Lord Ripon

Lord Ripon (1880-1884)

This article deals with ‘ Lord Ripon – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here


He was a liberal to the core & earlier acted as Secretary of State  during 1866-68. In 1880, when liberal party came to power in England under the leadership of Gladstone (who was the chief devotee of liberalism in Europe), he handpicked Ripon for job as Governor General of India. Ripon’s whole political outlook was very anti-thesis of his predecessor.


When he reached India, India was in political, social & economic fermentation. Lytton’s policies had driven discontent among masses & India was bordering on revolution. Ripon tried to heal those wounds by taking good steps beneficial for Indians.


Repeal of Vernacular Press Act

  • Act was repealed & Vernacular newspapers were allowed equal freedom with rest of Indian press. This wise action of Ripon tried to undo wrongs done by Lytton .



First Factory Act,1881

  • To improve the condition of factory labourers
  • Sought to regulate & improve the condition of labour in Indian factories . The Act was applicable in case of factories employing 100 or more labourers.
  • Prohibited employment of children below age of 7 + limited working hours for children below age of 12
  • Although limited in scope , opened new phase of industrial history in India .


Indian nationalists opposed this because it was aimed to nullify the advantage of Indian industrialists and British plantations were out of its ambit .


Financial decentralisation

Continued the policy of financial devolution inaugurated under Lord Mayo. Source of revenue were divided into three classes viz Imperial, Provincial & Divided

Imperial Heads Revenue from Customs, Posts & Telegraphs , Railways, Opium, Salt, Mint, Military Receipt , Land Revenue etc
  • Revenue from Jails, Medical Services, Printing, Roads , general Administration etc
  • These were insufficient for provincial requirements , hence grant of fixed percentage of land revenue which otherwise was an imperial subject was given to Provinces
  • Income from Excise, Stamps , Forests , Registration etc was divided in equal proportion among the Central & Provincial Governments




Resolution on Local Self Government

Most noble work was Government’s resolution on Local Self Government which had following provisions

  • Local Boards were to be developed throughout the country .
    • In Rural Areas,  Governor General desired the smallest  Administrative Unit  to be- sub division , taluka or Tehsil .
    • In Towns , the Municipal Committees & City bodies were to form local board .
  • Local Bodies were to be charged with definite duties & entrusted with suitable sources of Revenue. Ripon desired the Provincial Government should apply in case of local bodies the same principle of Financial Decentralisation which Lord Mayo has directed towards them
  • Chairman of these local board shouldn’t be Officials but elected by Local Bodies themselves

In pursuance of above resolution, Local Self Government Acts were passed in various provinces during 1883-85 which included Madras, Punjab & Bengal .



But why were they giving such responsibilities to Indians?

Answer is financial pressures & search for more Indian collaborators. ‘Systems of nomination, representation and election were all means of enlisting Indians to work for imperial ends’. The financial and political aspects were neatly combined in the development of local self-government. The process really began under the Conservative Mayo and not the Liberal Ripon. The major motive was to tackle financial difficulties by shifting charges for local requirements on to new local taxes.



Resolution on Land Policy

  • He disfavoured proposal to establish Permanent Settlement Model of Bengal throughout India
  • He sought to modify the Permanent settlement of Bengal by giving farmers assurance of permanence & security and committing governments  not to enhance taxes except in case of price rise. He couldn’t succeed because Zamindars of Bengal opposed the measure & peasants of Bengal didn’t support it for they feared that Anglo-Indian bureaucracy would be worst than zamindars.


Educational Reforms

Refer Hunter Commission (Constituted under his Governor Generalship )

  • All the recommendations of Hunter Commission were applied by him


Ilbert Bill Controversy

  • CP Ilbert – Law member of Council introduced Ilbert bill in 1883
  • It proposed to give Indian Magistrates & Session Judges the power to try European offenders in mofussil(small towns) as it was already happening in Presidency Towns
  • White Mutiny followed . Bill was bitterly opposed by not just non official Europeans but British press too.  Ripon ultimately have to succumb to the pressure & withdraw the bill.


  • Amended Bill was passed in 1884 , which provided the European British subjects, when brought to trial before District Magistrate or Sessions Judge , whether European or Indian were to have a right to claim trial by a jury of 12 at least 7 of whom must be European or Americans. If in the mofussil district , no jury could be formed , magistrate was to transfer the case  to such other court such as High Court directly.


  • Ilbert bill was the last straw that politically conscious educated Indians could take , as it made them painfully aware of their subordinate position in imperial power structure


Note – The Ilbert Bill storm was the most extreme but by no means isolated expression of white racism. In 1878, for instance, the appointment of Muthusamy Iyer as High Court judge in Madras was opposed by the Madras Mail (organ of white businessmen) on the ground that ‘native officials should not draw the same rate of pay as Europeans in similar circumstances’.  The uproar led directly to the foundation of the famous nationalist journal Hindu.


Rendition of Mysore

  • Lord Bentinck annexed state of Mysore in 1831 on charge of misgovernance. Later it came to knowledge that reports of misgovernance were grossly exaggerated.
  • Ripon decided to correct the injustice done & restored the administration of the state to adopted son of the deposed Raja who died in 1866. 

He resigned in summer of 1884 because Gladstone willingly sanctioned the occupation of Egypt . A contingent of Indian troops was sent to Egypt & the burden of the imperial war fell on Indian Exchequer . Ripon launched a strong protest against this gross injustice & felt that his mission to India had failed. He resigned before term of his Viceroyalty was over.



Lord Lytton

Lord Lytton(1876-80)

This article deals with ‘ Lord Lytton – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here



He was the nominee of  Conservative Government of Benjamin Disraeli & was appointed with special eye to Central Asian developments. Lytton was a diplomat by profession & had served the British Foreign Office  in many capacities. He was a reputed poet ,novelist & an essayist known in the literary world as Owen Meredith. Till 1876, Lytton had no experience of administration nor any acquaintance with Indian affairs.


Lytton & Free Trade

  • Free trade had become passion with ruling circles in England till this time because it suited the interests of industrially advanced nation.
  • Lancashire Cotton manufacturers were jealous of new cotton mills coming up in Bombay and wanted to destroy them . They attacked the levies on export of goods to India. They termed this as protective measure against the Laissez Fairre .
  • British Government passed the Act & notified Indian Government to repeal duties when financial conditions permit. Notwithstanding the poor financial condition of India caused by Famine , Lytton abolished import duties on 29 items including sugar , sheetings etc (even against the wishes of his council)


Financial Reforms

  • Policy of financial devolution begun under Lord Mayo continued.
  • Provincial governments were given the control of the expenditure upon all ordinary provincial services including land revenue, excise , stamps, law & justice , general administration etc. For discharge of newly transferred services the provincial governments were not given any increase in their fixed grants but handed over some specified sources of revenue from respective provinces.


Famine (1876-78)

  • Severe Famine hit Bombay, Madras,Mysore, Hyderabad & some parts of Central India and Punjab. Population of 5.8 Crore was affected & according to Romesh Dutt ,50 Lakh perished in single year
  • Government made half hearted efforts to help the famine stricken. The Government famine machinery was inadequate
  • In 1878, Famine Commission was established under Richard Strachey which disfavoured grant of gratuitous help & wanted able bodied persons to be provided employment on wages sufficient to maintain health . He recommended construction of Railway & Irrigation works for this. ( this laid foundation of famine policy as well)


Royal Titles Act, 1876 & Grand Darbar of 1877

  • British Parliament passed Royal Titles Act investing Queen Victoria with title of Kaiser-i-Hind or Queen Empress of India . Grand Darbar was held in Delhi on 1Jan 1877 to announce people & Princes of India the assumption of the Title.
  • Unfortunately, Darbar held at a time when several parts of the country were in grip of Famine. Lytton spent millions on pomp but neglected people to die in hunger. This drove a current of national humiliation among people of India.
  • Calcutta Journal adversely commented , ”  Nero was fiddling when Rome was burning”
  • But Darbar proved to be blessing in disguise
  • Although it reduced the Princes from position of allies to that of feudatories
        • But subconsciously & against the intentions of the author of Bill raised status of Indian subjects of the Queen to that of Citizen of the British Empire encouraging persons like SN Banerjee to organise an association of Indians to raise their grievances.


(Side Note – Second Durbar was held by Edward VII in 1903 & Third Durbar at time of George V in 1911. Every time , Ruler changed, this Durbar was held)


Vernacular Press Act, 1878

  • Unpopular Policies of Lytton filled people with discontent & native vernacular press was ridiculing him.
  • He came up with Vernacular Press Act to cut short the wings of Vernacular Press 
  • By this act
        • Magistrates of the Districts were empowered , without prior permission of the government, to call upon a printer and publisher of any kind to enter into a bond , undertaking not to publish anything which might arouse the feelings of the disaffection against the government
        • Magistrate was also authorised to deposit a security , which could be confiscated if printer violated the bond
        • If printer violated again , his press could be seized
  • Worst feature of this Act was it discriminated between Native  Vernacular Press & loyal Anglo-Indian press & was nicknamed as Gagging Act
  • It was specially targeted at Amrita Bazaar Patrika which turned English overnight to remain out of the ambit of the act.


Arms Act, 1878

  • This made it a Criminal Offence to keep or traffic in arms without licence. Penalty was fine or imprisonment of 3 years or both .
  • But worst feature was it kept Anglo-Indians , Europeans & some categories of govt officials out of its ambit . Hence it was a racial Act


Statutory Civil Service

  • Charter Act of 1853 had declared all offices in India were open to merit irrespective of nationality & colour and Charter Act of 1853 provided for holding of a competitive examination in London for recruitment to higher services . Act was passed in 1870 saying that 1/5th recruits to Covenant Service should be Indians even without competitive examination but it took for government  10 years to frame rules
  • Indians couldn’t enter ICS because difficulties facing aspirants were great. From 1862 to 75 only 40 Indians appeared for ICS & only 10 were successful.
  • Lytton proposed the straightforward course of closing Covenanted Civil Service to Indians & instead create ‘a close native service’ to meet the provisions of the Act of 1870 . Home Authorities didn’t favour this because of its discriminatory nature .
  • Lytton then proposed plan for Statutory Civil Services (SCS) in 1878-79 (according to Act of 1870)  . According to rules of 1879 , the Govt of India could employ some Indians of good family & social standing in  SCS on recommendation of Provincial Government subject to confirmation & number of such appointments not to exceed 1/6th of total appointments . (However , SCS didn’t become popular with Indians & discarded later)
  • Since Secretary of State  didn’t accept proposal to discard Covenant Civil Services to Indians altogether, hence he made calculated move to discourage Indians from competing by reducing max age from 21 years to 19 years .


Throughout India this was seen as a coloured legislation & it was difficult for Indians to digest this humiliation


2nd Afghan War

  • Provoked senseless war against Afghans with view to establish a scientific frontier towards North West
  • Adventure proved to be failure



Estimate of Lord Lytton

  • Lytton was no doubt a man of ideas but he must be judged as a failure as a ruler of India. Experts point out the name of Lytton & Curzon as two viceroys who did more harm than good to India & to England’s position in India than any other men that can be named.
  • Lytton’s unpopular & repressive policy drove discontent among the masses . The unrest became widespread & was becoming dangerous. His policies prepared the soil for creation of nationalism in India .







Lord Canning

Lord Canning 

This article deals with ‘ Lord Canning – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here


Events during Lord Canning’s tenure

  • Break out of Revolt of 1857
  • Government of India Act ,1858
  • Indian Council Act, 1861
  • Indian Civil Services Act , 1861
  • Indigo Agitation of Bengal, 1859-60 (in revolts)
  • Enactment of Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860

Also known as clemency Canning => Although mass killings happened at his time , he tried to present a picture to world that all is well



Queen Victoria’s Proclamation (1/11/1858)

Announced at Grand Durbar in Allahabad . This proclamation declared the future policy of British in India

  • Queen had assumed the Government of India under this
  • Declared we desire no extension of our present territories &  we shall respect rights , dignity & honour of native Princes
  • Our subjects of whatever race or creed , be freely & impartially admitted to offices in our services
  • Our clemency shall be extended to all offenders except those who have been  directly involved in killing of British subjects
  • All treaties & engagements with native Princes by or under authority of East India Company are to be accepted & will be scrupulously maintained
  • Principle of justice and religious tolerance would be guiding policy of Queens rule
  • Armies of East India Company will cease to exist and incorporated to British army
  • Indian sepoys were enlisted as regular recruits in British army & hence Indians participated in world wars in next century




Government of India  Act, 1858


  • Since in Charter Act of 1853, Company’s rule wasn’t extended for another 20 years, it gave British government to intervene in the matters . Whigs & Tories joined hands to end Company’s rule over India .
  • John Stuart Mill prepared a dignified and weighty petition which was presented by the Company against the Government decision to both the Houses of Parliament. But no petition could any longer stem the tide of mounting criticism against the Company’s administration.



  • It’s provisions called for liquidation of Company
  • India was directly to be governed in the name of the Crown
  • Company’s rule , Board of Control , Court of Directors were abolished
  • Crown was to govern India directly through Secretary of State for India and his council consisting of 15 members. Secretary of State had powers of both Board of Control and Court of Directors
  • Crown had the power to appoint Governor General and Governors of the Presidencies


Secretary of State

  • The Secretary of State was to sit in Parliament. He was a cabinet minister of England
  • The Act created an India Council of 15  members. It was to advise the Secretary of State  who could overrule its decisions.
  • Secretary of State was given the power of sending and receiving secret messages and despatches from the Governor General without the necessity of communicating them to the India Council.
  • First Secretary of India was Lord Stanley, who was before this President of Board of Control .




Centralisation of administration

  • Right of appointment to important offices was with the Crown and Secretary of State


Governor General &  Viceroy of India

  • Governor General was now  to be called Viceroy and Governor General of India
  • Governor General would have an Executive council whose members were to act as heads of different departments and as his official advisors
  • Council discussed all matter and voted for majority but Viceroy had the veto power






Indian Council Act, 1861


  • Act of 1858 exclusively introduced changes in the Home Government but so far as  India was concerned, it didn’t touch the administrative setup in India. There was a strong feeling that sweeping changes in the Constitution of India were called for after the crisis of 1857.
  • There was demand of establishing closer contacts with Indian public opinion .
  • Charter Act , 1833 centralised the legislation process with Legislative Council (at Centre) had alone the power to legislate for whole of country. It was in the nature of things ill fitted to do its job on account of its ignorance of conditions prevailing in different parts of vast country.
  • After the Charter Act, 1853 , Legislative Council became sort of Parliament on small scale & tried to act as independent legislature sometimes stopping the supplies & didn’t work according to wishes of Home Government. This provision demanded a correction.



  • Act added to Viceroy’s Executive Council a 5th member who was to be ‘a gentleman of legal profession , a jurist rather than a technical lawyer’
  • Act empowered the Governor General to make rules for more convenient transaction of business in the council . This power was used by Lord Canning to introduce the portfolio system in  the Government .
  • For the purpose of legislation, the Viceroy’s Executive Council was expanded by addition of not less than 6 & not more than 12 ADDITIONAL members , who would be nominated by Governor General  & would hold office for 2 years.
  • Restored power to legislate ie making and amending laws to presidencies of Madras & Bombay. But to become act assent of Governor General was necessary . In certain matters like Currency, Posts & Telegraphs, naval & military matters , prior approval of GG was made obligatory
  • Governor General can issue ordinance in emergency which were to remain in force not more than 6 months.



  • Although the legislative powers were given to Presidencies as well but there was no demarcation of jurisdiction of Central & Local Legislatures as in federal constitutions.
  • The Legislative Council couldn’t be called True Legislature either in composition or in functions .
  • The Act of 1861 in no way established representative government in India on the model prevalent in England or England’s White Colonies .





Revenue Systems of British Raj

Revenue Systems of British Raj

This article deals with ‘ Revenue Systems of British Raj – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here



Changes in Revenue system during British Empire

  • Pre Colonial Indian society was a feudal society & in its place was established semi-feudal & semi-colonial structure
  • Old feudal structure was mostly dismantled
  • Land now become a commodity ie it became alienable private property & peasant’s occupancy right of land was totally abolished
  • Extraction of maximum surplus from the peasant’s produce became the basis of early system of colonial plunder
  • Indian economy & agriculture was converted into a raw material supply appendage to metropolitan Britain


Three important land revenue settlements were introduced in three different regions

Permanent Settlement Bengal , Bihar & Orissa By Cornwallis
Ryotwari Settlement Bombay & Madras Presidency By Munro & Elphinstone
Mahalwari Settlement North + North West + Parts of Central India By Mackenzie

These systems differed only in nomenclature but aim was same – plunder of India & maximisation of revenue


Main Characteristics of these Systems

  • British land revenue settlement  introduced in India the notion of private property in land. Such kind of land- proprietorship meant that its holders were granted ownership rights. Although, in the pre-colonial times, a massive and pyramidal structure of leasing and sub- leasing of revenue functioned and cultivators also enjoyed certain rights in land according to local customs, yet, there were no well-defined proprietary rights. The British invested such rights in certain groups in accordance with the local conditions. Thus they favoured certain groups of landed magnates who were integrated into the colonial agrarian structure & such groups were to become the powerful allies of the British.


  • Overassessment of revenue and inflexible method of collection :  attempt to maximise the land-revenue demand. Revenue demands were fixed in cash rather than on a proportion of produce, or kind and  assessments were generally exorbitant.


  • Impetus to Money lending and usury : As a result of exorbitant land-revenue demands, peasants borrowed money from rural creditors and grain dealers in order to avoid defaults. Sale and auction of land tended to increase as cultivators usually borrowed money on the security of their newly acquired proprietary rights in land. This created agrarian tensions.


  • Commercialization of Agriculture

During Dual Government in Bengal

  • 1765 :  Under Treaty of Allahabad , East India Company got Diwani Rights of Bengal, Bihar & Orissa from Mughal Emperor
  • But Clive & his successors continued old system of revenue collection i.e. through intermediaries or zamindars in which revenue official after deducting 10% of revenue  deposited remaining in treasury . Collected amount increased from 81 lakh in 1764 to 2.3 crore in 1771
  • East India Company’s administration wasn’t concerned with how revenue would be collected & what impact it will have on common people. They increased their demand every year , collectors in turn demanded more from peasants
  • Peasants were the main sufferers & many of them left land


Ijaredari System

  • Farming System : Warren Hastings in 1772  introduced the farming system by which agriculture estates were auctioned out to highest bidder for leases not extending beyond 5 years
  • Obviously, such contractors (they were called ‘farmers’ in those days), would try and extort as much as possible during the period that they held the contract; it would not matter to them if people were ruined &  production in the later years declined.
  • As there was no permanence of tenure, the farmers took no binding interest in the development of land & it proved disastrous
  • Colonial officials began to feel that a sound administration must have security as its basis & nothing but a Permanent Settlement could ensure that
  • Appointed Amini Commission(first commission in British India) in 1776 to enquire real value of land which submitted report in 1778


Permanent Settlement


  • Cornwallis realised that the existing system was impoverishing the country, ruining agriculture and was not producing the large and regular surplus that the Company hoped for. Company’s trade also suffered, because of the difficulty in procuring Indian goods for export to Europe. Production of silk or cotton, two of the Company’s major export items, was mainly agro-based
  • Was introduced by Lord Cornwallis but it was not his brainchild . Even before  Cornwallis, number of  officials were advocating for tax being permanently fixed eg Alexander Dow in his book History of Hindostan & Pitts India Act of 1784 also laid down directions for Permanent Settlement of land revenue
  • Introduced by Cornwallis as decennial (10 years) settlement & made permanent in 1793
  • Introduced in Bihar, Bengal , Orissa & some parts of Varanasi & some parts of Madras




Move towards Zamindari System

  • Lord Cornwallis came to India as Governor General in 1786 & land revenue has created many problems . Different English officials were expressing different opinions
  • There were two schools
James Grant State was the owner of land & Zamindar was just rent collecting agent . Zamindars have no permanent rights whether as proprietor of soil or as official who collected revenue
John Shore Proprietary rights belonged to Zamindars & state was entitled only to demand customary revenue from them


Cornwallis , who himself was English landlord accepted the version of John Shore


Cornwallis also got Instructions from Court of Directors which said that after assessing the records for past years , a settlement should be made with zamindars for some years that could be made permanent in future. Hence, Lord Cornwallis introduced the Permanent Settlement   in 1793




Main motives behind Permanent Settlement

  • Security of revenue
  • Creating politically reliable landed elite to act  as pillar of colonial rule
  • Since it was Permanent Settlement and state would not increase its demand if land under cultivation increased =>  these Zamindars would invest in land to bring more land under cultivation to increase their income.
  • To solve bullion issue (Indian revenue would be used for trade instead of bullion from Britain)
  • Failure of farming system
  • Capital formation: capital would flow from rural to urban areas(which would increase trade )  & agriculture development
  • Physiocratic school of thinking that assigned primacy to agriculture in a country’s economy



From minutes of Cornwallis

  • The improving landlords would bring the waste lands under cultivation , improve their tenure by better system of embankment & drainage & encourage scientific farming





Main Features

  • Zamindars had several (sometimes as many as 400) villages under them. In Company calculations, the villages within one zamindari formed one revenue estate. The Company fixed the total demand over the entire estate whose revenue the zamindar contracted to pay. The zamindar collected rent from the different villages, paid the revenue to the Company, and retained the difference as his income.
  • Zamindars were made landowners & proprietary  rights were given to them . They were not only to act as agents of government collecting revenue but also became owners of land
  • Ownership of land was hereditary & transferrable
  • Cultivators were reduced to level of mere tenants & use of pasture lands , irrigation lands , fisheries etc were all given to zamindar . Main motive –  zamindars might pay land revenue on time
  • Zamindar were expected to improve condition of tenants & agriculture
  • State kept no direct contact with peasants
  • Zamindars were made proprietors of land & they have to pay give 10/11 of the assessed rental to the colonial state and keep 1/11th of the rental for themselves.
  • In case of excess rental due to extension of farming or greater extraction, zamindar could keep entire increased amount
  • In 1794, Sales Law/ Sunset Law was introduced under which Zamindari rights would be auctioned in event of failure to pay revenue
  • Regulation of 1799 & 1812 – Zamindar was given right to seize property of tenant in case of non payment of rent (the permanent assessment was the largest sum that could be got from the land. It was a heavy and oppressive assessment.  Such oppressive taxes could only be collected by oppressive methods. If the zamindars were not allowed to oppress the peasants then they would not be able to meet the demands of the State)
  • Initial fixation of revenue was made arbitrarily & without consultation with zamindars . Attempt was to secure maximum amount as a result rates of revenue were fixed very high





  • Initially, Zamindars were to give 10/11 of the assessed rental to the colonial state and keep 1/11th of the rental for themselves. However, the sums to be paid by them as land-revenue were fixed in perpetuity. If the rental of a Zamindar’s estate increased due to the expansion of cultivable area or rise in agricultural productivity or simply due to his capacity to extract more from the tenants, he was entitled to keep the entire amount of the increase. This would constitute loss to income of East India Company / State
  • As a result of this settlement, most of the tenants including the pre-existing Khud-khast tenants enjoying occupancy rights in their lands were reduced to the status of mere tenants-at-will of the Zamindars who could easily evict them and enhance their rents.
  • No margin was left for shortfalls due to flood, drought or other calamity. As a result, many zamindars had their zamindaris taken away and sold in the decades immediately after the Permanent Settlement. In Bengal alone, it is estimated that 68 per cent of the zamindari land was sold between 1794 and 1819.
  • Village based zamindars were replaced by rich people from Calcutta who went on buying spree of agricultural estates of old zamindars who fell prey to Sunset Law
  • There is a view that this is the reason why Bengali people didn’t invest in industry because they found investing in land more profitable
  • Process of Sub-infeudation started – Finding it difficult to pay amount, Raja of Burdwan(others followed too)   divided most of his estate into ‘lots’  called Patni Taluqs. Each such unit was permanently rented to a holder called a Patnidar, who promised to pay a fixed rent. If he did not pay, his Patni could be taken away and sold.





  • Secured fixed & stable income for the state
  • Expenses of frequent assessment of lands were saved
  • Made a class of Indians who were loyal to British empire & their existence depended on continuance of British empire
  • Before settlement East India Company was required to maintain big establishment of collectors which weren’t required now
  • Judicial services improved because Permanent Settlement set free ablest servants of Company for judicial services
  • Value of land increased because zamindars devoted their attention towards improvement of soil & many wasteland & forests were converted into cultivable land
  • Britishers envisaged that it would be helpful in spreading education as zamindars would act as natural leaders & show public spirit in spreading education & charitable work





  • Permanent Settlement was  a great blunder & it affected adversely the interests of East India Company , zamindars & worst of all that of Peasants
  • System overlooked interests of peasants
        • They were not owners of land
        • Could be expelled from land
        • Couldn’t appeal anyone against rise in taxes
        • Rights over pastures ,forests & canals were abolished as well
        • In 1799 : Zamindars were given right to court & zamindar could also take away their property even if peasant was not able to pay tax due to calamity


  • Created feudalism at top & serfdom at bottom
  • No improvement in agriculture happened . Most of the landowners didn’t take any interest in improvement of land but were merely interested in maximum possible extraction of the rent.
  • Politically although class loyal to them was created but East India Company alienated masses to gain loyalty of few
  • Disadvantageous for Company as although Company’s expenses were increasing, revenue remained same & they lost contact with peasants




Ryotwari System

Reasons for introduction of Ryotwari System

Lord Cornwallis wanted to extend Permanent Settlement to other areas & Wellesley shared same idea & gave orders for extension to Madras presidency but there were problems

  • There wasn’t sizeable Zamindar class in Madras as in Bengal . Still between 1801 to 1807 Permanent Settlement was introduced by recognising Poligars as local zamindars & where poligars were not found , villages were aggregated into estates & sold to highest bidder
  • Scottish enlightenment – They insisted on primacy of agriculture & celebrated importance of farmers within agricultural societies . Thomas Munro & Elphinstone were Scots
  • Nature of Permanency in Permanent Settlement : After 1810, agricultural prices rose, increasing the value of harvest produce, and enlarging the income of the Bengal zamindars. Since the revenue demand was fixed under the Permanent Settlement, the colonial state could not claim any share of this enhanced income. Keen on expanding its financial resources, the colonial government had to think of ways to maximise its land revenue. So in territories annexed in the nineteenth century, temporary revenue settlements were made.
  • David Ricardo’s theory began to influence .  It says that – Rent was surplus from land ie Income – (minus) cost of production – (minus) labour & state has legitimate claim over that at expense of unproductive intermediaries . This  argument was used to eliminate zamindars
  • Most important cause was Financial pressure due to wars   – financial crisis of Madras Presidency worsened by rising expenses of wars .





Experiments in Ryotwari Settlement

  • Started by Alexander Reed in Baramahal in 1792 & continued by Thomas Munro from 1801. But after 1807, System was almost abandoned with departure of Munro back home.


  • 1820 : Munro returned &   he argued
        • Ryotwari was ancient land tenure system & best suited to Indian conditions
        • Security & administration of empire need elimination of overmighty poligars & zamindars
        • Historically land in India was owned by state which collected revenue from individual peasants through hierarchy of officials . When military power of state declined , these poligars appropriated land & usurped sovereignty . Hence, there is need to reverse it now


  • Its adoption was due  to one main reason – it resulted in a larger revenue than any other system could have produced. This was because there were no zamindars or other intermediaries who received any part of the agricultural surplus – whatever could be squeezed from the cultivator went directly to the State. The Madras government was chronically short of funds, and such a system would naturally appeal to it.


  • In Bombay : Introduced by Elphinstone in 1819 after defeat of Marathas . There was no large Zamindars here too


  • Instead of collecting from the zamindars, they began to collect directly from the villages, fixing the amount that each village had to pay. After this they proceeded to assess each cultivator or ryot separately – and thus evolved what came to be known as the ‘Ryotwari’ system.




Main features of Ryotwari Settlement

  • Revenue was assessed for each cultivator or ryot separately
  • It created individual property right in the land & it was vested in peasants rather than in zamindars .
  • It was a temporary settlement & was to be revised periodically (20 years )



Unirrigated Dry Land 50% of Gross Produce
Irrigated Wet Land 2/3rd of Gross Produce
  • Land revenue was not assessed as in the case of Madras on basis of gross agriculture produce 
  • Fertility of land & market price of agricultural produces were given priority in assessing land revenue upon ryots


But in order to be attractive & equitable , it required detailed land survey, quality of land , area of the land, average produce of every piece of land had to be assessed but in practice these estimates were often guessworks & hence revenue demand often was very high .








Impact in Madras

  • Peasants soon discovered that large number of zamindars were replaced by one giant zamindar ie Colonial state
  • Raised revenue income of government but put cultivators in great distress . In many areas no survey was carried out & tax of a ryot was assessed on an arbitrary basis based on village accounts
  • Revenue to be  paid by ryot was fixed on entire farm & not on each field which might have varying irrigation facilities & hence different levels of productivity
  • Contrary to Munro’s insistence that cultivator would be given freedom to take as much or as little land as he choose , this provision was dropped in 1833 . Government  officers began to compel the cultivators to hold on to (and of course, pay for) land that they did not really want to cultivate. Since cultivation was not voluntary, it was always difficult to collect the revenue, and so the use of beating and torture to enforce payment was also widespread. These methods were exposed by the Madras Torture Commission in 1854. After this certain reforms were introduced. A scientific survey of the land was undertaken, the real burden of tax declined, and there was no need to use violent and coercive methods to collect revenue.
  • Even  Ryotwari system didn’t eliminate village elites as intermediaries between government & peasantry . Privileged rents & rights of the Mirasidars were recognised & Mirasidars were pivotal to  British ideal of sedentary agricultural community .




Impact of Ryotwari System in Bombay

Impact of Ryotwari in Bombay is subject of major controversy as it give rise to rural uprising in Bombay Deccan in 1875 aka Deccan Riots , in which marwaris & banias were attacked because of alienation of peasant’s land.


Historians differ on the impact of Ryotwari

Neil Charlesworth
  • It  reduced village Patil to ordinary peasant & a paid employee of government reducing his power . In other regions eg Gujarat where superior rights of Bhagdars & Narwadars were respected , there was stability.
  • Hence,   power vacuum was created


Ian Cataunch
  • Dispossession of land did occur but that didn’t necessarily cause Deccan riots


Ravinder Kumar


  • Significant social upheaval was being caused by Ryotwari system which undermined the authority of village headman & thus causd a status revolution or redistribution of social power in the villages of Maharashtra”  & ultimately propelled into Deccan riots .
  • Kumar further argue that there were combination of factors such as
      • the dislocation of the economy by the American Civil War,
      • an ill-conceived revision of land tax,
      • agitation initiated by the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha
      • And finally the longstanding hostilities between the Kunbi peasants  and money­ lenders.

Mahalwari  System

  • Introduced in 1822
  • Introduced in parts of Central India, Punjab & parts of UP
  • First serious attempt towards this by MACKENZIE (Secretary to govt in territorial department)
  • It was a modified version of the Permanent Settlement
  • The new regulation permitted the government officials to form settlement with all co-sharers in mahals or estates jointly owned by the village communities
  • Total revenue thus fixed was to be shared by the members of co-sharing body
  • In this , revenue was to be collected through Pradhan or village headman or Lumbardar (influential landowners) .In the records the word used for a fiscal unit was a ‘mahal’, and the village wise assessment therefore came to be called a mahalwari settlement.
  • Joint proprietary rights in land were vested in the village communities .
  • There was problem of over assessment in this system too so that maximum share can be extracted from peasants
  • Was not permanent & was revised periodically but peasants were made to go through same kind of oppression


Revolt of 1857

Revolt of 1857

This article deals with ‘ Revolt of 1857 – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here



General Survey of Revolt of 1857

  • Series of local risings & civil disturbances was not a rare occurrence in British India . Novelty of this mutiny lay in the wide extent of area covered & its military potentiality . Revolts of 1857 in parts of central & northern India resulted in the nearly collapse of British rule in these regions until the spring of 1858
  • Revolt witnessed extraordinary amount of violence unleashed on both sides
British Counter insurgency measures Public Execution of rebels – blowing them off from cannons & indiscriminately burning of their villages
Rebels Rebels massacred white civilians – women & children included . Bibighar Massacre in Kanpur was the most notorious among all
  • Revolt ended the rule of the East India Company  in 1858 by an act of the Parliament . India was taken over by British crown
  • Revolt for long was mistaken to be mere mutiny of the Indian Sepoys in Bengal army , was indeed joined by an aggrieved rural society of the North India


Causes of Revolt


1.1 Composition of the Army

  • Company while raising a standing army since mid 18th century respected traditions and customs of the indigenous communities . High caste identity of the army was deliberately encouraged . All sepoys were from Brahmin, Rajput & Bhumihar caste &  their caste rule, dietary & travel restrictions were respected under instructions from Warren Hastings
  • But from 1820s , things began to change . Army reforms were initiated to make it more universalised & from 1830s army begun to  curtail some of the caste privileges & pecuniary benefits


1.2 Bengal Regiment & Revolt

  • Mutiny mainly affected Bengal army , Madras & Bombay regiments remained quiet while Punjabi & Gurkhas soldier actually helped to suppress the rebellion (but half of the total army was in Bengal regiment ) . If we want to know why revolt happened, we have to concentrate here.


  • Composition of the Bengal Army was to be blamed for
  • High caste background of the sepoys mainly recruited from Awadh gave it a homogenous character
  • They were nurturing for a long time number of grievances : their religious beliefs had lately come in conflict with new service conditions .
          • They were refused to wear their caste marks
          • Forced to cross seas which was forbidden in their religion &
          • In distant campaigns forced to eat whatever necessary for survival which led to their boycott from society
  • Their salary levels dropped & they suffered discrimination in matters of promotion & pension
  • In 1856 , new service rules  abolished their extra allowance for service outside their own regions  


1.3 White soldiers vs Sepoys

  • By the 1850s, there were other reasons for their discontent. The relationship of the sepoys with their superior white officers underwent a significant change in the years preceding the uprising of 1857.
  • In the 1820s, white officers made it a point to maintain friendly relations with the sepoys. They would take part in their leisure activities – they wrestled with them, fenced with them and went out hawking with them. Many of them were fluent in Hindustani and were familiar with the customs and culture of the country. These officers were disciplinarian and father figure rolled into one.
  • In the 1840s, this began to change. The officers developed a sense of superiority and started treating the Sepoys as their racial inferiors, riding roughshod over their sensibilities. Abuse and physical violence became common and thus the distance between sepoys and officers grew. Trust was replaced by suspicion. The episode of the greased cartridges was a classic example of this.


1.4 Christian missionaries in Army

  • There was constant fear among the Indian sepoys that British are determined to convert them into Christianity
  • Presence of missionaries , rumours about mixing cow & pig bone dust in flour & finally controversy about the cartridge of enfield rifles , all fitted well in this conspiracy theory


1.5 Other Religious beliefs shattered

  • In 1856, Act was passed under which  new recruits had to give an undertaking to serve overseas, if required. Conservative beliefs of the sepoys were thus shaken & they sometimes reacted strongly.
  • This issue of crossing sea was sensitive & earlier in 1824, the 47th Regiment of sepoys at Barrackpore refused to go to Burma by sea-route because their religion forbade


1.6 Annexation of Awadh

  • Annexation of Awadh in 1856 had special adverse effect on the morale of Bengal army as 75% of it was recruited from this region
  • Governor General was earlier warned that  every agricultural family in Awadh perhaps without exception sends one of its member into British army . Annexation of Awadh shook the loyalty of Sepoys & for them it was the proof of untrustworthiness of  British


1.7 Sepoys = Peasants in uniform

  • Sepoys were peasants in uniform & they were anxious about the declining conditions of the peasants due to summary settlements in Awadh
  • Revolt was preceded by about 14,000 petitions from sepoys about hardships relating to revenue system


1.8 Introduction of greased Cartridge 

  • Late Jan 1857: rumours started to circulate among sepoys in Dum Dum near Calcutta that the cartridges of new Enfield Rifle introduced to replace old Brown Bess musket has been greased with cow & pig fat
  • This confirmed the sepoys old suspicion about the conspiracy to destroy their religion & caste and convert them to Christianity . Although the production of these cartridges stopped immediately but trust that was breached was never restored


It is much more difficult to explain the civilian revolt that accompanied the mutiny.

  • Regions and people who were beneficiaries of colonial rule did not revolt.
  • Bengal and Punjab remained peaceful; the entire south India remained unaffected too.
  • On the other hand, those who revolted had two elements among them-the feudal elements and the big landlords on the one end and the peasantry on the other.


2. Exploitation of the peasants

  • To extract as much money as possible Company’s Administration devised new systems of land settlements – Permanent, Ryotwari and Mahalwari -each more oppressive than the other. Proprietary rights of the peasants were taken from them . This affected their social position to great extent . They were now mere tenants & owners of the land were zamindars
  • Peasants had to pay beyond their means & any adverse natural shifts like droughts or flood compelled them to go for loans to the money lenders who charged exorbitant interest. This made them heavily indebted to moneylenders  & forced them to sell their lands
  • Peasantry was also oppressed by petty officials in administration who extracted money on the slightest pretexts. If the peasants went to the law court to seek redress of their grievances, they were bound to be totally ruined.
  • This nexus between the lower officials, law courts and money lenders created a vicious circle which made the peasantry desparate and ready to welcome any opportunity for change of regime.


3. Alienation of the Middle & Upper strata of Indians

  • During Mughals or even in administration of local princes & chieftains , Indians served at all the positions – both upper & lower but british administration deprived the Indians of higher posts which were taken mainly by British &  Indians served only at subordinate positions.
  • In Military services, the highest post attainable by an Indian was that of a Subedar on a salary of ₹ 70 & in Civil Services that of Sadr Amin on a salary of ₹500 per month.
  • The cultural personnel like poets, dramatists, writers , musicians etc who were earlier employed by native states were now thrown out
  • Religious Pandits & Maulvis also lost their former power & prestige


4. Annexation of Princely States

Major grievances were

  • Annexations under Doctrine of Lapse : Satara, Nagpur, Sambhalpur , Bhagat, Jhansi & Udaipur were taken like this in quick succession . This amounted to British interference in traditional system of inheritance & created a group of disgruntled feudal lords . Their right to succession wasn’t recognised .
  • Annexation of Awadh in 1856 : Awadh was annexed on excuse of mismanagement & king was deported to Calcutta.  This annexation didn’t affected nawab & his family but entire aristocracy
  • The Muslim feelings were hurt.  Bahadur Shah II , the Mughal Emperor was an old man who might die any moment. Britishers recognised the succession of Prince Faqir ud Din but imposed many restrictions on him. Fakir died in 1856 & Lord Canning announced that the Prince next in succession would have to renounce the regal title & ancestral Mughal palaces in additions to renunciations agreed upon by Fakir. These acts greatly unnerved the Indian muslims who thought English wanted to humble the House of Timur
  • Absentee Sovereignty-Ship of British Rule in India was also important reason. Earlier rulers like Mughals or Afghans after conquering India had settled here & became Indians. The revenue  collected from the people were spent in India only but in case of Britishers they were ruling from England & draining India of her wealth.
  • Hence, various rulers took arms against Britishers
Nana Sahib
  • Leader at Kanpur
  • Adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II , who wasn’t recognised as next Peshwa
Begum Hazrat Mahal
  • Took control over Lucknow
Khan Bahadur Khan
  • Rohilkhand
Rani Jhansi
  • Took control at Jhansi
  • Although she was earlier prepared to accept British paramountcy if her adopted son was recognised as legitimate heir to the throne



5. Eroding feeling of British Invincibility

British rule’s invincibility was eroding  now . British suffered reverses in wars

  1. First Afghan war of 1838-41
  2. Punjab wars of 1846-49
  3. Crimean / Ukraine wars of 1854-56
  4. Santhal  Rebellion


6. Administrative  Causes

  • The administrative machinery of East India Company was insufficient & inefficient . The land revenue policy was very unpopular. Many districts of newly acquired states were in state of permanent revolt & military had to be sent to collect the land revenue . In the district of Panipat, there were 136 horsemen for collection of land revenue but only 22 for performance of police duties.
  • They eliminated the middlemen by directly establishing contact with peasants . But the tax charged was exorbitant . They alienated Taluqdars as well as peasants .
  • Confiscation of estates on large scale was done. The Inam Commission appointed in 1852 in Bombay confiscated as many as 20,000 estates . Hence, aristocracy was driven into poverty making them their staunch opponents .


7. Social & Religious  Causes

  • Like all conquering people the English rulers of India were rude & arrogant towards the subjects . However, the English were infected with a spirit of racialism. The European officers in India were very exacting & over bearing in social behaviour. The Indian was spoken as nigger & addressed as a suar or pig . It may be easy to withstand physical & political injustices but religious persecution touches tender conscience & forms complexes that are not easy to eradicate .


  • That one of the aims of English was to convert Indians into christianity was made clear by Directors of East India Company in House of Commons . Sepoys were promised promotions if they accepted the True Faith. The missionaries were given ample facilities & American Missionary Society at Agra had setup an extensive printing press .


  • Religious Disabilities Act ,1850 (Lex Loci Act) modified Hindu customs, a change in religion didn’t debar son from inheriting the property . Strange rumours were current in India that Lord Canning had been specially selected with the duty of converting the Indians to Christianity . In this surcharged atmosphere even the railways & telegraph & steamships began to be looked upon as indirect instruments for changing their faith.


8. Role of Rumours and Prophecies

According to Britishers, Rumours and Prophecies had most important role in this

  • That bullets of Enfield Rifle were greased with cow and pig fat which will defile the religion of Hindus and Muslims
  • Cow & Pig bone dust in atta
  • British conspiracy to convert Military into Christianity
  • Battle of Plassey happened on  23 June 1757. They said there is prophecy that British rule will come to end after century ie 23 June 1857. Response to the call for action was reinforced by the prophecy


Discussion is not whether those rumours were representing truth or not. But why people believed those rumours

  • Rumours circulate only when they resonate with the deeper fears and suspicions of people. The rumours in 1857 begin to make sense when seen in the context of the policies the British pursued  (as mentioned above)


Events in military  mutiny

29 March
  • In Barrackpore near Calcutta , Sepoy by name of Mangal Pandey (of 34th Native Infantry) fired at European officer & his comrades refused to arrest him when ordered by European superiors
  • They were soon apprehended, court martialed & hanged in early April
  • Incidents of disobedience & arson were reported from army cantonments in Ambala , Lucknow & Meerut
9 May
  • In Meerut sepoys rescued  their arrested comrades who previously refused to accept new cartridge , killed their European officers & proceeded to Delhi
12 May
  • Killed all the Company’s officers in Red fort of Delhi (Simon Fraser was first to be killed)
  • Proclaimed Bahadur Shah as Emperor of Hindustan
  • From Delhi uprising soon spread to other army centres in North West provinces & Awadh & soon took shape of civil rebellion


Leaders in the Revolt of 1857

Who were the leaders

  • To fight the British, leadership and organisation were required. For these the rebels sometimes turned to those who had been leaders before the British conquest ie Kings, Zamindars, Rajas etc
  • Along with that, at some places religious leaders especially Maulvis also emerged as leaders. Maulvi Ahmadullah was the most famous such leader
  • Elsewhere, local leaders emerged, urging peasants  and tribals to revolt. Shah Mal mobilized the villagers of pargana Barout in Uttar Pradesh; Gonoo, a tribal cultivator of Singhbhum , became a rebel leader of the Kol tribals .




Whether leaders especially Kings were joining the revolt on their own ?

  • One of the first acts of the sepoys of Meerut was to rush to Delhi and appeal to the old Mughal emperor to accept the leadership of the revolt. This acceptance of leadership took its time in coming. Bahadur Shah’s first reaction was one of horror and rejection. It was only when some sepoys had moved into the Mughal court within the Red Fort, in defiance of normal court etiquette, that the old emperor, realising he had very few options, agreed to be  nominal leader of  rebellion.
  • Elsewhere, similar scenes were enacted although on a minor scale. In Kanpur, the sepoys and the people of the town gave Nana Sahib, the successor to Peshwa Baji Rao II, no choice save to join the revolt as their leader. So was Kunwar Singh, a local zamindar in Arrah in Bihar.
  • In Awadh, where the displacement of the popular Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and the annexation of the state were still very fresh in the memory of the people, the populace in Lucknow celebrated the fall of British rule by hailing Birjis Qadr, the young son of the Nawab, as their leader.


  • Soldiers proclaimed Bahadur Shah as leader but real authority lied with soldiers
  • 3rd July : General Bakht Khan reached Delhi to lead the soldiers
  • Formed a Court of soldiers consisting of both Hindus & muslims who took all decisions on the name of emperor
  • Fall to British on 20 Sept 1858 – Emperor taken as prisoner & his sons were butchered
  • Dealt by : John Nicholson ( from Punjab)


  • General Bakht khan led the troops to Delhi after defeating local British army
  • In Delhi ,  troops proclaimed Bahadur Shah Zafar as leader of the movement
  • After Bakht khan ,movement was led by Khan Bahadur


  • Begum Hazrat Mahal led the revolt after her adopted son Bijris Qadir was refused to continue to rule
  • Dealt by Colin Campbell


  • Nana Sahib / Dhondu Pant – adopted son of last Peshwa Baji Rao II
  • Nana Sahib’s political propaganda in England was carried by Azimullah which was stopped by the British
  • Tantia Tope (Full name – Ram Chandra Pandu Ram Tope ) who was Guerrilla warfare expert was appointed as commander in chief and General of Nana Saheb but was betrayed by Man Singh
  • Siege of Kanpur took place leading to BIBIGHAR MASSACRE or Sati Chaura Ghar Massacre in which British entered into a promise with Nana Saheb & declared the area to be safe for British. But later he declared that he was with rebels  . 200 Europeans including women & children were killed in Kanpur
  • Dealt by : Colin Campbell


  • Led by Liyakat Ali
  • Dealt by Colonel Neil


  • Kunwar Singh who was zamindar of Jagdishpur (Bihar Arrah district) in his 70s
  • Led the revolt after British acquired his land
  • Most formidable challenge was posed by him to British Authority
  • Dealt by VINCENT EYRE


Faizabad Maulvi Ahamadullah, native of Madras led the revolt


  • Rani Lakshmi Bai
  • Damodar Rao , her adopted son  was refused as successor after demise of his husband  Gangadhar Rao
  • Original name – Manu
  • Father – Moropant Pandey
  • Met Tantiya Tope at Kalpi, place between Jhansi and Kanpur
  • General Hugh Rose – here lay the woman who was only man among the rebels
  • Indian National Army’s    first female unit was named after her
  • Dealt by : Hugh Rose




  • It wasn’t easy for the Britishers to put down revolt.
  • Before sending out troops, large number of laws were passed and whole of North India was placed under Martial Law. Even military officers were given power to try and rebels only had one punishment – death
  • They, like the rebels, recognised the symbolic value of Delhi. The British thus mounted a two-pronged attack. One force moved from Calcutta into North India and the other from the Punjab – which was largely peaceful – to reconquer Delhi. British attempts to recover Delhi began in earnest in early June 1857 but it was only in late September that the city was finally captured. The fighting and losses on both sides were heavy. One reason for this was the fact that rebels from all over North India had come to Delhi to defend the capital.
  • In the Gangetic plain too the progress of British reconquest was slow.  As soon as they began their counter-insurgency operations, the British realised that they were not dealing with a mere mutiny but an uprising that had huge popular support.
  • Military wasn’t the only thing they used. They tried to break away leaders from the rebels because they knew that rebels without leaders can be easily suppressed. In Awadh, many Taluqdars were promised their old estates to be given back to them. Rights of the rulers were promised to be recognised. Hence , they were able to break unity with diplomacy


Nature of Revolt of 1857

Various historians have given various interpretations at different point of times. Some of them are discarded now .

Primarily a Mutiny of the sepoys , civilian participation being secondary phenomenon

  • The movement began as military mutiny which led to collapse of administration & law , other elements which had their own grievances also jumped into it
  • What began as a military mutiny ended in certain areas as outbreak of civil population 


SEPOY MUTINY confined to army only

  • British historians like Kaye, Trevelyan , Lawrence, Holmes have painted it as mutiny confined to the army which didn’t command the support of the people at large
  • Similar view was held by many contemporary Indians like Munshi Jiwan Lal, Moinuddin (both eye witnesses at Delhi) , Durgadas Bandyopadhyaya (eye witness at Bareilly) & Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (Sadr Amin at Bijnor in 1857)


Revolution jointly organised & carried on by both the Hindus & Muslims

  • Some writers view it as Hindu-Muslim conspiracy to replace British Government by national one
  • The great rebellion was outcome of Mohammedan conspiracy making out capital of the Hindu grievances
  • Bahadur Shah’s indifference in the beginning was a political trick which he wanted to play upon the English through which he wanted to trap them

Not accepted by historians now.


Religious war against Christians

  • Not accepted by Historians
  • One of the cause of the revolt was certainly religious
  • But they revolted not to uproot the Christianity but to defend their religion & afterwards rebels forgot their religious motive


A Revolt started by Discontented rulers

  • Some historians opine that it was revolt against the British only by those discontented  native rulers whose territory, jagirs , pensions & allowances had been taken away
  • But those scholars who don’t subscribe to this view say that neither all discontented feudal elements nor all rulers had taken part in this revolt eg Jagirdars in Punjab who has lost their land didn’t participate in it


Racial struggle for supremacy

  • According to some of the English historians it was racial struggle for supremacy between the Black & White
  • But this view is not accepted . Certainly all whites were on one side but all blacks were not on other side


Conflict between Civilisation &’Barbarism 

  • Wrong view
  • The atrocities were committed both by the English & Indians against each other during this period of revolt


War of Indian Independence

  • Vir Savarkar , Ashok Mehta & JL Nehru hold this view
  • First given by VD Savarkar in 1909 in his book Indian war of Independence . Although his claim was vigorously denied by many & said it was not war of independence but it can be certainly said to be first combined attempt by many classes of people to challenge a foreign power.



Later Historiography, though accepting the popular character of the Revolt, laid emphasis on its backward -looking character. Bipin Chandra has stressed this point:  “The entire movement lacked a unified and forward looking programme to be implemented after the capture of power”


It was something more than a sepoy mutiny but something less than a national revolt

  • It was not national because the popular character of the revolt was limited to North India alone while regions & groups who were benefitted from colonial rule remained loyal & infact helped in crushing the revolt
  • There was no consensus or national cause for which they were fighting for . Everybody was fighting for his/her petty gains & even if Britishers accepted their terms, they were ready to join them
  • RC Majumdar – It was neither first nor national not war of independence


Its importance was indirect and posterior . As it is said that Julius Caesar dead was more powerful than when he was alive. The same thing can be said about the Mutiny of 1857. Whatever might have been its original character, it soon became a symbol of challenge to the mighty British power in India . It remained a shining example before the nascent nationalism in India in its struggle for independence from British yoke.


Was Revolt of 1857 organised , planned revolt or spontaneous ?

  • No reliable account left hence it is difficult  to ascertain
  • Our study of history is based on British record of revolt of 1857 . Rebels did not leave any record . British suppressed any favourable mention of the revolt
  • If one look at the Chronology of events , it looks like the start of Revolt was spontaneous without any planning of mass uprising at same time . After it started , there was some communication between Sepoys of different regiments, Leaders of different places & some elements of organisation and planning was also present . But element of planning and organisation can’t be overemphasised.



Arguments for Spontaneous Start

  • Bahadur Shah vacillated at the thought of becoming the Shahenshah-e-Hindustan to lead the revolt. If it was fully planned , then this wouldn’t have happened.
  • All the rebellious troops didn’t rise simultaneously
  • If one observes the dates of mutiny it would appear that as the news of the mutiny in one town travelled to the next , the sepoys took up arms.



Elements of Organised Revolt later on

  • Bahadur Shah, after initial vacillation, wrote letters to all the chiefs and rulers of India urging them to organize a confederacy of Indian states to fight and replace the British regime (as shown in Azamgarh Proclamation)
  • Tantya Tope , commander of Nana Sahib later faught with Lakshmi Bai suggesting correspondance between different leaders and mobilisation of resources in each other’s help
  • It is clear that there was communication between the sepoy lines of various cantonments.
  • Sepoys or their emissaries moved from one station to another to join revolt . People were thus planning and speaking about the rebellion
  • Charles Ball noted that nightly Panchayat of Sepoy leaders gathered in the Kanpur sepoy lines to decide on further actions. What this suggests is that some of the decisions were taken collectively.


Earlier there were theories that Message was  conveyed to common public by circulation of chapattis,  lotus flowers , propaganda by sanyasis , faqirs and mandarins. But this is uncertain and highly unlikely.




Causes of failure of Revolt of 1857

  • Revolt lacked universal support – various sections remained alienated – princes, merchants, intelligentsia
  • Lack of unity among Indians
        • Soldiers of Punjab & South India didn’t revolt & even helped to suppress mutiny
        • Possibility of revival of Mughals created fear among Sikhs who had faced much of oppression from Mughals earlier
        • Rajput Chieftains & Nizam of Hyderabad was suspicious of Maratha power
        • Zamindars in Bengal were creation of British & they supported them
  • Revolt lacked central & effective leadership. Strength & energy of insurgents couldn’t be channelised in absence of effective leaders . Although Indians had Rani Lakshmi bai, Tantya Tope etc but they were no match to professionals like Havelock etc
  • Revolt was poorly organised & no unity of action & coordination . Many a time resurgent acted like unruly mob
  • Revolt was retrogressive in character . Leaders were devoid of modern outlook . They wanted to go to old order & hence intelligentsia not only remained aloof but helped in suppressing the revolt
  • Leaders were suspicious & jealous of each other . Begum of Awadh quarrelled with Maulwi  Ahmadullah + Ahmadullah vs Mughal Nawab
  • British had superior arms & backed by industrialised nation who can keep the war machinery running for long time & on other side rebels were short of ammunition .
  • Luckily for the Britishers, Crimean & Chinese wars were concluded in 1856 & as a result soldiers numbering 1,10,000 poured into India from all parts of the world to suppress revolt.
  • Railways, post & telegraph helped in fast movement of troops + facilitated exchange of info to coordinate their operations


British attitude after Revolt

Transfer of Power
  • Power to govern passed from East India Company to British Crown through Act of 1858
  • Reason was political opinion in England which held that Company’s economic & administrative policies were responsible for widespread discontent among different segments of Indian society  erupting in form of Revolt of 1857.
  • Now Secretary of State for India aided by a Council was to be responsible for governance of India . Earlier this power was with Directors of Company


Change in Military Organisation
  • Number of European soldiers was increased and fixed at one European to two Indian soldiers in Bengal Army and two to five in Bombay and Madras armies
  • European troops were kept in key geographical and military positions. The crucial branches of the army like artillery were put exclusively in European hands.
  • Organisation of the Indian section of the army was now based on the policy of “divide and rule”. Regiments were created on the basis of caste , community and region to prevent the development of any nationalistic feeling among the soldiers .


Divide & Rule
  • British thought that revolt was a conspiracy hatched by the Muslims & they  were severely punished and discriminations made against them in public appointments
  • Later, Policy of preferential treatment of the Muslims was adopted towards the end of the 19th century. This   contributed to the growth of communalism.


New Policy Towards the Princes
  • Earlier policy of annexation was now abandoned and the rulers of these states were now authorised to adopt heirs.
  • Authority of the Indian rulers over particular territories was completely subordinated to the authority of the British. They were converted into a Board of Privileged Dependents.


Search for new friends
  • Found in Zamindars whose existence depended on them
  • Later used Muslims & other communal forces

Administrative System post  Revolt of1857

New Administrative Setup

  • Under Act of 1858, India was to be governed directly by and in the name of the Crown through a Secretary of State in England. The Secretary of State was to be assisted by a Council of 15 members 


  • Central administration in India continued to remain in the hands of the Governor General who was given the new title of Viceroy.


  • Dual control of the President of the Board of Control  & Directors of the Company was abolished  and  all the authority was centred in the Secretary of State(very powerful –  called Grand Mughal) .


Administrative Decentralisation

  • Charter Act,1833 brought legislative centralisation in Company’s territories in India. The Government of Bombay & Madras were drastically deprived of their powers of legislation & left only with right of proposing to GG in Council projects of laws which they thought expedient.
  • Beginning in direction  of decentralisation was made by the Act of 1861 which provided for legislative powers to the Presidencies of Bombay and Madras with reservation that in certain matters Governor General’s prior approval had to be obtained
  • Lord Mayo in 1870 for the first time granted fix sums to spend it as they wished on Police, Jails, Education, Medical services.
  • By 1882 the system of giving fixed grants to  provinces was put to an end . Instead  Provinces were  asked to generate fixed income from the provincial taxes . According to these arrangements some sources of revenue were fully handed over to the provinces, some partially and some reserved for  Centre –  continued till 1902
  • In 1909 further decentralisation was done which culminated in Dyarchy in 1919 & Provincial Autonomy in the Act of 1935.



Local Bodies

  • Due to financial problems, Government  further decentralised the administration& promoted  municipalities and district boards
  • Process started in 1864.In the initial years most of the members  were nominated and the bodies were presided over by District Magistrates. They were to generate  revenue to be spent in their jurisdiction.
  • Situation improved by 1882. Now the local boards were  to be developed through out the country and not only in towns. These bodies were  assigned definite duties &  funds
  • Majorities of nominated members was replaced by elected members. Now official members were limited to one third, urban bodies were to be independent + non official members were also allowed to chair the board . But right to vote was restricted & non officials enjoyed very less power


Economic Policy

Theory of Economic Drain


Organisation of Army

  • Proportion of europeans  in the army was raised. In Bengal it was fixed in the ratio of 1: 2 and in Madras &  Bombay 2:5
  • Strength of European troops increased from 45,000 to 65,000 & Indian troops decreased from 2,38,000 to 1,40,000
  • In important branches of army like artillery  European hold was established. Later the same policy was followed in tanks and armoured corps.
  • Distinction of martial and non-martial races was made and the former were recruited in large numbers. The soldiers of Bihar,Awadh,Bengal and South India who had participated in the Revolt of 1857 were declared non-martial. While the soldiers who supported the British like, Sikhs, Gurkhas and Pathans were declared martial.
  • Various steps taken to encourage regional loyalties among the soldiers , so that they may not unite on national considerations


All this increased the expenditure on military which now accounted for 25 to 30% of total revenue


Civil Services

Inspite of Queen’s proclamation , superior posts remained out of the reach of Indians & they continued to occupy only subordinate posts because

  • The examination was held far away in London
  • Examination was heavily based on the knowledge of Latin, Greek and English
  • Maximum age was reduced from 23 in 1859 to 19 years in 1878.


Relations with Princely States

  • Indian princes like many other feudal elements in Indian society stood by British government during the Revolt of 1857 . This fact was recognised by Lord Canning too when he said , ” If the Scindia joins the Mutiny today , I shall have to pack off tomarrow.”
  • Britishers realised that the Princely States could play an important role in checking the discontent of Indian masses. Therefore, the policy of annexation of Indian states was given up and their co-operation was sought in strengthening the British imperialism. Number of powers were restored to them and they were assured that if they continued to be loyal to the British they would not be harmed.


  • Policy of Paramountcy :  Check on the states was also maintained. Now no Indian ruler was allowed to maintain relations with other countries except through the British. British interfered in day to day functioning of the states through their agents called Residents. British Residents and nominated ministers were posted in almost all the states.


  • Right to recognise the successors was also reserved with the British government. If any ruler did not fall in line, he was replaced with a person of the British choice. Likewise the rulers of Baroda in 1873 (Malhar Rao Gaekwad was accused of misrule & attempt to poison Resident , hence removed from Gaddi but in favour of other Gaekwad member)   and Manipur in 1891 were removed



Reasons of fall of Mughal Empire

Reasons of fall of Mughal Empire

This article deals with ‘ Reasons of fall of Mughal Empire – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here

Reasons of fall of Mughal Empire

1.Aurangzeb’s  policies

  • Alienation of Hindus  who constituted majority of population of India with his policy of religious bigotism . The imperialist designs & narrow religious policies of Aurangzeb turned the Rajputs , reliable supporters of the imperial dynasty into foes .
  • Expansionist military campaigns in western India against  Bijapur, Golconda & Marathas which drained wealth of empire & expanded empire beyond the point of effective control (this expedition is called Deccan Ulcer like Spanish Ulcer which caused downfall of Napoleon) 
  • But some other historians believe that the roots of Mughal decline lay in institutions and systems intrinsic to Mughal administration, rather than in personalities or specific policies .

2. Institutions of Mughal Empire

  • Mughal state was a WAR STATE in core .  It developed a centralised administrative system whose vitality depended on its military power with emperor standing at apex & Mansabdars or military aristocracy beneath
  • Appointment , promotion or dismissal of Mansabdars and jagirs allotted to them was done by emperor alone leading to personal loyalty and there was no national, ethnic or religious loyalty .  Effectiveness and the permanence of this relationship depended on the personal qualities of the emperor and the constant expansion of resources, which explains the constant drive towards territorial conquests in Mughal India. But there were no more conquests since the late years of Aurangzeb

3. Jagirdari Crisis

  • This was created because too many Mansabdars were chasing too few jagirs & many of them have to remain jagirless for years 
  • In Words of Satish Chandra :“The available social surplus was insufficient to defray the cost of administration, pay for wars of one type or another and to give the ruling class a standard of life in keeping with its expectations” . This happened because of the
    1. Unusual increase in the number of mansabdars at a time when the area to be distributed as jagir (or paibaqi) remained stagnant or even declined.
    2. Revenue collection, particularly in the south, fell far short of the estimated income, diminishing in turn the real income of the jagirdars in disturbed areas.
    3. To make matters worse, there was a continuous price rise since the late seventeenth century, as the supply of luxury goods flowed towards the European markets, putting the Mughal aristocracy in further distress.
    4. As too many mansabdars were now chasing too few jagirs, many of them had to remain jagir- less for years; and even when a jagir was assigned, there was no guarantee that they would not be transferred within a short period. The entire aristocracy, therefore, suffered from a tremendous sense of personal insecurity.
  • This jagir crisis was not, however, a new phenomenon, as there had always been gaps between collection of revenue and the estimated revenue income of a particular jagir. The crisis increased during the last years of Aurangzeb, mainly because of the Deccan wars. There was now a rise in the number of mansabdars and the political turmoil made the collection of revenue a more difficult task. Also when two kingdoms of Golconda & Bijapur were added to Mughal empire , their noblemen were absorbed in Mughal aristocracy but what Aurangzeb did wrong was he converted large chunk of land to Khalisa ie royal land to finance his campaigns leading to artificial scarcity of jagirs . After his death & during Bahadur Shah’s time this reached to crisis situation
  • This crisis played important role in decreasing loyalty of aristocracy 

4. Weak successors of Aurangzeb

  • Had no hold over administration  & mere symbolic heads
  • Nadir Shah’s attack in 1738-39 gave final blow to Mughal prestige
  • Weren’t able to stop Maratha plunders which even reached upto suburbs of Delhi in 1734

5. No Upgradation of army & weak generals

  • Military reforms were not made with changing times + no new technology & weapons introduced in the army
  • The Mughal artillery was crude and ineffective against the guerrilla tactics of  Marathas . The Maratha fortresses which mughal  armies couldn’t capture despite repeated attempts easily succumbed to the British arms.
  • Dearth of capable commanders in Mughal army but this statement challenged by some historians saying that there were capable commanders like Sayyid Brothers, Abdus Samad Khan , Zakaria Khan,  Saadat Khan but all were occupied in self aggrandisement

6. Degeneration of Mughal Nobility

  • ‘When gold rusts what will iron do’ . Following the unworthy examples of the emperors, the nobles discarded hard life of military adventure & took to luxurious living. They became ‘knights of romance’ against ‘knights at arms’
  • At a time when the emperors ceased to be impartial judges for rewarding merit, the nobles had no incentive to fight & die for the empire

7. Structure of Nobility

  • Mughal nobility was divided into three warring factions
Irani Group Led by Asad Khan & his son Julfiqar Khan
Turani Group Led by Ghazi Uddin Khan & Feroz Jung & his son Chin Qulich Khan (Nizam ul Mulk)
Hindustani Sayyid Brothers , Khan-i-Dauran & some Afghani leaders 
  • Although no factional rivalries went beyond imperial court , nor lapsed into violent confrontations . No one questioned the divine rights of the Timurids to rule but every group tried to extend their influence over the emperors to  control the distribution of patronage
  • Proximity of one to centre of power alienated others & this gradually affected personal binds of loyalty between the emperor & nobleman . Each faction tried to win the emperor to its viewpoint & poison his ear against other faction.
  • Even in face of foreign danger these hostile groups couldn’t forge a united front & intrigued with invader. The personal interests of Nizam-ul-Mulk & Burhan-ul-Mulk led them to intrigue with Nadir Shah.

8. Defective Law of Succession

  • Absence of the Law of Primogeniture among the Mughals usually meant a war of succession among the sons of dying emperor in which military leaders of the time took side . Although this system was not commendable but has inherent advantage that it provided the country with the ablest son of the dying emperor as ruler .
  • But after Aurangzeb, the new principle that worked in Mughal dynasty was survival of the weakest . The Princes of Royal Dynasty receded to the background & struggle was fought by leaders of rival factions using royal prince as nominal leaders. Powerful nobles started to act as king makers to suit their personal interests  

9. Recurring peasant revolts

  • These revolts can be interpreted in various ways. They can be por­trayed as
    • Political assertion of regional and communitarian identities against an intruding centralising power or
    • As reactions against the bigoted religious policies of Aurangzeb. The latter interpretation seems to be more unlikely, as in the later span of his reign, Aurangzeb was showing more liberalism towards the non-believers and in fact wooing many of the Hindu local chieftains in a cool calculating move to win their loyalty and solve the political problems of the empire by isolating his enemies .
  • Mughal Empire was empire imposed from above . Its increasing economic pressures was never fully accepted by rural society but the fear of Mughal Army always acted as deterrent
  • But in late 17th century , weakness of Mughal army became apparent after it faced successive debacles & at same time oppression of Mughal ruling class increased . Resistance  to imperial authority also became widespread
  • In most cases rebellions were led by Local Zamindars (who were forced to pay more taxes by Mansabdars/ Zamindars and were often failing ) & fully backed by oppressed peasantry
  • Other major reason for the open defiance of the local landlords might have been the increasing oppression of the jagirdars. The earlier emperors tried to keep them in check through a system of rotation.

10. Rise of Marathas

  • Most powerful external factor that brought collapse of Mughal empire was the rising power of the Marathas .
  • Marathas inaugurated the policy of Greater Maharashtra & popularised the ideal of Hindu-pad padshahi . The ideal of Hindu Empire could only be realised at the cost of Mughal empire. Although they didn’t succeed in making Hindu Empire but they certainly played a great part in bringing about disintegration of the Mughal empire .

11. Perspective of Periphery

  • By Revisionist historians
  • Mughal decline was due to rise of new groups into economic & political power & inability of the distant & weakened centre to control them any longer
  • Even in 18th century there were some surplus regions like Awadh, Bengal, Benaras . This made more resources at disposal of Zamindars & peasants & powerful lineages who gained distinctively greater advantage & confidence vis a vis imperial centre
  • Taking advantage of weakening central control they found more convenient to repudiate their allegiance . Although they kept on sending share of revenue but Mughal control over these territories were not there