The book is a compilation of papers presented at a conference organised by the Indian Council of Historical Research to mark the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the 1857 uprising.
The papers on the theme ?Rethinking 1857? have been divided into four groups according to the thematic unity or convergence of focus. The first group addresses questions of historiography and interpretative trends, both old and new. The second is about the impact of 1857 on marginal communities, i.e. social groups, such as the Dalits or tribals who were kept on the margin by the socially dominant. An effort to look beyond the consideration that the uprising of 1857 was an exclusively north Indian affair is reflected in the third section on regions beyond the Gangetic heartland. The fourth section addresses from diverse angles the question of what kind of polity and system of governance and military organisation was posited in the rebel discourse.
In the first group of essays, in the section entitled ?Histories?, issues of historiography are addressed by Irfan Habib, R.P. Singh, K.C. Yadav and William Dalrymple. Irfan Habib'sessay reflects the global content of the uprising and its significance in a world dominated by European industrial capitalism.
William Dalrymple focuses on the participation of jihadis and mujahedins in the struggle for Delhi in 1857. R.P. Singh covers the whole range of historiography from the 1860s to the publications which marked the centenary of the uprising in 1857.
The second section is devoted to the role of marginal communities in 1857. L.N. Rana provides details on the ?disturbances?; Sanjukta Das Gupta writes of 1857 bringing some of the tribal groups and ?the erstwhile ruling class in a united act of defiance against foreign rule? in Singhbum; Shashank Sinha deals with both the sepoy revolt in Chhotanagpur and the tribal uprising; sociologist Badri Narayan talks of the Dalits who participated in the uprising and the transformation of the Dalit participants in the uprising into objects of virtual worship by fellow Dalits.
The third group of essays discusses the impact of the uprising on margins beyond the North Indian plains. Basudeb Chattopadhyay explores its impact on the mentalities in Bengal, especially Calcutta; N. Rajendran finds evidence of civil disturbances in Madras, Chingleput and Coimbatore and talks of the famous Vellore mutiny as well as the aftermath of the 1857 uprising on north-eastern India but concedes that the small mutiny that broke ?was of external origin?.
Finally the fourth group of essays addresses the alternative polity of the rebels. Tapti Roy draws attention to valuable sources and says ?1857 was not a war of conflicting religion?. Saiyid Zaheer Husain Jafri presents his case study of Maulavi Ahmadullah Shah and his heroism in the battlefield of 1857; Deep Kanta Lahiri Choudhury highlights the fact that the rebel sepoys realised the importance of telegraph communication in the war and telegraph lines and their nodal points became their military targets; Kaushik Roy also addresses the issue of technology.
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