Rebels or Revolutionaries: Representing the 1857 Kanpur Massacres in English- and French-Language Texts and Images

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Abstract / Description of output

The Bibighar massacre (15 July 1857) and its accused perpetrator, Nana Sahib, are key figures in British representations of the Indian uprisings (1857–59), memorizalized as an example of Indian ‘savagery’ and used to justify the need for Britain’s continuing colonial presence and ‘civilizing mission’ in India. This article, however, considers how French metropolitan writing has challenged this Anglo-centric narrative by questioning the hysteria surrounding the massacre and by rehabilitating the figure of Nana Sahib as a heroic and revolutionary figure. Using a range of mid- to late-nineteenth-century French-language texts, including Parisian newspapers written in 1857, an ‘eye-witness’ account purportedly given by a female survivor in 1857 and a drame in which these events and their protagonists were performed on stage in 1883, this paper examines not only how Nana Sahib and the Bibighar massacre are used to speak out against British exploitation, but also how the Indian uprisings have continuously provided an opportunity for French writing to challenge the hegemonic image of the British empire. In contrast to it frère ennemi, these texts ventriloquize Nana Sahib and the Bibighar ‘victim’ in order to usher in the idea of France as a preferable colonizer whose colonialist ideology is based on a genuine ‘civilization mission’. In short, this paper demonstrates the extent to which national and European rivalries have been discursively played out in the imagined space of ‘India’ during an extended period of crisis for British colonialism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)368–82
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • British colonialism
  • French colonialism
  • postcolonial studies
  • colonial discourse
  • Indian Mutiny
  • Nana Sahib


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