This Week in History

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This Week in History
14 March 1849: The Sikh Army surrenders to the British

  LS Hareesh

On 14 March 1849, the Sikh army surrendered to the British after the Second Anglo-Sikh War.

Following the First Sikh War (1845-46), tensions between the Sikhs and the British East India Company continued to escalate. The British appointed Sir Henry Lawrence as a Resident at Lahore to control the Sikh royal court and influence policy. This move caused resentment among the Sikh nobles and generals and Maharani Jind Kaur, the mother of the child ruler Maharajah Duleep Singh, who had sought to regain her former influence as Regent. In addition to the political conflicts, there was a sense of betrayal among many Sikhs who believed they had been defeated rather than genuinely conquered in the First Sikh War. The Sikh soldiers were also disgruntled with their role in maintaining order and implementing policies on behalf of the British. 

The situation escalated further with the revolt at Multan. Diwan Mulraj Chopra, the governor of Multan, rebelled against the replacement ordered by the British, resulting in the murders of Lieutenant Patrick Vans Agnew and Lieutenant William Anderson by an angry mob, triggering the Second Sikh War (1848-49). Sikh soldiers deserted their regiments and joined the rebellious sirdars, further fueling the conflict. The British reinforcements arrived in November 1848, allowing them to besiege Multan and secure it in January 1849. Mulraj surrendered, and the British marched north to join forces with General Hugh Gough for the decisive Battle of Gujerat in February 1849. This battle marked the culmination of the war, with the Sikh forces suffering a major defeat. The remaining Sikh army surrendered at Rawalpindi on 14 March 1849.

After the annexation of Punjab in 1849, Maharaja Duleep Singh was deposed. Kohinoor diamond was taken from Duleep Singh and placed in the British royal crown. He was later exiled to Britain and lived there for most of his life, with only two brief visits to India. His mother, the Regent, was replaced by a new Council of Regency under the direction of the British Resident. The British Empire officially annexed the Punjab and the North-West Frontier on 29 March 1849. The remnants of the Sikh leadership, including Chattar Singh and Sher Singh, were initially placed under surveillance and later imprisoned. They were released from confinement in 1854 but permanently exiled from the Punjab.

The annexation of Punjab led to the recruitment of Sikhs into the British military. Despite the victory, the British casualties, particularly in battles like Chillianwala, undermined their reputation and subsequently emboldened those who rose against British rule in the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The recruitment of Sikhs and other religious and social changes contributed to the grievances and tensions that led to the rebellion. 

The Sikh surrender played a role in reshaping the status and dynamics of Jammu and Kashmir. Earlier, Ranjit Singh had placed an administration in Jammu and Kashmir including the establishment of revenue systems, infrastructure development, and the promotion of trade and commerce. Following the surrender, the British appointed Gulab Singh, a Dogra ruler, as the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. The latter signed the Treaty of Amritsar with the British. As per this treaty, the British recognized Gulab Singh as the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, making it a princely state under British suzerainty. This treaty granted the Dogra ruler control over significant parts of Jammu and Kashmir, particularly the Kashmir Valley.

After the establishment of Dogra rule in Kashmir, the British saw the region as a valuable buffer or "cushion" against potential threats in the northwest frontier of their Indian territories. The British saw the Dogra rulers as loyal and reliable allies who could help maintain control over the region and provide a buffer zone. The British aimed to utilize the resources and geographical advantages of Kashmir to further expand their influence and consolidate their control in the region. They exerted influence through the Resident, a British official stationed in Kashmir, who had considerable authority and played a role in decision-making.

In the west, after the above surrender, the region comprising present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan subsequently became the North West Frontier of the British, where they established a centralized administration system and imposed their rule. This led to changes in administration, land management, and the introduction of British laws and institutions that became the buffer between British India and Afghanistan. The British attempt to control the region led to three wars with Afghanistan.

The British policies on the Tribal Areas of the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) had a lasting impact that Pakistan still grapples with today. These policies created a unique governance system in the tribal regions. This system granted the tribal areas a degree of autonomy and allowed for self-governance based on customary law and tribal traditions. One of the main challenges Pakistan faces today is the legacy of this autonomous governance system. The tribal regions had limited integration with the rest of Pakistan, both politically and administratively. This has resulted in a complex set of dynamics and power structures, often making it difficult for the central government to assert its authority and effectively govern the region. Efforts to integrate the tribal areas into mainstream Pakistani governance have met with resistance and posed significant obstacles. The introduction of the legal and administrative framework of the Pakistani state has clashed with traditional tribal systems and customary laws.

This Week in History is a new addition to our research publications, looking at the history, its importance, consequences/legacies, and relevance today. We hope this will add historic value to two of our flagship publications- Conflict Weekly and The World This Week. A shorter version of the above will be published in Conflict Weekly/The World This Week.

About the author

LS Hareesh is a PhD Scholar at the Department of History, Loyola College, Chennai.

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