Revolt Of 1857

The Revolt of 1857 has been hailed as the watershed or the ‘great divide‘ in the colonial history of British India.

Battle of Plassey in 1757 marked the beginning of the political influence of the English East India Company, an influence which ended in 1858 when the Crown rule was established in British India.

Nature of the Revolt of 1857:

Historians remain divided on what this momentous event in our history be referred to-

  • T.R.Holmes called it a conflict between civilization and barbarism.
  • Benjamin Disraeli, an important leader of the British Conservative Party, called “It is a mutiny, or is it a national revolt?”
  • Sir James Outram and W.Taylor called it the revolt of Hindu-Muslim conspiracy, especially Muslim conspiracy.
  • V.D.Savarkar– a revolutionary and ideologue of ‘Hindutva‘- called it as India’s first national war of independence in his book War of Indian Independence.
  • R.C.Majumdar wrote that it was neither national nor war of Independence.

The first Indian who wrote a book on 1857 revolt was Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan. In his book ‘Asbab-I-Baghawat-I-Hind‘ (causes of the revolt of India) he tried to find out the real cause as a lack of political organization to represent the Indians.

Causes of the Revolt of 1857:

Political Causes:

  • The British policy of expansion from the beginning was devoid of ethics and values.
  • Lord Warren Hastings followed ‘ring-fence policy‘ (creating friendly states around enemy states and occupying both in course of time).
  • Lord Wellesley introduced Subsidiary Alliance System and forced upon the native princes, conquered more than half of British India with the same system.
  • The controversial and unjustified policy of ‘doctrine of lapse‘ imposed by Lord Dalhousie on Satara (1848), Jaitpur, Sambhalpur (1849), Baghat (1850), Udepur (1852), Jhansi (1853) and Nagpur (1854). The adopted sons of these states were not recognized and they were annexed.
  • Lord Dalhousie annexed Awadh in 1856 on the pretext of misgovernment and deposed its ruler Wazid Ali Shah. The annexation of Awadh was seen as a case of high-handedness as the Nawabs of Awadh had been loyal to the British throughout.
  • The company also stopped the annual pension of Nana Sahib, the adopted son of last Peshwa Baji Rao II. According to Dalhousie, the pension granted was personal and not hereditary, so Nana Sahib could not receive it.

Social Causes:

  • Abolition of sati in 1829 under Lord Bentick, the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act of 1856, and western education all led to disruption in the social world of people.
  • After the Charter Act of 1813, the Christian missionaries were allowed to enter India and carry on with their mission of proselytizing.
  • The Religious Disabilities Act, 1850, permitted a converted person to inherit property, contrary to Hindu social laws.
  • The introduction of railways was regarded as an encroachment on caste distinction as people irrespective of their castes, could travel together. The Hindu felt that their social order was threatened.

Economic Causes:

  • British rule led to a breakdown of the village self-sufficiency and also disturbed the existing order of land settlements in India.
  • Many people who had held lands before the coming of the British lost their lands under the reorganization of the land titles.
  • The influx of British manufactured goods into India, ruined industries (particularly the textile industry) and benefited British industries.
  • By 1857 other factors, like the economic underdevelopment of India, the drain of wealth, and commercialization of agriculture, was well underway.
  • After 1813, the policy of free trade imperialism was adopted.
  • The ruin of Indian industries led to large scale unemployment and when the revolt broke they joined the rebellion.

Military Causes:

  • The sepoys revolted for the first time in 1675. The Burhampore Regiment was the first to revolt against Robert Clive. It was also called White Mutiny as most of the Sepoys who revolted were English.
  • In 1806, the Vellore Sepoy Mutiny had taken place in support of Tipu Sultan and his family. The reasons for the revolt were-
  1. Sepoys were discriminated. No Indian Sepoy was promoted beyond the rank of a subedar.
  2. Denied additional allowance called Batta granted only to English Sepoys.
  3. The sepoys had refused to serve in Burma and it led to the passing of the General Services Enlistment Act by Lord Canning’s government in 1856. It compelled the sepoys to serve abroad if the need arose.
  • In 1857, the Royal Enfield Gun was introduced to be operated by greased cartridges. The sepoys refused to use the cartridge as they suspected cow and pig fat were used.
  • The unrest began in Barrackpore and Behrampore in Bengal. Mangal Pandey, a sepoy of 34th native infantry of the Bengal Army called upon his fellow sepoys to revolt against the use of the new cartridges, was arrested on 29th March 1857 (fired at sergeant Major at Barrackpore) and hanged to death on 8th April 1857.

Main Centres of the Revolt of 1857:

  • Meerut (10th May)- Soldiers of the Bengal Army.
  • Delhi (11th May)- Bahadur Shah was the titular head. Captain Bakht khan, a havaldar of Bareilly force became the actual commander.
  • Lucknow (4th June)- Begum Hazrat Mahal led the revolt for the take of her son, Birjis Qadar.
  • Kanpur (5th June)- The main center of the revolt of 1857. Nana Sahib actually called Dondu Pandit led the revolt assisted by Anna Saheb, Azimullah, and Tantia Tope. Sir Campbell captured Kanpur. Tantya Tope escaped and joined Rani Laxmibai.
  • JhansiLaxmi Bai, the widow of Gangadhar Rao organized the revolt for the sake of her adopted son Manohar Rao.
  • Bareilly (U.P.)- Khan Bhadur Khan, the head of the Rohillas was the leader of the revolt.
  • Jagdishpur (Arrah, Bihar)- Kunwar Singh and his brother Amar Singh, the Zamindars of Jagdishpur organized the revolt.
  • Faizabad (U.P.)- Maulvi Ahmad-ul-lah, the head of the Wahabi sect led the revolt in support of Begum Hazrat Mahal, wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah.

Other Centres of the Revolt of 1857:

  • PatnaMaulvi Pir Ali led the revolt.
  • Mandsor– Firoz Shah.
  • Assam– Kandapareshwar Singh and Manirama Datta.
  • Mathura– Devi Singh and Kadam Singh.
  • Orissa– Surendra Shahi and Ujjwal Shahi.
  • Kullu– Raja Pratap Singh.
  • Gorakhpur– Gajadhar Singh.
  • Rajasthan– Jayadayal Singh.

Suppression of the Revolt of 1857:

  • Lord Canning was the Governor-General.
  • Collin Cambell was the Chief Commander of operations.
  • Sir John Nicholson got back Delhi but died in the fight.
  • William Taylor and Vincent Eyre defeated Kunwar Singh.
  • Sir Colin Campbell got back Kanpur.
  • Sir Hugh Rose defeated Lakshmi Bai.
  • Bahadur Shah Zafar was taken captive and was deported to Rangoon, where he spent his last years in exile, till his death in 1862.
  • Nana Sahib and Begum Hazrat Mahal took asylum in Nepal.

Causes of Failure of the Revolt of 1857:

  • One of the reasons for the failure of the revolt was that the area of the revolt remained limited. Entire south India, Punjab, and the territory towards its north and west Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Bengal remained aloof from the revolt. Gorkhas too helped the British cause. Half of the company’s troops did not join the revolt and fought against Indians.
  • The Revolt of 1857 was marked by a series of sporadic incidents. It lacked coordination. The rebels had no common goal or plan of action. None of them knew what to do after a region was captured. Hence they were unable to consolidate their early military successes.
  • Many native rulers, rather than supporting the rebels helped the British in suppressing the revolt. Sir Dinkar Rao of Gwalior and Salar Jung of Nizam did everything to suppress the rebellion.
  • The moneylenders, Zamindars were pro-British as their existence was based on British rule. They helped the British in the time of crisis. The merchant class also supported the British as their economic interest was linked with the English traders and foreign trade.
  • The educated Indians and the middle class also did not support the cause of the rebels. On the contrary, their feelings were against it. Therefore the revolt neither could be organized nor could found support on the intellectual and emotional grounds.

Results of the Revolt of 1857:

The Revolt of 1857 served as a rude and caustic reminder to the British that they were alien in India and because of the very nature of their domination is colonial and exploitative, could not reconcile the Indians to their rule. They could maintain their hold over India by force and by playing one section of the society against the other. These imperatives guided British policy after 1857 and the Indian response to this policy helped to mould the struggle for freedom.

After the Revolt of 1857, the English East India Company’s rule came to an end by the Act of 1858 and the Proclamation of Queen Victoria. The administration of India was taken over directly by the British Crown.

The Governor-General of India was given an additional title, the Viceroy, as a representative of the British Crown. By a special Act, both the Board of Directors and the Board of Control were abolished. In their place, the office of the Secretary of State for India was created (Lord Charles Wood became the first Secretary of State for India). He was assisted by an Indian Council of 15 members.

Lord Canning held the Allahabad Durbar and read out the “Queen’s Proclamation” which promised no further conquests in India; no further interference in the internal affairs of the Indians and all the appointments in the public service would be made on merit and qualification.

Seeing the great unity between the Hindus and Muslims that had made the Revolt so menacing, the British now tried to divide the Indians along religious lines. First, they discriminated against the Muslims, considering them to be the chief culprit of the Revolt. However, after the 1870s, they played upon the fears of the Muslims who were in minority and thus encouraged communalism the effects of which are visible even today.

The Indian army was thoroughly reorganized. It had a higher proportion of Europeans in it and they were to be responsible for maintaining the artillery and the field.

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