Seeking to capture the versions of the vanquished

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TOWARDS AN INDIGENOUS NARRATIVE: ICHR seeks to portray the Revolt of 1857 comprehensively
TOWARDS AN INDIGENOUS NARRATIVE: ICHR seeks to portray the Revolt of 1857 comprehensively

P. Anima

ICHR's travelling exhibition in the 150th year of the Revolt

NEW DELHI: Most call it the First War of Independence, some refer to it as "the Sepoy Mutiny", while for many others it is "the Revolt of 1857". The Uprising of 1857 -- a landmark event in the history of India's freedom struggle -- has for long been portrayed from the point of the erstwhile rulers. But the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) on the 150th anniversary of the Uprising of 1857 has taken upon itself the task of giving a comprehensive portrayal of the event, by giving space to the versions of the victors and the vanquished of the time.

ICHR's travelling exhibition titled "Representations of 1857: Recovering the Indian Voice" will open at India International Centre in New Delhi this Wednesday.

"We realise that there are some major shortcomings in the historiography of 1857," says ICHR Chairman Sabyasachi Bhattacharya. "The bulk of what is available is what the British army did and there was also a tendency to depend on English sources," he adds.

So what the exhibition aims to do "is to recover the Indian voice 150 years before our times". But it was found that while there were "many sketches and paintings of 1857 from British hands reproduced by the British printing press in journals and albums", there "is none by Indians of those times, none identified as authentically contemporary," says Prof. Bhattacharya.

So ICHR will portray the "surviving text of proclamations, letters and orders" and even rare first person narratives, memoirs of the rebels to "overcome the silence of the defeated". Since most of the material available was in English, the ICHR also often turned to the regional language sources to get the Indian version of the uprising.

"In this exhibition, we have tried to counter-balance the bias in the portrayal of the Uprising of 1857. We have juxtaposed the pictures from the British with the material that came from the Indian hands," says Prof. Bhattacharya.

The purpose of the exhibition is to "create a more complex context of 1857 and to recover the Indian voice and perception as the material so far was the same as what would be found in a British gallery," says he. So pictures from the British will share space with Indian documents to give a complete perception of the Uprising of 1857.

The exhibition will also later travel to Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Bangalore and a few other cities.

The ICHR has adopted a multi-pronged approach to observe the 150th anniversary of the Uprising. Apart from conferences and publications, an album of the pictorial representations of the Uprising will be created. Further, a work of popular history on the Uprising will be selected by a jury and awarded Rs. 50,000.

The exhibition at IIC will be on up to Sunday.

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