The British conquest of India was nearly complete by 1856. The process of British conquest was not a smooth one because there was hardly a year during this period when there was no revolt against the British in one part of the country or the other. The mightiest of these revolts broke out in 1857, which shook the very foundations of the British rule in India.
In 1857, the great armed uprising took place against the British rule in India. It began on 10th may 1857 at Meerut with the mutiny of Indian soldiers or Sepoys as the British used to call them. Next day these soldiers marched into Delhi where they were joined by the soldiers stationed at Delhi. The city of Delhi passed into their hands and the 80 years old Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was proclaimed the Emperor of India. The revolt of 1857 was by far the most widespread challenge to the British rule. In many of its aspects, it was unprecedented in Indian History. It brought together soldiers of different regions and many rulers and chiefs of different states and principalities to fight for the common aim of overthrowing the British rule. Many other sections of Indian society – landlords, peasants, artisans, and scholars – joined the revolt, making common cause with the Rulers, chiefs and the soldiers. Because of the widespread and popular nature of the revolt, some consider it the first Indian war of independence.
Causes of revolt
1. Political Causes
Growing suspicion among native rulers over Lord Dalhousie’s policies of “Doctrine of Lapse” and Annexation of the Territories of Native Rulers
Annexation of Avadh on the ground of “misgovernance”
Disposing of Nawab Wazid Ali Shah, a the reigning ruler of Avadh
Lord canning’s announcement to that Mughals would lose the title of King and be mere Princess
Disbanding of the Pindaris and irregular soldiers who constituted a large section among the army ranks
2. Administrative and economic causes
Inefficient administrative machinery of the company
Racialism in civil and military administration
Deprivation of the traditional ruling classes of their luxury due to the establishment of the company’s suzerainty over the Indian states;
Introduction of new and revenue system which snatched the land from
cultivator and gave it to the moneylender or traitor
De-industrialisation of the country
3. Military causes
Dispenser of Indian sepoys with alien rule
Compulsion of the sepoys to serve at the cantonments
Withdrawal of free postage facility to sepoys following the enactment of Post Office Act of 1854
Debarring the foreign service allowance or batta for sepoys serving in Sindh and Punjab
4. Social and Religious causes
Social discrimination of the British against Indians
Spread of Christianity through missionaries
Enactment of the Religious Dis-abilities act 1850, which enabled a convert to inherit his ancestral property
Antagonism of the traditional Indian society into to the law prohibiting sati, child marriage and female infanticide.
5. The Immediate cause
Greased Cartridges: The government introduced a new Enfield rifle the Army. It’s cartridges had a greased paper cover which had to be bitten off before the cartridge was loaded into the rifle. It was believed that increase was composed of beef and pig fat. The Hindu as well as Muslim sepoys was enraged because the use of greased cartridges was against their religion and they feared that the government was deliberately trying to destroy their religion and convert to Christianity. The time to rebel has come.
Causes for the failure of Revolt
By July 1858, the revolt was completely suppressed. Following factors may be the reason for the failure of revolt:
Lack of coordination and central leadership. The revolt was supposed to have started on May 31, 1857 as decided by Nana Saheb and his colleagues. But the Meerut incidence led to early breaking of the revolt
Lack of forward looking program.
Indian leaders lacked resources and experience as compared to British.
Lack of support and martial races of the North
British power have remained intact in the eastern, western and southern parts of India from where the forces were sent to suppress the revolt
Tacit support of certain sections of Indian public.
Limited territorial and base.
Many native Indian states, influenced by the example of powerful Hyderabad, did not join the revolt.
Sikh soldiers of the Punjab area remained loyal to the British throughout.
The aging Bahadur Shah was neither a brave general not an astute leader of people.
Impacts of the Revolt
The impacts of the 1857 revolt may be summarised as:In August 1850, the British Parliament passed an act for Better Government of India, 1858, which put an end to the rule of the Company.
The control of the British government in India was transferred to the British Crown.
A minister of British government, called the Secretary of State, was made responsible for the Government of India.
The British Governor general of India was now also given the title of Viceroy, who was also the representative of the Monarch.
Marked the end of British imperialism and Princely states were assured against annexation. Doctrine of Lapse was withdrawn.
Marked the end of Peshwaship and the Mughal rule.
After the revolt, the British pursued the policy of divide and rule.
Far-reaching changes were made in the administration and increase of white soldiers in the army.
Total expense of the suppression of the Revolt was borne by the Indians.
Centres of Revolt
With the capture of Delhi by the rebel forces and the proclamation of Bahadur Shah as Emperor of India, the revolt spread over a wide area in the country. The Mughal Emperor, who had actually been a weak ruler with little powers, suddenly became the rallying point of all those who wanted to put an end to foreign rule. Even in regions where there was no large-scale uprising, unrest prevailed, causing panic in the British ruling circles.
There were uprisings in Assam, Odisha, U.P., M.P., Bihar, Sindh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Hyderabad, Punjab, and Bengal. At some of these places, the risings were localized or confined to army barracks and were easily suppressed. At some places the British had disarmed the Indian soldiers as a precaution.
The areas where the uprising was most widespread were Delhi, Awadh, Rohilakhand, Bundelkhand, the areas around Allahabad, Agra and Meerut, and Western Bihar.
In these regions large massed of civilian population participated in the revolt and the most ferocious battles were fought. In Bihar, the rebel forces commanded by Kunwar singh freed parts of Bihar and came to the help of the rebels in Lucknow and Kanpur. In Delhi, the chief commander of the troops was Bakht Khan.
In Kanpur, Nana sahib was proclaimed the Peshwa by the rebels with Azimullah as his chief adviser. Nana Sahib’s troops were led by a brave and able leader Tantia Tope.
In Jhansi, Rani Lakshmi Bai, widow of the deceased Raja, was proclaimed the ruler and led her troops into the battle heroically.
In the eastern part of U.P. the rebels were joined by the Sikh regiment from Ludhiana, and Gorakhpur and Azamgarh had to be evacuated by the British troops.
Early in July, Birjis qadr, the young son of Wajid Ali Shah, was raised to the throne of Awadh under the regency of his mother Hazrat Mahal. The rebels led by Maulvi Ahmadullah besieged the Lucknow Residency and the siege lasted for many months.
In Bareli, Khan Bahadur Khan led the revolt against the British.