The 'Great Fear' of Calcutta: Rumour, Panic and Conspiracies in the Making of the Indian Rebellion of 1857-58

This paper will focus on the study of colonial paranoia in the lower province of Bengal during the Indian uprising/rebellion of 1857-58. It analyzes some of the moments of crises to understand the popular perceptions during this period of crises in colonial South Asia.

The paper stresses on the effects of rumour and subsequent panic as an important tool of historical analysis and argues that the accuracy of rumours, with all its ambiguities, was essentially immaterial since whether or not they were true they had very real consequences. It was this 'belief' about what was being done and the consequent panic that acted as a catalyst in bringing about a crisis in the colonial state during this time. Situating the rumours unfolding in and around Calcutta within the broader conflagration of 1857-58 the paper argues that rumour often has the potential to act as a trigger and a mobilizer. While doing so, the paper looks at the response and reactions of the European officials and civilians as well as the indigenous population of the city with regards to the resultant panic. It also examines the role of the actors, especially the colonial government, in response to the crisis they faced and the various measures that they had undertaken in order overcome the crisis at the heart of their Empire. In a broader perspective, the underlining objective is to highlight the fact that the rebellion of 1857, with all its regional specificities, was a multi-layered and networked event, the ramification of which was far and wide with varying consequences.

Dr. Niladri Chatterjee
PhD in South Asian History, SOAS: University of London, UK

Visiting Researcher in Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies
Department of Cultural Sciences, Linnaeus University, Sweden
Assistant Professor of History, Department of History & Philosophy
School of Humanities and Social Sciences, North South University, Bangladesh


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