Rise of the Machines: The State, Its Subjects, and the Sepoy Rebellion

  • Sheshalatha Reddy


This chapter utilizes the concept-metaphor of the “machine” to examine events preceding and following the Sepoy Rebellion, including disciplinary measures such as the magnification of Indian debt to Great Britain (as repayment for the latter’s costs in suppressing the uprising) and increasingly harsh working conditions for an expanding industrialized Indian labor force. At the time of the Sepoy Rebellion, discourses on rationalization, technology, and the role of the state in managing both were introduced to India because of its role as a supplier of raw materials; as a locus for the production of finished goods for export; as a market for cheap finished goods from the British imperial metropole; and as the scene for the expansion of infrastructure, including telegraphs, railways, prisons, and factories necessary for modern capitalist production and through the investment of purportedly British capital. Shaping these discourses was the language of mechanical philosophy, formulated most famously by Descartes and Hobbes during the seventeenth century. The Sepoy Rebellion would become a site and symbol of resistance to that machine, while the suppression of the rebellion would lead to the machine’s further entrenchment within the colony. By engaging in various interpretations of the rebels’ actions through interpretations of James Minchin’s poetic collection Ex Oriente: Sonnets on the Indian Rebellion (1858) and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s history The Indian War of Independence of 1857 (1909), I illustrate the limits and possibilities in representations of the rebels’ motives and agency. My study of Felice Beato’s “Mutiny” photographs (1858–1862) and Shoshee Chunder Dutt’s novella Shunkur (1874) reveals how the modern imperial state operates not in policing borders, but in allowing borders and spheres within those borders to remain places of unrule, sites of radically curtailed or potentially expansive sovereignty. I move to an examination of Dadabhai Naoroji’s economic treatise Poverty and Un-British Rule in India (1901) and Romesh Chunder Dutt’s economic histories The Economic History of India under Early British Rule (1902) and India in the Victorian Age (1904) to show how these texts illustrate and attempt to reverse the transfiguration of imperialist devaluation (the official reduction in the exchange value of the Indian rupee) into capitalist self-valorization (the realization of ever greater surplus value from Indian capital by British capitalists). Finally, I show how workers’ efforts in devalorizing and revalorizing their labor in Mulk Raj Anand’s novel Coolie (1936) and Deepchand Beeharry’s novel That Others Might Live (1979) depend upon the protagonists’ coming-into-consciousness of themselves as laboring subjects, and their attempts to reintegrate a mind and body that have been dichotomized by industrial capitalism. The failure of complete reintegration reveals both novels’ resistance in interpellating their respective characters solely as laboring subjects.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishHoward UniversityWashington, DCUSA

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