Revolt Of 1857- First War Of Independence

Topics Covered

  • Introduction
  • Immediate Reason Of Revolt Of 1857
  • Causes Of Revolt
  • Beginning Of Revolt
  • Centers Of Revolt And Leader
  • Impact Of The Revolt
  • Causes For The Failure Of The Revolt
  • Significance Of The Revolt
  • Consequences

 

Introduction

  • The revolt of 1857 was the conscious beginning of the Independence struggle against the Britishers. There are various names for the revolt of 1857 – India’s First War of Independence, Mutiny of Sepoy, etc.
  • The revolt began on May 10, 1857, at Meerut as sepoy mutiny. It was initiated by sepoys in the Bengal Presidency against the British officers.
  • This war of Independence marked the end of rule by the British East India company. Post this, India was directly ruled by the British government through representatives called as Governor-General.

Immediate Reason of Revolt of 1857

  • The immediate factor was the introduction of the ‘Enfield’ rifle. The cartridge had to be bitten off before loading it into the gun.
  • Muslims had a belief that the cartridge was greased with pig fat where Hindus believed the grease was made from cow fat.
  • Thus the Hindu and Muslim soldiers were reluctant to use the ‘Enfield’ rifle. This was a flashpoint to enrage the soldiers against the Britishers.
  • This was believed to be the immediate factor for the revolt of 1857.

CAUSES OF REVOLT

  • Economic Causes
    • Unpopular Revenue Settlement
      • The peasantry were never really to recover from the disabilities imposed by the new and a highly unpopular revenue settlement.
      • Impoverished by heavy taxation, the peasants resorted to loans from moneylenders/traders at usurious rates, the latter often evicting the former on non-payment of debt dues.
    • Misery to the artisans and handicrafts-men
      • British rule also meant misery to the artisans and handicrafts-men.
      • British policy discouraged Indian handicrafts and promoted British goods.
      • The highly skilled Indian craftsmen were forced to look for alternate sources of employment that hardly existed, as the destruction of Indian handicrafts was not accompanied by the development of modern industries.
    • Zamindars
      • Zamindars, the traditional landed aristocracy, often saw their land rights forfeited with frequent use of a quo warranto by the administration.
      • This resulted in a loss of status for them in the villages.
    • Political Causes
      • The British expansion had unjust policies that led to the loss of power from the Nawabs and Zamindars residing at various places of India.
      • The introduction of unfair policies like the policy of Trade and Commerce, the policy of indirect subordination (subsidiary alliance), the policy of war and annexation, policy of direct subordination (doctrine of lapse), policy of misgovernance (in which Awadh was annexed) greatly hampered the interests of the rulers of the native states, and they one by one became victims of British expansionism.
      • Therefore, those rulers, who lost their states to the British, were naturally against the British and took sides against them during the revolt.
    • Military Factors
      • The Indian soldiers went through a lot of torture by the British officials with respect to their salaries, pensions, promotions.
      • Indians were subjugated in the military while their European counterparts faced no such discrimination.
      • This arose discontent and was a major military factor that resulted in the revolt of 1857.
    • Socio-Religious Causes
      • Racial overtones and a superiority complex.
      • The activities of christian missionaries who followed the british flag in India.
      • Reforms such as abolition of sati, support to widow-remarriage and women’s education.
      • Government’s decision to tax mosque and temple lands.
      • Government’s legislative measures, such as the religious disabilities act, 1856, which modified hindu customs.
      • Mixing of bone dust in rtta (flour).
    • Vellore Mutiny
      • The Vellore Mutiny took place even before the revolt of 1857(50 years before).
      • It erupted on 10th July 1806 in Vellore, present-day Tamil Nadu, and lasted only for a day, but it was brutal and it was the first major mutiny by the Indian sepoys in the East India Company.
    • Outside Influence
      • Influence of outside events the revolt of 1857 coincided with certain outside events in which the British suffered serious losses—the first afghan war (1838-42), Punjab wars (1845-49), Crimean wars (1854-56), santhal rebellion (1855-57).
    • Discontent Among Sepoy
      • The conditions of service in the company’s army came into conflict with the religious beliefs.
      • Restrictions on wearing caste and sectarian marks. e.g. turban
      • Forced to travels across the seas. (General Service Enlistment Act which decreed that all future recruits to the Bengal Army would have to give an undertaking to serve anywhere their services)
      • Unhappy with emoluments. (Cause of dissatisfaction was the order that they would not be given the foreign service allowance (Matta) when serving in Sindh or in Punjab)
      • Racial discrimination. (Also in matters of promotion and privileges)
      • Newly introduced Enfield rifle’s trigger point was made of beef and pig fat.

Beginning Of the Revolt

  • The revolt began at Meerut, 58 km from Delhi, on May 10, 1857 and then, gathering force rapidly, soon embraced a vast area from the Punjab in the north and the Narmada in the south to Bihar in the east and Rajputana in the west.
  • Befor Meerut incident, the 19th Native Infantry at Berhampur, which refused to use the newly introduced Enfield rifle and broke out in mutiny in February 1857 was disbanded in March 1857.
  • A young sepoy of the 34th Native Infantry, MangalPande, went a step further and fired at the sergeant major of his unit at Barrackpore.
  • He was overpowered and executed on April 6 while his regiment was disbanded in May. The 7th Awadh Regiment which defied its officers on May 3 met with a similar fate. And then came the explosion at Meerut.

 Centers Of Revolt And Leader

  • Delhi – General Khan
  • Kanpur – Nana Saheb
  • Lucknow – Begum HazratMahal
  • Bareilly – Khan Bahadur
  • Bihar – Kunwar Singh
  • Faizabad – Maulvi Ahmadullah
  • Jhansi – Rani Laxmibai

Impact of the Revolt of 1857

  • The revolt of 1857 shook the foundation of British East India Company and disclosed their inefficiency in handling the Indian administration.
  • The major impact was the introduction of Government of India act which abolished the rule of British East India Company and marked the beginning of British raj that bestowed powers in the hands of the British government to rule India directly through representatives.

Causes for the failure of Revolt 1857

  • It was estimated that not more than one fourth of the total area and not more than one tenth of the total population was affected. South India remained quiet and Punjab and Bengal were only marginally affected.
  • Almost half the Indian soldiers not only did not Revolt but fought against their own countrymen. The revolt was poorly organized with no co-ordination or central leadership. Apart from some honourable exceptions like the Rani of Jhansi, Kunwar Singh and Maulvi Ahmadullah, the rebels were poorly served by their leaders. Most of them failed to realize the significance of the Revolt and simply did not do enough.
  • The rebels represented diverse elements with differing elements with differing grievances (not common). Apart from a commonly shared hatred for alien rule, the rebels had no political perspective or a definite vision of the future.
  • Modern educated Indians viewed this revolt as backward looking, and mistakenly hoped the British would usher in an era of modernisation.

Significance Of The Revolt 

  • The revolt of 1857 played an important role in bringing the Indian people together and imparting to them the consciousness of belonging to one country.
  • During the entire revolt, there was complete cooperation between Hindus and Muslims at all levels—people, soldiers, leaders.
  • Rebels and sepoys, both Hindu and Muslim, respected each other’s sentiments.
  • Immediate banning of cow slaughter was ordered once the revolt was successful in a particular area.

Consequences

  • It led to changes in the system of administration and the policy of the Government.
  • The direct responsibility for the administration of the country was assumed by the British Crown and Company rule was abolished.
  • The assumption of the Government of India by the sovereign of Great Britain was announced by Lord Canning at a durbar at Allahabad in the ‘Queen’s Proclamation’ issued on November 1, 1858.
  • The era of annexations and expansion ended and the British promised to respect the dignity and rights of the native princes.
  • The Indian states were henceforth to recognise the paramountcy of the British Crown and were to be treated as parts of a single charge.
  • The Army, which was at the forefront of the outbreak, was thoroughly reorganised and British military policy came to be dominated by the idea of “division and counterpoise”.
  • Racial hatred and suspicion between the Indians and the English was aggravated.