Revolt of 1857 in India – Sepoy Mutiny

 

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Major Causes of Revolt of 1857

Economic Causes

  • Colonial policies destroyed the traditional economy of  Indian society.
  • High land revenue disabled peasantry class.
  • Money-lenders and traders emerged as the new landlords.
  • Heavy Taxation on artisans and handicrafts.
  • Annexation of Indian states by the Company cut off their major source of patronage.
  • Discriminatory tariff policy against Indian made products.
  • Free Trade and refusal to impose protective duties against machine-made goods from Britain simply killed Indian manufacture.
  • Ruin of Indian industry increased the pressure on agriculture and land.
  • Zamindars, lost their lands and status in villages.
  • In Awadh, storm centre of the revolt of 1857, 21,000 taluqdars suddenly found themselves without a source of income.

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revolt of 1857 in india causes leaders sepoy mutiny indian rebellion

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Political Causes

  • British expansionist policies, most of Raja’s, Nawab’s and zamindar’s, were either dispossessed or became subsidiary to the British.
  • Subsidiary alliance and Doctrine of Lapse policy hampered the interests of the rulers of the native states.
  • They one by one became victims of British expansionism.
  • British abolished many rulers title and pensions.

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Administrative Causes

  • Huge corruption in the Company’s administration, especially among the police, officials and lower law courts, was a major cause.
  • Indian judges were not allowed to try criminal cases of Europeans.
  • So discrimination was at all levels.

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Socio-Religious Causes

  • Racial discrimination and superiority complex characterized British attitude towards the native Indian population.
  • British attempts at socio-religious reform such as abolition of sati, support to widow-remarriage and women’s education were not acceptable to conservative sections.
  • Government’s decision to tax mosque and temple lands and making laws such as the Religious Disabilities Act, 1856.
  • Activities of Christian missionaries.

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Influence of Outside Events

  • Revolt of 1857 coincided with certain outside events in which British suffered serious losses – 1st Afghan War, Punjab Wars and the Crimean Wars (1853-56).
  • British were seen to be not so strong and it was felt that they could be defeated.

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indian rebellion
Enfield Rifle

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Discontent Among Sepoys

  • Conflict between conditions of service and religious beliefs of sepoys
  • Restrictions on wearing caste and sectarian marks.
  • 1856, Lord Canning passed General Service Enlistment Act.
  • As per the Act recruits of Bengal Army have to give an undertaking to serve anywhere required by the government.
  • Hindu of the time, crossing the seas meant loss of caste.
  • Foreign service allowance (bhatta) when serving in Sindh or in Punjab was stopped.
  • Annexation of Awadh, home of many of the sepoys, further inflamed their feelings.
  • Indian sepoy was made to feel a subordinate.
  • They was discriminated against racially and in matters of promotion and privileges.
  • Sepoy, in fact, was a ‘peasant in uniform’, so torchers over peasants make them more unhappy.

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revolt of 1857 in india causes leaders sepoy mutiny indian rebellion

Beginning & Spread of the Revolt

Immediate Cause

  • Reports about mixing of bone dust in atta (flour) and introduction of Enfield rifle influece the sentiment of sepoyes.
  • Greased wrapping paper of the cartridge of the new rifle had to be bitten off before loading and grease was reportedly made of beef and pig fat.

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Beginning of Sepoy Mutiny

  • Mutiny of Mangal Pandey, 34th Native Infantry 29th March, 1857 at Barrackpur.
  • Ninety men of 3rd Native Cavalry at Meerut, refused to accept greased cartridges.
  • Eighty-five of them were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.
  • Sepoy mutiny began at Meerut, on 10th May, 1857.
  • On May 10, they released their imprisoned comrades, killed their officers and unfurled the banner of revolt.
  • Then, gathering force rapidly, soon embraced a vast area from the Punjab in north and Narmada in south, Bihar in east and Rajputana in the west.

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Choice of Bahadur Shah as Symbolic Head

  • Long reign of Mughal dynasty had become traditional symbol of India’s political unity.
  • So, Delhi was soon to become centre of Great Revolt and Bahadur Shah, its symbol.
  • Aged and powerless Bahadur Shah Zafar was proclaimed the Emperor of India.
  • Outlook of rebels was not influenced by religious identity.
  • They took British as the common enemy.
  • Entire Bengal Army soon rose in revolt which spread quickly.
  • Awadh, Rohilkhand, Doab, Bundelkhand, central India, large parts of Bihar and East Punjab shook off British authority.

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Civilians Join

  • Sepoy mutiny was accompanied by a rebellion of civil population particularly in north-western provinces and Awadh.
  • Peasants and petty zamindars took advantage of revolt to destroy money-lenders’ account books and debt records.

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leaders of revolt of 1857 in india

revolt of 1857 in india causes leaders sepoy mutiny indian rebellion

Storm Centers & Leaders of Revolt

CenterLeaderBritishRemakes
DelhiBakht KhanJohn Nicholson
Hudson
KanpurNana Saheb
Tantia Tope
Hugh Wheeler
Havelock
Colin Campbell
Hugh Wheeler surrendered and killed
LucknowBegum Hazrat MahalHenry Lawrence
James Neill
Havelock
Colin Campbell
Death of Lawrence, Neill, Havelock
JhansiRani LaxmibaiHugh RoseTantia Tope joined Laxmibai after loss of Kanpur
BareillyKhan BahadurColin Campbell
Arrah, BiharKunwar Singh
Amar Singh
William Taylor
Vincent Eyre
Faizabad, UPMaulvi Ahmadullah
Baghpat, UPShah Mal

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revolt of 1857 in india causes leaders sepoy mutiny indian rebellion

Reason of Failure 

All India participation was Absent

  • Limited territorial spread was one factor.
  • Revolt of 1857 speeded over only Eastern Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

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All Classes did not Join

  • Big zamindars acted as “break-waters to storm”.
  • Even Awadh taluqdars backed off once promises of land restitution were made.
  • Money-lenders and merchants were not part of revolt of 1857.
  • Educated Indians viewed this revolt of 1857 as backward looking, supportive of the feudal order.
  • Most Indian rulers refused to join, and often gave active help to the British.
  • Sindhia of Gwalior, Holkar of Indore, Gulab Singh of Kashmir, rulers of Patiala, Raja of Jodhpur, Jung Bahadur of Nepal, Rulers of Rajputana and Sikh chieftains.

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Poor Arms and Equipment

  • Indian soldiers were poorly equipped materially
  • They fighting generally with swords and spears and very few guns and muskets

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Uncoordinated and Poorly Organised

  • Revolt of 1857 was poorly organised with no coordination or central leadership
  • Indian rebel leaders were no match to their British opponents in generalship

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No Unified Ideology

  • Mutineers lacked a clear understanding of colonial rule
  • They had no forward looking programme or political perspective or a societal alternative
  • Different places leaders were fighting for different cause

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sepoy mutiny
Laxmibai’s statue, Solapur

revolt of 1857 in india causes leaders sepoy mutiny indian rebellion

Hindu-Muslim Unity Factor

  • During the entire revolt, there was complete cooperation between Hindus and Muslims at all levels – people, soldiers, leaders
  • According to Maulana Azad, two facts stand out clearly in the midst of the  tangled story of the Rising of 1857.
    • The remarkable sense of unity among Hindus and Muslims of India in this period.
    • The deep loyalty which the people felt for the Mughal Crown.
  • Thus, the events of 1857 demonstrated that the people and politics of India were not basically communal or sectarian before 1858.

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revolt of 1857 in india causes leaders sepoy mutiny indian rebellion

Nature of the Revolt of 1857

  • ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ to some British historians—“a wholly unpatriotic and selfish Sepoy Mutiny with no native leadership and no popular support”, said Sir John Seeley.
  • A “planned war of national independence”, by V.D. Savarkar in his book, The Indian War of Independence, 1857. Savarkar called the revolt of 1857 the first war of Indian independence.
  • Dr S.N. Sen in his Eighteen Fifty- Seven considers the revolt as having begun as a fight for religion but ending as a war of independence
  • Dr R.C. Majumdar, however, considers it as neither the first, nor national, nor a war of independence as large parts of the country remained unaffected
  • According to some Marxist historians, the 1857 revolt was “the struggle of the soldier-peasant democratic combine against foreign as well as feudal bondage”.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru considered the Revolt of 1857 as essentially a feudal uprising though there were some nationalistic elements in it (Discovery of India).
  • M.N. Roy felt the Revolt was a last ditch stand of feudalism against commercial capitalism.
  • It had seeds of nationalism and anti-imperialism but the concept of common nationality and nationhood was not inherent to the revolt of 1857

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revolt of 1857 in india causes leaders sepoy mutiny indian rebellion

Consequences & Effects

Political Effects

  • It led to far reaching changes in the system of administration and the policies of  British government.
  • 2nd Aug, 1858, British Parliament passed an Act for the Better Government of India.
  • The Act declared Queen Victoria as the sovereign of British India.
  • This is known as queen’s proclamation.
  • Queen’s proclamation was read out by Lord Canning at a durbar held on 1st Nov, 1858 at Allahabad.
  • The proclamation put an end to the rule of East India Company.
  • Board of Control was abolished.
  • A new ministry was created known as ‘India House’, headed by the Secretary of State for India who was a minister of cabinet rank.
  • Governor-General became more pronounced and his profile was now counted as the Viceroy representative of the Queen.
  • Policy of annexation and expansion of British empire in India ended.

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Economic Effects

  • Revolt also brought massive economic destruction.
  • The public debt of the country rose by about 98 million sterling.
  • British now started economic expansion and exploitation in India.

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revolt of 1857

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Military Effects

  • Army Amalgamation Scheme, 1861 moved Company’s European troops to services of the Crown.
  • Number of european troops was increased and all artillery units were placed in European hands.
  • The different classes of sepoys were mixed.

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Administrative Effects

  • Proclamation also promised equal and impartial protection under law to all Indians and equal opportunities in government services
  • Indian Civil Service Act of 1861 was passed, which was to give an impression that under Queen all were equal.
  • Policies were made to protect landlords and zamindars and give them security of rights over their lands.
  • The complete structure of the Indian government was remodeled and based on the notion of a master race – justifying the philosophy of the ‘Whiteman’s burden’.

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Social Effects

  • British followed the policy of communal disharmony.
  • They take policy of non-interference in traditional structure of Indian society and use it against the educated middle class.

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Significance of the Revolt

  • It brought out in the open grievances of people and the sepoys, which were seen to be genuine.
  • Revolt of 1857 did establish local traditions of resistance to British rule.
  • It of helped in the course of the national struggle for freedom.

revolt of 1857 in india causes leaders sepoy mutiny indian rebellion

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