Skip to content

Religion and a rifled musket

Comment and History from a Prairie Perspective

The Republic of India has a population approaching 1.2 billion, an active military force of 1.3 million and has nuclear weapons. One of the world's major powers, its overheated economy has an insatiable appetite for energy. Canadian petroleum companies are involved in offshore drilling in the Indian Ocean.

I have a daughter whose husband is on a temporary assignment there. Through her, I have become aware that India's economic miracle benefits only the elite few, while most of the population struggles with the demons of poverty, illiteracy, squalor and personal danger.

Important in both the histories of India and Canada are the British trading enterprises that were major stimulants in the growth of the British Empire. In Canada, already a British possession by right of conquest, the Hudson's Bay Company was given a vast commercial reserve in the West, where it was responsible for the administration of justice, and had stockaded trading posts and the formidable, but largely useless, Fort Prince of Wales. Its military power, however, was miniscule when compared to the private army and navy of the British East India Company.

The company's ships were well-built, well-armed, well-manned and well-provisioned. Its private army, well-trained and well-armed, was patterned after the British Army and was deployed in strategically located fortresses. Illogically, this dominant colonial presence, was not unwelcome in the separate, sovereign states of the Mogul Empire

Most Canadians have little knowledge of India or its history. It is easy to assume that the so-called Indian Mutiny of 1857 was the beginning of an effort to restore the power of the Mogul Empire and to reduce or remove the influence of the British East India Company. In other words, it was a resurgence of nationalism. I wasn't. It was all about religion.

When the Enfield rifled musket of 1855 was issued to the sepoys (soldiers) of the East India Company in 1857, its cartridges were greased with either pig or beef tallow. This was an offence against the religion of Muslim and Hindu alike. At the same time, under the aegis of the East India Company, over-zealous Christian clergymen embarked on an intensive campaign to gain converts. The sepoys rebelled in defence of their religions. The two-year carnage of the Indian Mutiny was a religious war. After British regular troops put down the rebellion, all of India became a British possession.

After 1867, Hudsons' Bay lands were surrendered to the new Dominion of Canada.

Here again, zealous Christian clergymen, abetted by government, began to seek for converts. The native peoples of Canada could not resist, as the people of India had done. The result was the virtual kidnapping of native children and the infamous residential schools designed to promote Christianity and destroy the aboriginal cultural heritage.

Although obvious, the lesson has not been well-learned Blind adherence to religious beliefs has caused suffering and is causing it still. Whatever our differences, we all wish for a better world. We can begin by holding our own religious communities to account for their harmful errors.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks