Revolt of 1857

Table of Contents

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

  • 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 EIC  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 . Military Causes

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 universalized & 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 homogeneous 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 , rumors 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% 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: rumors 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
Enfield Rifle and Revolt of 1857
How to use Enfield Rifle and controversy surrounding this

What the sepoys thought 
This is one of the arzis (petition or application) of rebel sepoys that have survived: 
A century ago the British arrived in Hindostan and gradually entertained troops in 
their service, and became masters of every state. Our forefathers have always served 
them, and we also entered their service . By the mercy of God and with our assistance 
the British also conquered every place they liked, in which thousands of us, Hindostani 
men were sacrificed, but we never made any excuses or pretences nor revolted 
But in the year eighteen fifty seven the British issued an order that new cartridges 
and muskets which had arrived from England were to be issued; in the former of 
which the fats of cows and pigs were mixed; and also that attah of wheat mixed 
with powdered bones was to be eaten; and even distributed them in every 
Regiment of infantry, cavalry and artillery 
They gave these cartridges to the sowars (mounted soldiers) of the 3rd Light 
Cavalry, and ordered them to bite them; the troopers objected to it, and said that 
they would never bite them, for if they did, their religion and faith would be 
destroyed upon this the British officers paraded the men of the 3 Regiments 
and having prepared 1,400 English soldiers, and other Battalions of European 
troops and Horse Artillery, surrounded them, and placing six guns before each of 
the infantry regiments, loaded the guns with grape and made 84 new troopers 
prisoners, and put them in jail with irons on them The reason that the sowars of 
the Cantonment were put into jail was that we should be frightened into biting the 
new cartridges. On this account we and all our country-men having united 
together, have fought the British for the preservation of our faith we have been 
compelled to make war for two years and the Rajahs and Chiefs who are with us in 
faith and religion, are still so, and have undergone all sorts of trouble; we have 
fought for two years in order that our faith and religion may not be polluted. If the 
religion of a Hindoo or Mussalman is lost, what remains in the world?

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 desperate 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(sns buj) 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

Case of Awadh

(This topic is explained at great length in NCERTs . Hence, we are covering this in detail)

  • Area which was the breeding ground of Revolt / Mutiny was Awadh. Here various events happened which made Prince , Taluqdars, Peasants and Soldiers to join hands with each other to oust their common enemy that is East India Company.
  • Important to study because majority of army that rebelled was from this region

Case of deposing the King

  • The Subsidiary Alliance had been imposed on Awadh in 1801. By the terms of this alliance the Nawab had to disband his military force, allow the British to position their troops within the kingdom, and act in accordance with the advice of the British Resident who was now to be attached to the court. Deprived of his armed forces, the Nawab became increasingly dependent on British to maintain law and order within the kingdom. He could no longer assert control over the rebellious chiefs and taluqdars.
  • In the meantime the British became increasingly interested in acquiring the territory of Awadh. They felt that the soil there was good for producing indigo and cotton.
  • By the early 1850s, moreover, all the major areas of India had been conquered: the Maratha lands, the Doab, the Carnatic, the Punjab and Bengal. The takeover of Awadh in 1856 was expected to complete a process of territorial annexation that had begun with the conquest of Bengal almost a century earlier.
  • Lord Dalhousie’s annexations created disaffection in all the areas and principalities that were annexed but nowhere more so than in the kingdom of Awadh in the heart of North India. Here, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was dethroned and exiled to Calcutta on the plea that the region was being misgoverned. The British government also wrongly assumed that Wajid Ali Shah was an unpopular ruler. On the contrary, he was widely loved, and when he left his beloved Lucknow, there were many who followed him all the way to Kanpur singing songs of lament.

Case of Taluqdars – Summary Settlement

  • Countryside of Awadh was dotted with the estates and forts of Taluqdars who for many generations had controlled land and power in the countryside. Before the coming of the British, Taluqdars maintained armed retainers, built forts, and enjoyed a degree of autonomy, as long as they accepted the suzerainty of the Nawab and paid the revenue of their taluqs.
  • Some of the bigger Taluqdars had as many as 12,000 footsoldiers and even the smaller ones had about 200. The British were unwilling to tolerate the power of the taluqdars. Immediately after the annexation, the taluqdars were disarmed and their forts destroyed.
  • The British land revenue policy further undermined the position and authority of the taluqdars. After annexation, the first British revenue settlement, known as the Summary Settlement of 1856, was based on the assumption that the taluqdars were interlopers with no permanent stakes in land: they had established their hold over land through force and fraud.  The Summary Settlement proceeded to remove the taluqdars wherever possible. Figures show that in pre-British times, taluqdars had held 67% of the total number of villages in Awadh; by the Summary Settlement this number had come down to 38%.

Case of Peasants

  • British land revenue officers believed that by removing taluqdars they would be able to settle the land with the actual owners of the soil and thus reduce the level of exploitation of peasants while increasing revenue returns for the state. But this did not happen in practice: revenue flows for the state increased but the burden of demand on the peasants did not decline. Officials soon found that large areas of Awadh were actually heavily overassessed
  • The dispossession of taluqdars meant the breakdown of an entire social order. The ties of loyalty and patronage that had bound the peasant to the taluqdar were disrupted. In pre-British times, the taluqdars were oppressors but many of them also appeared to be generous father figures: they exacted a variety of dues from the peasant but were often considerate in times of need. Now, under the British, the peasant was directly exposed to overassessment of revenue and inflexible methods of collection. There was no longer any guarantee that in times of hardship or crop failure the revenue demand of the state would be reduced or collection postponed; or that in times of festivities the peasant would get the loan and support that the taluqdar had earlier provided.

Case of Sepoys

  • The grievances of the peasants were carried over into the sepoy lines since a vast majority of the sepoys were recruited from the villages of Awadh.
  • 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

5. Eroding feeling of British Invincibility

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

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

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 rumors 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 Rumors 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 (wheat flour)
  • 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

  • Rumors circulate only when they resonate with the deeper fears and suspicions of people. The rum ours 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  
24 April – Meerut: 90 men of 3rd Native Cavalry refused to use greased cartridges
85 dismissed & 5 given imprisonment of 10 years
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 centers in North West provinces & Awadh & soon took shape of civil rebellion

Leaders of the revolt

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.

Delhi 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 in 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)
Bareilly 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
Lucknow – Begum Hazrat Mahal led the revolt after her adopted son Bijris Qadir was refused to continue to rule
– Dealt by Colin Campbell
Kanpur Nana Sahib / Dhondu Pant – adopted son of last Peshwa Baji Rao II
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 – 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
Allahabad Led by Liyakat Ali
Dealt by Colonel Neil
Bihar – 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
Faizabad Maulvi Ahamadullah, native of Madras led the revolt
Jhansi Led by Rani Lakshmi Bai
– Damodar Rao , her adopted son  was refused as successor after demise of his husband  Gangadhar Rao
Met Tantiya Tope at Kalpi, place between Jhansi and Kanpur
– General Hugh Rose said about her => 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  

Demands of Rebels

  • As victors, the British recorded their own trials and tribulations as well as their heroism. They dismissed the rebels as a bunch of ungrateful and barbaric people. Apart from few proclamations and ishtehars (notifications) , we have nothing to reconstruct the history of Revolt from their prespective. Sepoys were common people mostly illiterate and hence didn’t wrote any of their experience. Attempts to reconstruct the events of Revolt of 1857 is thus heavily relied on what British thought.

Azamgarh Proclamation (25 August 1857) by Bahadur Shah

The Azamgarh Proclamation, 25 August 1857 
This is one of the main sources of our knowledge about what the rebels wanted: 
It is well known to all, that in this age the people of Hindostan, both Hindoos and 
Mohammedans, are being ruined under the tyranny and the oppression of the infidel and 
treacherous English. It is therefore the bounden duty of all the wealthy people of India, 
especially those who have any sort of connection with the Mohammedan royal families, 
and are considered the pastors and masters of their people, to stake their lives and property 
for the well-being of the public.. 
Several of the Hindoo and Mussalman Chiefs, who have long since quitted their homes 
for the preservation of their religion, and have been trying their best to root out the English 
in India, have presented themselves to me, and taken part in the reigning Indian crusade, 
and it is more than probable that I shall very shortly receive succours from the West. Therefore 
for the information of the public, the present Ishtahar, consisting of several sections, is put in 
circulation and it is the imperative duty of all to take into their careful consideration, and 
abide by it. Parties anxious to participate in the common cause, but having no means to 
provide for themselves, shall receive their daily subsistence from me; and be it known to all, 
that the ancient works, both of the Hindoos and Mohammedans, the writings of miracle 
workers, and the calculation of the astrologers, pundits, . 
. all agree in asserting that the 
English will no longer have any footing in India or elsewhere. Therefore it is incumbent on 
all to give up the hope of the continuation of the British sway, side with me, and deserve the 
consideration of the Badshahi, or imperial government, by their individual exertion in 
promoting the common good, and thus attain their respective ends; otherwise if this 
golden opportunity slips away, they will have to repent for their folly, . 
Section I — Regarding Zemindars. It is evident, that the British Government in making 
zemindary settlements have imposed exorbitant Jumas (revenue demand) and have 
disgraced and ruined several zemindars, by putting up their estates for public auction for 
arrears of rent, in so much, in the institution of a suit by a common Ryot, a maid servant, or 
a slave, the respectable zemindars are summoned into court, arrested, put in goal and 
disgraced. In litigation regarding zemindaries, the immense value of stamps, and other 
unnecessary expenses of the civil courts, are all calculated to impoverish the litigants. 
Besides this, the coffers of the zemindars are annually taxed with the subscription for schools, 
hospitals, roads, etc. Such extortions will have no manner of existence in the Badshahi 
Government; but on the contrary the Jumas will be light, the dignity and honour of the 
zemindars safe, and every zemindar will have absolute rule in his own zemindary 
Section Il - Regarding Merchants. It is plain that the infidel and treacherous British 
Government have monopolised the trade of all the fine and valuable merchandise, such as 
indigo, cloth, and other articles of shipping, leaving only the trade of trifles to the people, . 
Besides this, the profits of the traders are taxed, with postages, tolls and subscriptions for 
schools, etc. Notwithstanding all these concessions, the merchants are liable to 
imprisonment and disgrace at the instance or complaint of a worthless man. When the 
Badshahi Government is established all these aforesaid fraudulent practices shall be 
dispensed with, and the trade of every article, without exception, both by land and water 
will be opened to the native merchants of India, It is therefore the duty of every merchant 
to take part in the war, and aid the Badshahi Government with his men and money, 
Section Ill - Regarding Public Servants. It is not a secret thing, that under the British 
Government, natives employed in the civil and military services have little respect, low pay, 
and no manner of influence; and all the posts of dignity and emolument in both the 
departments are exclusively bestowed on Englishmen, Therefore, all the natives in the 
British service ought to be alive to their religion and interest, and abjuring their loyalty to 
the English, side with the Badshahi Government, and obtain salaries of 200 and 300 rupees 
a month for the present, and be entitled to high posts in the future. 
Section IV— Regarding Artisans. It is evident that the Europeans, by the introduction of 
English articles into India, have thrown the weavers, the cotton dressers, the carpenters, 
the blacksmiths, and the shoemakers, etc., out of employ, and have engrossed their 
occupations, so that every description of native artisan has been reduced to beggary. But 
under the Badshahi Government the native artisans will exclusively be employed in the 
service of the kings, the rajahs, and the rich; and this will no doubt ensure their prosperity. 
Therefore these artisans ought to renounce the English services, . 
Section V— Regarding Pundits, Fakirs and Other Learned Persons. The pundits and 
fakirs being the guardians of the Hindoo and Mohammadan religions respectively, and 
the Europeans being the enemies of both the religions, and as at present a war is raging 
against the English on account of religion, the pundits and fakirs are bound to present 
themselves to me, and take their share in the holy war....

Repression by Britishers

  • 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, recognized 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 realized 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 recognized. Hence , they were able to break unity with diplomacy

Nature of Revolt

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

1 . 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 

2. 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) 

3. 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.

4. 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

5. 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 

6. 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  

7. 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”

Conclusion : 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 it 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 favorable 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 overemphasized.

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 traveled 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 channelized 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 quarreled with Maulwi  Ahmadullah . Similar was the case between Ahmadullah and Mughal Nawab
  • British had superior arms & backed by industrialized 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

1 . 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

2. 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 .

3. Divide & Rule

  • British thought that revolt was a conspiracy hatched by the Muslims & they  were severely punished and discrimination 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.

4. New Policy Towards the Princes

  • Earlier policy of annexation was now abandoned and the rulers of these states were now authorized 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.

5. Search for new friends

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

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