Revolt of 1857 - The Sepoy Mutiny - First War of Independence Against British

The Revolt of 1857 - The First War of Indian Independence - Nature, Impact and the Failure of the Revolt

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The Revolt of 1857 - Nature, Impact and the Failure of the Revolt

In this article we have provided you indian history important topic The Revolt of 1857 - Nature, Impact and the Failure of the Revolt. So, read this most important article on the Revolt of 1857 - Nature, Impact and the Failure of the Revolt for the upcoming UPSC Prelims & Mains exam as well as for APSC mains exam. Infact the Revolt of 1857 - The Sepoy Mutiny - First War of Independence Against British is very important for UPSC & APSC exams.

Revolt of 1857 - The Sepoy Mutiny - First War of Independence Against British

The Revolt of 1857, which terminated the existence of the East India Company, is very often referred to as “The Sepoy Mutiny” or “The First War of Indian Independence” even to this day. However, this Revolt was neither a national war of independence' nor simply ‘a mutiny'. It was the first major Indian struggle against British imperialism, that created a tradition for a united nationalist movement of the Indian people. The Revolt of 1857 was the result of the accumulated discontent among the various strata of the traditional Indian society that experienced the exploitative nature of British rule and its consequent politcal, social and economic a structural changes.

Revolt of 1857 - The Sepoy Mutiny - First War of Independence Against British

The Sepoy Mutiny

The Revolt of 1857 was something much more than a mere mutiny of the sepoys . " Sepoy Mutiny " was the term that had been used primarily by British administrator - historians like Malleson , Lawrence and others to project the view that the revolt did not have much significance and that it failed to get the support of the people at large. It was termed as the ' Mutiny ' because the Indian soldiers who had helped them to conquer India had turned against them and also to downplay the magnitude of the uprising. 

However , an in -depth analysis of the revolt would tell us that what began as a mutiny of the sepoys, became widespread and developed into a mass popular upsurge against British rule.

Neither was it 'The first War of Indian Independence, as Sarvakar had described it. The Revolt of 1857 cannot be regarded as ‘national' in the modern sense of the term. Though the sentiment was anti foreign, there was no national content in it. The different sections of the people who had participated did not feel that they were parts of a single nation living a common political and economic existence. It was marked by a conspicuous absence of national consciousness.

The Revolt was not a sudden occurrence. It was the culmination of a century long tradition of popular resistance to British domination. Bipan Chandra has pointed out that the exploitative nature of British rule and the consequent structural changes that it brought about produced discontent, resentment and resistance at every stage. It took forms of mutinies, civil rebellions, tribal uprisings and peasant movements. The revolt of 1857 was one such uprising that became the first major popular upsurge against British rule .

Course of The Revolt of 1857 

The Revolt of 1857 began with the 19th Native Infantry at Berhampur, which refused to use the newly introduced Enfield Rifle and was disbanded in March 1857, followed by Mangal Pandey, a young sepoy of the 34th NI, who fired at the Sergeant Major of his regiment, and was overpowered and executed and the regiment was disbanded too. 

The 7th Awadh Regiment also met with the same fate. Then on 11th May, a band of sepoys from Meerut, who had defied and killed the European officers the previous day, crossed the Jamuna, set the toll house on fire and marched to the Red Fort to appeal to Bahadur Shah II, The Moghul Emperor, who was then living as a pensioner of the British East India Company, to become their leader and thus give legitmacy to their cause. They proclaimed him as Shahenshah-e-Hindustan.

The sepoys then captured the imperial city of Delhi. The capture of Delhi and the proclamation of Bahadur Shah aas the Emperor of Hindustan gave a positive , political meaning to the Revolt and provided a rallying point for the sepoys. After the capture of Delhi the mutiny spread almost all over Northern India , as well as Central and Western India. However, it is to be noted that South India remained aloof; the Madras army remained totally loyal to the British.

In the absence of any leaders from their own ranks , the rebels turned to traditional leaders of the society , such as at Kanpur , their natural choice was Nana Saheb, the adopted son of the last Peshwa, Baji Rao II; Begum Hazrat Mahal at Lucknow ; Khan Bahadur at Bareilly ; Kunwar Singh, a 70 year old zamindar of Jagdishpur, Rani Lakshmibai at Jhansi. 

The repercussions of the The Revolt of 1857 was also felt in Assam , where Maniram Dewan, Peali Barua became martyrs . Women like Rupahi Aideo and Lumboi Aideo, who were also implicated in the plot framed by Maniram Dewan, also suffered loss of property and their mouzas.

Why did the sepoys revolt?

No doubt the sepoys found economic stability and prestige to be in the Company's army, but the truth is that the conditions of service in the Company's army increasingly came into conflict with the religious beliefs and prejudices of the sepoys , who were predominantly from the upper caste Hindus of the North Western Provinces and Awadh. 

Initially, the administration sought to accommodate the sepoy's demands and facilities were provided to them to live according to the dictates of their caste and religion. But with the extension of the Army's operation not only to various parts of India but also to countries outside, the British believed that caste distinctions within the regiment were not conductive to the unity of a fighting unit, and forbade sectarian marks , like beards and turbans.

The first discontent became apparent in 1824 when the sepoys at Barrackpur were ordered to go to Burma. To the religious Hindu, crossing the sea meant loss of caste. The sepoys, therefore refused to comply. The regiment was disbanded and those who led the opposition were hanged. Religious sentiments were also affected during the Afghan Campaign and they were not accepted into their society. The prestige of being in the pay of the Company was not enough to hold his position in the society, religion and caste proved to be more powerful.

Again the sepoys were convinced that the Government had secret designs to promote conversions to Christianity for in some cantonments, missionaries were permitted to preach openly and their open criticism of other religions angered the sepoys. The reports about the mixing of bone dust in atta and the introduction of the Enfield Rifle enhanced the dissatisfaction with the govt. 

The cartridges of the new rifle had to be bitten off before loading and the grease was reportedly made of beef and pig fat. The army administration did nothing to allay these fears and the sepoys felt that their religion was in danger.

Their discontent was not just about social acceptance and religion , but they were unhappy about their emoluments . A sepoy in the infantry got Rs. 7 a month . A sawar in the cavalry was paid Rs. 27, out of which he was to pay for his own uniform , food and the upkeep of his horse, and he was ultimately left with only a rupee or two . They also felt a sense of deprivation compared to their British counterparts . He was made to feel a sub- ordinate at every step and faced racial discrimination in matters of promotion and privileges. 

They could not rise above the rank of a subedar. Another Act that created resentment was the General services Enlistment Act of 1856, which obliged every soldier to serve overseas, if required.

These were their military grievances only military matters. They also reflected the general discontent of the people at large . The fact that India is largely an agricultural country , the sepoy is none other than a ' peasant in uniform ', whose consciousness was not divorced or separated from the rural population . Almost every agricultural family in Awadh had a representative in the army . There were 75000 men from Awadh ! So whatever happened in the rural areas was of immediate concern to the sepoy.

Thus they had grievances against the new land revenue system introduced after annexation , against the confiscation of land attached to charitable institutions . There were 14000 petitions received from the sepoys about the hardships of the revenue system. Under the burden of excessive taxation, the peasantry became progressively indebted and impoverished.

The traditional landed aristocracy , particularly the taluqdars of Awadh lost all their power and privileges , following the confiscation of their property, and therefore eagerly supported the Revolt. British rule also meant misery to the artisans and handicraftsmen , who were deprived of

state patronage, once the Company annexed the Indian states. The highly skilled craftmen deprived of their source of income had to look for employment elsewhere and even this was not possible because the destruction of Indian handicrafts was not accompanied by the development of modern industries.

Moreover , the orthodox Hindus and Muslims were suspicious of the social reforms introduced by the British and hence there was great resentment . They believed that their religion and culture were in danger.

Social Base of the the Revolt of 1857 :

The military uprising was followed by a civil rebellion, particularly in the North- Western Provinces and Awadh. The action of the sepoys released the rural population from the fear of the state and the control exercised by the administration . The uprising gave vent to their accumulated grievances . Government buildings were destroyed , the treasury was plundered , the magazine was sacked , barracks and court houses were burnt and prison gates flung open. 

The civil population had broad base , embracing all sections of the society , the territorial magnates , peasants , mendicants and priests, civil servants , shopkeepers and boatmen .

The Revolt of the sepoys , thus resulted in popular uprising . The combination of the Revolt of the sepoys and that of the civil population made the 1857 movement an unprecedented popular upsurge . However , it should be noted that the merchants , intelligentsia and Indian rulers , who expected their future to be safer with the British , did not support the movement and instead they supplied men and materials to the British and prayers were offered in Bombay and Calcutta for the victory of the British!

Why did the Revolt of 1857 fail : 

Lack of planning, organisation and leadership :

The lack of reliable accounts left behind by the rebels have made it difficult to make any specific analysis of the movement . The attitude and activities of the rebels hardly suggest any planning or conspiracy on their part . If at all any planning was made , it was perhaps at an embryonic stage.

Planning and organization of the Revolt could be discerned after the capture of Delhi, when letters were written to all Indian rulers appealing for their participation and support, and in Delhi, a court of administrators was established which was responsible for all matters of the state. Coins were struck and orders issued in the name of the Emperor, Bahadur Shah. 

It is also significant that the rebels moved to capture Delhi and make that imperial city, their base. The need to create an organization and a political institution was felt but in the face of British counteroffensive, such ideas could hardly materialize. The rebels had to fight with limited resources, which they captured from the British arsenals, and with swords and pikes, as against the most modern weapons of the British.

They had no quick system of communication at their command and so there was no coordination. Again, with the exception of Rani Lakshmibai and Kunwar Singh, the rebels suffered from poor leadership. Bahadur Shah and Zeenat Mahal negotiated with the British regarding their future.

Indian Support to the British : 

The merchants, the intelligentsia and the Indian rulers, and almost half the Indian soldiers not only did not revolt but helped in the recapture of Delhi and other places. Sikh princes of Nabha, Patiala and Kapurthala and the rulers of Hyderabad and Gwalior openly helped the British with men and money. Holkar and Scindhia remained loyal to the British. 

Superior Resources of the British :

The English had far better resources in terms of men, money and materials than the revolutionaries. Their control over the seas, better means of communication at their command, ordinance factories producing ammunition for the army and help from the natives put them in a very advantageous position.

Apart from a common hatred for foreign rule, the rebels had no political perspective or definite vision for the future. The movement lacked a uniform military strategic plan. It also lacked coordination, effective leadership and a coherent ideology. It represented no socio-political alternative to be implemented after the capture of power and as such can not be called a 'war of independence'. 

Moreover, modern nationalism was yet unknown in India and it was this lack of national consciousness that explains the easy suppression of the movement by ruthless methods. While there were conflicts of class interests between the insurgents themselves, patriotism implied love of one's own locality or region, or one's state. All-India interests and the consciousness that these interests bound all Indians together were yet incomprehensible.

Historical Movements of the Revolt of 1857

There were many historical movements during the Revolt of 1857 which are still the centres of conversations when we talk about our Independence struggle.

• Mangal Pandey– Mangal Pandey did not just refuse to use cartridges greased with cow or pig fat, he created an uproar within his Infantry which led to injuring the British generals. His bravery is unmatched to date though he was hanged by the East India Company.

• Cawnpore Massacre– Cawnpore or Kanpur was the highlight of the Revolt of 1857. When Cawnpore was sieged by the sepoys, they allowed the British rescue party to travel to Allahabad through Cawnpore. But the British soldiers and civilians (including 120 women and children) were killed by the sepoys. This enraged the East India company who tortured, looted the Indian civilians and executed a large number of sepoys in Cawpore and recaptured the city. 

• Rani of Jhansi’s historic win– Rani Laxmibai refused the East India Company to annex Jhansi. The British forces then slowly marched towards Jhansi. It was in the darkness of the night that the rebels attacked the fort where the British leaders and their servants were resting and killed all of them.

Impact of the Revolt of 1857 :

Though the Revolt of 1857 proved unsuccessful, it was instrumental in bringing the Indians together and introducing the idea of national consciousness. The Revolt represented the first great struggle of the Indian people for liberation from British domination and served as a constant source of inspiration in their later struggle for freedom.

The Revolt of 1857 shook the foundations of British administration in India and the strueture and policies of the British Government of India underwent significant and metamorphic changes. Not only did the British Crown assume the direct political control over India but British political strategy itself took a new direction, while the Revolt of 1857 paved the way for the modern national movement.

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