THE REVOLT OF 1857
The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began as a mutiny of sepoys of the British East India Company's army on 10 May 1857, in the town of Meerut, and soon erupted into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with the major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, and the Delhi region. The rebellion posed a considerable threat to Company power in that region, and it was contained only with the fall of Gwalior on 20 June 1858. The rebellion is also known as India's First War of Independence, the Great Rebellion, the Indian Mutiny, the Revolt of 1857, the Uprising of 1857, the Sepoy Rebellion and the Sepoy Mutiny.
Ø Causes of the Revolt
SOCIAL AND RELIGIOUS CAUSES
Indians had a lurking suspicion that they would be converted to Christianity under the new regime. The fear was largely due to the activities of some of the activities of some Christian missionaries who openly ridiculed the customs and the traditions of both Hindus and Muslims. The English also established Chapels and Churches for propagating Christianity at the expense of the government. Even civil and military officers were asked to propagate the gospel. The religious sentiments of the people were further hurt when a tax was imposed on property held by temples and mosques.
The introduction of western innovations had unsettled the minds of the ignorant people. The spread of English education, the construction of railways and telegraph lines, legislation for the suppression of sati and the remarriage of the widows engendered a belief that the British were determined to convert the people to Christianity. The British had abandoned its policy of non-interference in the socio-religious life of Indians. Abolition of Sati in 1829 under Lord Bentinck, the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act of 1856, and western education all led to disruption in the social world of the people. The introduction of railways was resented on the ground that people of all castes would have to travel in the same compartments. The common people did not appreciate these changes. They looked upon them as foreign innovations designed to break down the social order to which they were accustomed and which they considered sacred.
The educated Indians were also denied high posts. The highest office open to an Indian in Civil Services was that of a sadar or a an Amin with an annual salary of Rs. 500 only. In the military service the highest office that an Indian could secure is that of a Subedar. Humiliation and torture were inflicted upon Indians in their own country. This racial discrimination hurt Indian sentiments tremendously.
a) During the first two hundred years (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) the East India Company confined its activities to trade and commerce and had no political intention. The company purchased textiles, indigo, saltpetre, spices and foodgrains from Indian market in exchange for gold and other precious metals. It thus played a useful role by exporting Indian goods and by increasing the production the Indian goods became so popular that the British government had to pass a law in 1720 forbidding the use of Indian textiles. However during the 18th century, the pattern of trade went through a drastic change.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, England developed its own textile industry and with that the dependence on Indian textiles came to an end. The result was that instead of buying finished textile goods from India, the British company purchased raw cotton and exported the same to England. India soon became a raw material producing country, supplying cotton and jute to the factories in Britain. Cotton was processed into finished cloth and exported back to India. British traders made massive profit through this two way trade.
Demand for Indian textiles having reduced, the local handloom industry incurred heavy losses and suffered badly. The poor Indian weavers could not compete with the machine made goods imported from England. Moreover, the Company used its political resources to buy the best quality cotton from the Indian markets leaving no scope for the Indian weavers to produce good quality products. Gradually, the Indian handicraft and Cottage industries died out. There was major unemployment problem and that resulted in resentment among workers against the British rule. The little patronage that they received from the native princes also was gone because of the annexations of those dominions. The miserable condition of the working class led to this rebellion against the British Rule. The trade and commerce of the country was monopolized by the by the East Indian Company. No efforts were made to improvise on the living conditions of the people. Cruel exploitation of the economic resources made people miserable leading to periodic famines.
b) The British confiscated the lands and properties of many landlords and Talukdars, especially those of Oudh. These very disgruntled landlords became leaders of the Revolt.
c) Thousands of soldiers under the employment of the native states became jobless when the states were annexed to the British dominion. As many as 60,000 families lost their livelihood, when Oudh's army was disbanded. Naturally the disbanded soldiers were seething with anger and were seeking an opportunity to strike at the new regime which had deprived them of the their livelihood.
d) Gradual disappearance of many states also deprived those Indians who held civil and judicial posts in the states, of their jobs. Even religious preachers were divested of their livelihood with the extinction of native kingdoms. The people who were affected rose against the British.
The East India Company was formed with the help of Indian soldiers. Instead of giving them due credit, the Indian soldiers were made victims of ridicule. Disregarding the fact that the Indian soldiers were efficient, the British officials paid them poorly and they lived in total squalor. Indian soldiers who had formerly held high offices in the times of the native princes found themselves in low ranks. All the higher ranks were reserved for white men irrespective of their capacity to perform. The futures of the soldier were doomed and bleak. There was no hope of receiving any allowance also. The Bengal army lacked discipline. The sepoys were unhappy as they were for the most of the times sent overseas to fight, which was not desirable at all. There was no retirement age. The Bengal army had Hindustani sepoys of the higher caste who disliked menial jobs and dreaded overseas fighting as it meant loss of caste. The bitter feeling and anger reached its highest point with the emergence of the Enfield Rifles. The cartridges of these rifles were greased with cow and pig fats. The sepoys had to remove the cartridge with their teeth before loading them into the rifles. Both the Hindus and Muslims were discontented as it was sacrilegious for both of them. Hindus consider cow sacred and Muslims consider pigs. Thus, both refused to use this cartridge and they were disharmony everywhere.
Indian soldiers in the service of the company were equally prejudiced against the English in the religious matters. An ACT was passed in 1856 known as the "General Services Enlistment Act", which imposed on the Indian sepoys the obligation to serve wherever required. In 1856, in accordance with the new rules, the soldiers no longer receive extra allowance Bhatta for service outside their own regions because they were no longer considered to be foreign missions. This affected the extra pay of the sepoys. But the English soldiers in the Indian army continued to receive this allowance. Thus the denial of this allowance amounted to gross decimation against the sepoys.
a) Lord Dalhousie's policy of annexation caused uproar among the people of India. The last Peshwa, Baji Rao's adopted son Nana Sahib was deprived of the pension his father was receiving. Rani Laxmi Bai's adopted son was not given the throne after the death of his father. To make matters worse Lord Dalhousie announced in 1849 that Bahadur Shah Zafar will not be allowed to stay in the Red Fort anymore and they were compelled to move to a place near Qutab Minar. To further worsen the situation Lord Canning announced in 1856 that with the demise of Bahadur Shah Zafar, his successor will not be allowed to use the title "king".
b) The political scheme's of the British were in question when they resorted to harsh means when dealing with the native princes. The written and oral pledges made with the princes were often disregarded by the British.
The annexation of Oudh without a reason led to a huge uprising. The proposal of taking away the title from the Mughal emperor shocked the Muslims. The annexation of Jhansi, Satara and Nagpur shocked the Hindus as they were predominantly Hindu states. The remaining Hindus and Muslims who were unaffected became insecure, lest they meet the same fate.
C) The myth about the superiority of the British was shattered when they were badly beaten in the first Afghan War. They were again humbled in 1855-56, when they had to face the rebellion of the Santhal tribe of Bengal and Bihar. This proved that the Indian army was quite powerful.
d) There was a rumour floated around that with the end of the Revolt of 1857 the British Raj would come to an end. This rumour emanated from the fact that the battle of Plassey in 1757 brought about British power and with 1857 a century would be completed which will mark the end of British rule.
The British agrarian policy created widespread distress. Sale Laws enforced against defaulting zamindars and landholders and the resumption of rent-free holdings resulted in the dispossession of thousands of families and individuals from their estates and farms. This was coupled with a new form of direct assessment of heavy rates on land which many could not afford and, therefore, were evicted from the land. The British import and export policy also disrupted the Indian economy. British manufactured goods glutted the markets, undermining the sale of Indian cottage and craft commodities.
One of the most important changes that took place in the early years of the British rule was the introduction of the institution of private property rights in land. With this change , land became a commodity which could be bought, sold, rented or leased . if the landholder defaulted on his due , he faced a real possibility of forfeiting his lands of the older landed classes who had elites emerged after buying the lands of the older landed classes who had either defaulted on their dues or could not produce the title deeds.
The annexation of the Indian states did not only lead to dislocation of the ruling elites and the local populace, but the British also actively followed the policy of discrimination against the Indians. All high posts of the Company’s government were reserved for the Europeans.
The administrative machinery of the east India Company was inefficient and inadequate. Their revenue policies were widely resented. Many districts in the newly annexed states were in the states were in the state of perpetual revolt. Significant numbers of Talukdars / hereditary landlords were deprived of their position and resources. There was a large scale confiscation and auctioning of the estates. The new revenue policies created a vicious circle of problems for all concerned. The old aristocracy and landlords lost their power and lands; the new landlords thus created, extracted mercilessly from the peasants but the demand being unreasonably high , often led to the landlords losing their land; and the peasants had to face perpetual hardship at the hands of the company’s policies along with the demands of the landlords and ultimately fell under the debt-trap of the money-lenders in an effort to meet the various fiscal demands.
The greased cartridges supplied for the new Enfield rifles were the immediate cause for the mutiny. The cartridges had to be bitten off before insertion.TheBritish manufacturers supplied fat of cows and pigs. Both the Hindus and the Muslims refused to use them as the cow is sacred to the Hindus and the pig is detestable to the Muslims. At Barrackpore, near Calcutta, Mangal Pandey, an Indian soldier, shot his officer dead. He was hanged to death and the troops at Barrackpore were court-martialled and sentenced to imprisonment.
Ø MAIN EVENTS OF THE REVOLT OF 1857
The Sepoys of Dum Dum in Calcutta were the first to express their resentment at the use of greased cartridges on January 23, 1857. The news spread to the cantonment at Barrackpore where an Indian sepoy killed two British officers, when he was forced to use greased cartridges. He was arrested and hanged to death on April 8, 1857. The regiment posted at Barrackpore was disbanded. The news then travelled to Meerut cantonment.
Events at Meerut
On 6th May, 1857 A.D. when the new cartridges were issued to 90 Indian soldiers in Meerut, 85 of them refused to bite them with their teeth. These 85 soldiers were court-martial led and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. They were stripped of their uniforms in the presence of the entire Indian garrison. It was too much of a disgrace to be put up with and this incident sent a wave of indignation. On 10th May 1857, the Indian soldiers at Meerut broke into open revolt. They released their companions and murdered a few European officers. The sky was rent with deafening shouts of “Maro Firango Ko”. On the night of 10th May the mutineers marched to Delhi and thousands of able-bodied civilians also joined them.
The revolutionaries from Meerut reached Delhi on 11th May, 1857 and the small British garrison at Delhi could not resist and consequently fell into their hands within 2 days. The Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II, joined the revolutionaries after initial vacillation and was proclaimed Emperor of India. The loss of Delhi lowered the prestige of the British in India. To retrieve their prestige they put everything at stake and Sir John Lawrence sent a strong British contingent commanded by John Nicholson. After a long siege of four months, the British were able to recover Delhi in September 1857 A.D. The Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II was captured by the British from the tomb of Humayun. Two of his sons and a grandson were shot in cold blood before his eyes. The emperor was deported to Rangoon where he died in the year 1862 A. D.
At Kanpur the struggle for independence was led by Nana Sahib Dondu Pant, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II. The British Commander, Hugh Wheeler finding the odds heavy against him surrendered on June 20, 1857 A.D. A large number of Englishmen, women and children fell into the hands of Nana Sahib and he promised them a safe passage to Allahabad. But the news about the inhuman massacre of the Indians at the hands of General O’Neil at Allahabad and Benares infuriated the crowd which in vengeance killed all the Englishmen in their custody. However, later researches reveal that Nana Sahib had no hand in these killings. General Havelock captured Kanpur after defeating Nana Sahib in a hotly contested battle on June 17, 1857 A.D. In the meantime, Tantya Tope, the able General of Nana Sahib, was successful in winning over the troops at Shivajinagar and Morar by appealing to their sense of patriotism. With the concerted strength of these troops Nana Sahib and Tantya Tope recaptured Kanpur in November 1857 A.D. But they could not keep Kanpur under their charge for long because the English General Campbell appeared there with a large force. The British won a decisive victory against the forces of Nana Sahib in the battle which was fought from December 1 to 6, 1857. Nana Sahib fled towards Nepal, where he probably died, while Tantya Tope migrated to Kalpi.
The tide of revolution touched its highest mark in Oudh. Not only the Hindu and Muslim Taluqdars but even the common people went all out to help the dispossessed Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah. As soon as the revolt broke out the people carried out a complete massacre of the Englishmen. The Chief Commissioner, Sir Henry Lawrence, sought refuge with 1000 English and 700 Indian soldiers inside the Residency. The revolutionaries besieged the Residency and killed most of the Englishmen, including Sir Henry Lawrence and the notorious English General O’Neil. At last, the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in India, General Collin Campbell, himself marched towards Lucknow, at the head of English and Gurkha soldiers. Lucknow fell into the hands of the British after a fierce battle in March 1858.
The leader of the revolutionaries in Central India was Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi. General Sir Huge Rose attacked Jhansi in March 1858 but the brave Rani Laxmi Bai kept the British General unnerved for quite some time. Her appeal to Tantya Tope for help brought Tantya Tope rushing to Jhansi, but not before her troops were severely defeated on the banks of the river Betwa. Laxmi Bai had to hold on to her fortress alone. The British resorted to deceit and treachery and bribed the guards to open the gates of the fortress. But the Britishers could not capture Rani Laxmi Bai who slipped out of the fort and reached Kalpi where she was joined by Tantya Tope, the brave General of Nana Sahib. Both fought many successful battles against the British. At last they had to leave Kalpi as well and they fell upon Gwalior with lightning speed and captured the fort of Jayaji Rao Scindia, a dependent ruler of the British company. A fierce battle was fought between the British and the revolutionaries under Rani Laxmi Bai and Tantya Tope from June 11 to June 1 8, 1 858 A. D. But the personal valour of Rani and Tantya Tope could not match the resources at the command of the British. The Rani fell fighting the British. Sir Huge Rose paid a tribute to the valour of Rani Laxmi Bai when he said "Laxmi Bai was the bravest and the best of military leaders of the rebels." Tantya Tope was betrayed by the Gwalior Chief Man Singh and fell into the hands of the British. He was subsequently hanged on April 18, 1859.
In Bihar, the Revolt was led by Kunwar Singh, a zamindar of Jagdishpur. Though he was eighty years old, he played a prominent part in the revolt. He fought the British in Bihar and then joined Nana Sahib’s forces and took part in various encounters with the English in Oudh and Central India. He died on April 27, 1858, leaving behind a glorious record of valour and bravery.
The Revolt at Faizabad was led by Maulvi Ahmadullah, a native of Madras. He aroused the Muslim community against the British rule and took part in various battles in Oudh and Rohilkhand. He was, however, treacherously killed.
Ø Causes of Failure of Sepoy Mutiny
Many causes were responsible for the failure of the revolt of 1857.
· Revolt was localized: In the first place the revolt was localized. There were many parts of India which were not affected by the revolt at all. Particularly the territory south of the Narmada River remained undisturbed. Sindh was quiet. Rajputana was loyal. It is contended that if the Revolt would not have been localized and would have spread to every nook and corner of the country then the fate of the Revolt would had been different.
· Lack of Leadership: The rebels failed on account of the lack of leadership among them. It is true that the Rani of Jhansi was a capable woman but she was neither the head of all the forces nor an experienced general. General Bakht Khan was a brilliant man but he was not in charge of the whole show. The rebels worked without any common plan. They were short of modern weapons and other materials of war. The fought with ancient weapons such as pikes, swords, arrows etc. They were brave and selfless, but they were ill disciplined. Sometimes they behaved more like riotous mob than a disciplined army. There was no centralized leadership. There was no co-ordination among them in various parts of the country. The rebels were joined together by a common feeling of hatred against foreigners and when British power was overthrown from any area, they did not know what sort of power to create in its place.
· Absence Of A Modern And Progressive Programme: The rebels had no forward looking programme to be implemented after the capture of power. The absence of a modern and progressive programme enabled the reactionary princes and Zamindars to seize the levers of power of the movement. These people had already been defeated by the British and they had nothing new in them which could help them to succeed against the British.
· The Educated Indians Did Not Support The Revolt. They stood for ending the backwardness of their country and they believed that the British Government in India was destroying the feudal forces in the country and was bringing in a new era of progress in the country. Their view was that the rebels stood for the old order along with its superstitions.
· The year 1857 was favorable to the British in many ways. The Crimean War was over in 1856. The Chinese War was just over. The British armies were free to throw in their weight against the rebels. Russia was defeated in the Crimean War and there was no danger from those quarters. Internationally, the Indian rebels were isolated.
· As the British had control over the sea, they were in a position to pour into India both men and materials with practically no difficulty. A large number of troops were sent to India t once. The Indians fighting with primitive weapons were no match for the British with the Enfield rifles.
· The only hope of success for the rebels was to have quick victories. Time factor was against them. It could be taken for granted that the British would be able to get reinforcements from outside and when that happened, the revolt collapsed.
· The rebels appealed to all other sections of society but no appeal was made to the peasants. While all other classes were promised a better deal, the peasants were ignored all together. The inability of the rebel leaders to rally the peasants to their side doomed their cause. The revolt got its strength from the princes, noble-men and other feudal interests and those forces were incapable of overthrowing the British Government in India.
Finally it can be said that the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 failed because it was not inspired by any positive creative ideas. It did not entertain either the vision of a high social order or of a higher political system. It was a transient intoxication and not a permanent transformation of the will of the people. Moreover intellectually they were no match for their enemy whose military technique was based on science. Even in strategy and techniques the British forces were far superior to the Indian ones.
Ø CHANGES INTRODUCED AFTER THE SUPPRESSION OF THE REVOLT
1. End Of The British East India Company’s Rule: The rebellion saw the end of the British East India Company’s rule in India. In August, by the Government of India Act 1858, the company was formally dissolved and its ruling powers over India were transferred to the British Crown.
2. The Governor-General of India gained a new title (Viceroy of India), and implemented the policies devised by the India Office.
3. The rebellion transformed both the "native" and European armies of British India. Of the 74 regular Bengal Native Infantry regiments in existence at the beginning of 1857 only twelve escaped mutiny or disbandment. All ten of the Bengal Light Cavalry regiments were lost. The old Bengal Army had accordingly almost completely vanished from the order of battle. These troops were replaced by new units recruited from castes hitherto under-utilized by the British and from the so-called "Martial Races", such as the Sikhs and the Gurkhas, which were not part of mainstream Indian culture.
4. Victoria's Proclamation of November 1858, in which it is expressly stated that
"We hold ourselves bound to the natives of our Indian territories by the same obligations of duty which bind us to our other subjects...it is our further will that... our subjects of whatever race or creed, be freely and impartially admitted to offices in our service, the duties of which they may be qualified by their education, ability and integrity, duly to discharge."
5. The proclamation declared that all Indians would be eligible to enter the administrative services on the basis of their higher education and ability, irrespective of race and creed. Administrative changes were made in the executive, legislative and judicial arenas with greater participation of Indians .This change was visible in the Indian Council Act 1861, the Indian High court act 1861 and the Indian Civil Services Act 1861. The beginnings of elective representation of Indians in politics which created completion amongst the various communities , can be traced back to post –revolt period
6. Unconditional pardon was granted to the rebels except those who had been responsible for the murder of the British during the revolt.
7. The post revolt period saw the British actively pursuing the policy of “divide and rule” towards the general populace. Two opposite policies were at work. While on one hand, India was being brought under a unified system of administration and governance, on the other hand for political necessity, India’s diversity being highlighted in order to depict the claims and needs of different sections as divergent. As late as 1942 Sir Stafford Cripps claimed : “In great subcontinent of India there is more than one people…” this claim of diversity was later countered by the efforts of the nationalists to affirm the uniformity of Indians , which inturn often led to papering over of the divergent demands of the different communities, regions and sections.
8. The British believed that the revolt of 1857 was instigated primarily by the Muslims when the sepoys hailed the Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II as the Emperor of Hindustan. Moreover, the English were the direct successors of the Mughal rule, which lent credence to the belief of the Muslims instigated revolt. Consequently, the British adopted a conservative attitude towards the Muslims for almost a decade after a revolt. It was only the Governor-Generalship of Lord Mayo and with the publication of Sir William Hunter’s Book the Indian Musalmans, in 1871 which addressed the grievance of the Muslims of Bengal and their backward status in comparison to the Hindus that the British Government undertook some measures to alleviate the conditions of the Muslims. The book presented the loss of Muslims as the gain of the Hindus. Later this work and belief led the growth of the Muslims separatism and widened the fault line between the two communities.
9. In the aftermath of the revolt, India was made to bear the entire financial burden of the outbreak and suppression of the revolt. The public debt of India increased approximately by 98 million sterling, which inturn added to the annual interest charges by 2 million sterling.
Ø HISTOGRAPHY OF THE REVOLT OF 1857
There is no universally agreed name for the events of this period.
In India and Pakistan it has often been termed as the "War of Independence of 1857" or "Independence “but it is not uncommon to use terms such as the "Revolt of 1857". The concept of the Rebellion being "First War of Independence" is not without its critics in India. The use of the term "Indian Mutiny" is considered by some Indian politicians as unacceptable and offensive, as it is perceived to belittle what they see as a "First War of Independence" and therefore reflecting a biased, imperialistic attitude of the erstwhile colonists. Others dispute this interpretation.
In the UK and parts of the Commonwealth it is commonly called the "Indian Mutiny", but terms such as "Great Indian Mutiny", the "Sepoy Mutiny", the "Sepoy Rebellion", the "Sepoy War", the "Great Mutiny", the "Rebellion of 1857", "the Uprising", the "Mahomedan Rebellion",and the "Revolt of 1857" have also been used. "The Indian Revolution of 1857" is a name that has been used by some scholars.
"The Indian Insurrection" was a name used in the press of the UK and British colonies at the time, such as The Empire (Sydney) [and the Taranaki Herald (New Zealand).