was therefore a political violence that Sapoy’s used to revenge against British heavy handedness in India–it was a way of saying enough was enough as people had been tired of being dehumanized in their own land. The foreigners had to understand that locals were not happy with how they were being treated on their own land. Critics have, however, accused Sapoys of targeting mostly civilians (women and children) and less of soldiers and bureaucracy used by the British to rule India (Mukherjee 167). The civilians appeared to be the softest part that when hurt would send the right message to the British rulers; the message was with no doubt relayed to British administration that could no longer ignore Indians’ capacity to revenge for what they believed was right.

In addition, British and other European civilians had to be wearier of migrating to India; the decline settler population was hoped reduce British soldiers’ ruthlessness considering that Indians were mostly punished for their conflicts with European settlers. Though thesis that Kanpur massacre was in anyway mindless violence, the short lived revenge that left unimaginable rampage leaves impression of people with little regard to human life, which they believed to be defending. The Sopoys could be said to have had joy going on rampage destroying European owned property and killing European of all ages and sexes regardless of respective innocence. Despite this reality, the killings’ political message is strong and therefore stand out as the main violence driver during Kanpur Massacre.

Works Cited

Mukherjee, R. (1990). Satan Let Loose upon Earth: The Kanpur Massacres in India in the Revolt of 1857.       Past and Present. 128 (8): 92-116.

English, B. (1994). The Kanpur Massacres in India in the Revolt of 1857. Past and Present. 142(2): 169-178.

Hebert, C. (1978). The Great Mutiny in India. London: Viking.

Mukherjee, R. (1994). The Kanpur Massacres in India in the Revolt of 1857: A Reply. Past and Present. 142   (2): pp. 178-189.

Peers, D. (2006). India Under Colonial Rule. Ann Arbor: UoM.

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