Indian Mutiny, also called Sepoy Mutiny or First War of Independence, widespread but unsuccessful rebellion against British rule in India in 1857–59. Begun in Meerut by Indian troops (sepoys) in the service of the British East India Company, it spread to Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, and Lucknow. This was stepping stone of India's Freedom Struggle
- Causes behind the revolt of 1857
- Immediate cause of reolt of 1857
- Causes for the failure of revolt 1857
- Significane of revolt of 1857
- Changes made in the British army after the Revolt of 1857
CAUSES BEHIND THE REVOLT OF 1857
- Destruction of traditional Indian Economy
- Ruin of agriculture by draconian land reforms
- Annexation of princely states = no patronage for artisans = destruction of Indian handicrafts
- Loss of status for Zamindars = ashamed to work = anger against British
- Aggressive policies of Subsidiary Alliance , Doctrine of Lapse
- Rampant corruption and exploitation especially at lower levels of administration (police, local courts etc.)
- Restriction on wearing caste specific clothing and items, Eg. Turban
- Forced to travel overseas, which was forbidden in Hindu tradition
- Unequal pay for Indian sepoys + racial discrimination and subordination
- Newly introduced Enfield rifles had beef fat coatings (trigger point)
- Racial discrimination towards native Indians (Theory of White Man’s Burden)
- Religious propagation by the Christian Missionaries
- Reforms like Abolition of Sati, Widow-Remarriage Act, and Women’s Education were seen as interference in the traditional Indian Society
- Taxation on mosques, temples etc.
- Crimean Wars 1854-56
- Punjab Wars 1845-49
- First Afghan War 1838-42
The British suffered serious losses in these wars = psychological boost for Indians
IMMEDIATE CAUSE AND COURSE OF REVOLT
- On March 29th, sepoy Mangal Pandey of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) declared rebellion against his commanders and fired the first shot at a British officer.
- He and an accomplice were court-martialed and hanged a few days later. The regiment was disbanded.
- Many of the sepoys felt that the punishment meted out to Pandey was unwarranted, further fuelling them with anger and resentment with the British establishment.
- At Meerut, there was a large cantonment with more than 2000 Indian soldiers. On 24th April, the commanding officer of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry ordered his troops to parade and to fire the rifles as part of the drill. All the men, except 5, refused to do so.
- 85 sepoys were court-martialed and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment on 9th May. All the accused soldiers were stripped off uniforms and shackled publicly before the whole unit.
- The very next day, the remaining soldiers openly mutinied and set free their 85 comrades from the prisons.
- They also killed several European officers. The revolt spread to the city of Meerut as well.
- The mutinying soldiers reached Delhi, the seat of the Mughal Emperor on 11th May. They captured the city and declared the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar as the Emperor of Hindustan.
- The rebellion spread to many places in Northern India including Kanpur, Lucknow, Jhansi, Gwalior and Bihar. Many Indian princes and rulers joined in the revolt. The most important names are the Rani of Jhansi, Tantya Tope, Nana Saheb, Kunwar Singh, etc.
- The larger princely states of Hyderabad, Travancore, Kashmir, Mysore and the smaller kingdoms of Rajputana also refrained from joining the revolt.
CAUSES FOR FAILURE OF REVOLT OF 1857
- Firstly, the resources of the British Government were far superior to those of the rebels. Luckily, for the British, the Crimean and the Chinese wars had been concluded by 1856 that helped the British Government to concentrate the entire energy on India. The electric telegraph kept the Commander-in-Chief informed about the movement of the Indian soldiers.
- Secondly, the people of India could not be inspired by the spirit of nationalism to resist the foreign soldiers for a long period. No doubt the princes joined the revolution to regain their lost prestige, the taluqdars jointed it to get back their privileges, and the peasants fought in it for their economic discontent yet in a positive sense there was no great ideal to unite all Indians in a common platform.
- The revolt thus could not be prolonged. The rebels could not organize a united military front against the British army. They fought in separate groups. In moments of need, they could not combine all their forces which worked as strength to their enemies.
- Thirdly, lack of able and genius leaders to guide the destiny of the country resulted in a negative result of the nation-wide revolt. The revolt was spontaneous, the rebels were many in number but unfortunately the leaders were no great military generals. They fought desperately with their limited capacities.
- Emperor Bahadur Shah whom the rebels regarded as emperor was old and feeble, Nana Saheb was brave but did not possess foresight, Tantia Tope and Kanwar Singh did not have any title to their credit to attract popular attention but the great among all leaders was Rani Laxmi Bai. With all her qualities as leader and virtues as a true patriot, she found her capacity limited in guiding acute military struggle. She could not organise all the rebels under her own charismatic personality. Moreover, her death gave a blow to the rebels.
- Fourthly, the arms and weapons the rebels using were far inferior to the arms of their English rivals. Though the sepoys belonged to the British army yet they were not allowed to use sophisticated weapons, naturally, therefore, they proved inferior to them. These weaknesses of the sepoys helped the British to defeat them. On the other hand, the British were fortunate to have some of the brilliant generals to command the English soldiers in the war fields.
- Finally, the sudden out -break of the revolt created an uncertain situation in the country for which the people were not mentally prepared. They were quite ignorant about their role in that emergency. So collapsed the great revolt of 1857.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE 1857 REVOLT
The significance of the Revolt of 1857 lies in the fact that it voiced, through violently, the grievances of various classes of people. The British were made to realize that all was not under control in British India.
- Modern Nationalismwas unknown in India, yet 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. It had seeds of nationalism and anti- imperialism, but the concept of common nationality and nationhood was not inherent to the revolt of 1857. One may say that the revolt of 1857 was the first great struggle of Indians to throw off British Rule. It established local traditions of resistance to British rule which were to pave the way for the modern national movement.
- Hindu Muslim Unity Factor- During the entire revolt, there was complete cooperation between Hindus and Muslims at all levels- people, soldiers, leaders. All rebels acknowledged Bahadur Shah Zafar, a Muslim, as the emperor and the first impulse of the Hindu sepoys at Meerut was to march to Delhi, the Mughal imperial Capital. Rebel and sepoys, both Hindu and Muslims, respected each other’s sentiments. Immediate banning of cow slaughter was ordered once the revolt was successful in a particular area. Both Hindus and Muslims were well represented in leadership, for instance Nana Saheb had Azimullah, a Muslim and an expert in political propaganda, as an aide, while Laxmibai had the solid support of Afghan Soldiers. Thus the events of 1857 demonstrated that the people and politics of India were not basically communal before 1858.
CHANGES MADE IN BRITISH INDIAN ARMY AFTER THE REVOLT OF 1857
The Revolt of 1857 gave a severe jolt to the British administration in India and made its reorganization inevitable. The Government of India’s structure and policies underwent significant changes in the decades following the Revolt.
- Changes in Administration:By the Act of Parliament of 1858, the power to govern India was transferred from the East India Company to the British Crown. The authority over India, wielded by the Directors of the Company and the Board of Control, was now to be exercised by a Secretary of State for India aided by a Council.
- Provincial Administration:The British had divided India for administrative convenience into provinces, three of which- Bengal. Bombay and Madras- were known as Presidencies. The Presidencies were administered by a Governor and his Executive Council of three, who were appointed by the Crown. The other provinces were administered by Lieutenant Governor and Chief Commissioners appointed by the Governor-General.
- Local Bodies:Financial difficulties led the Government to further decentralize administration by promoting local government through municipalities and district boards. Local bodies like education, health, sanitation and water supply were transferred to local bodies that would finance them through local taxes.
- Changes in the army:The Indian army was carefully re-organised after 1858, most of all to prevent the recurrence of another revolt. Firstly, the domination of the army by its European branch was carefully guaranteed. The proportion of Europeans to Indians in the army was raised. The European troops were kept in key geographical and military positions. The crucial branches of artillery, tanks and armored corps were put exclusively in European hands. The Indians were strictly excluded from the higher posts. Till 1814, no Indian could rise higher than the rank of a subedar. Secondly, the organization of the Indian section of the army was based on the policy of ‘divide and rule’ so as to prevent its chance of uniting again in an anti-British uprising. A new section of army like Punjabis, Gurkhas and Pathans were recruited in large numbers.
Revolt of 1857 was known as the first war of independence because it was for the first time that our entire nation irrespective of the caste, creed, race, and religion had come together and staged an armed protest against the Britishers to gain independence from their colonial rule. To read more articles on Modern India History click here