The Revolt of 1857,Although the British East India Company had established a presence in India as far back as 1612, and earlier administered the factory areas established for trading purposes, its victory in the Battle of Plassey in 1757 marked the beginning of its firm foothold in eastern India. The victory was consolidated in 1764 at the Battle of Buxar, when the East India Company army defeated Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II. After his defeat, the emperor granted the Company the right to the “collection of Revenue” in the provinces of Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha, known as “Diwani” to the Company. The Company soon expanded its territories around its bases in Bombay and Madras; later, the Anglo-Mysore Wars (1766–1799) and the Anglo-Maratha Wars (1772–1818) led to control of even more of India.
In 1806, the Vellore Mutiny was sparked by new uniform regulations that created resentment amongst both Hindu and Muslim sepoys.
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Causes Of The Revolt
Indian soldiers were paid low salaries, they could not rise above the rank of subedar and were racially insulted.
The introduction of new Enfield rifles enhanced the growing disaffection of sepoys with the Government. The new rifles used cartridges which had to be bitten off before loading. These cartridges contained cow and pig fat. This hurt the religious sentiments of both Hindus and Muslims.
The colonial policies of East India Company destroyed the traditional economic fabric of the Indian Society. Heavy taxation ,discriminatory tariff policy; destruction of traditional handicrafts that hit peasants, artisans and small zamindars.
The EIC’s greedy policy of aggrandizement accompanied by broken pledges and oath resulted in loss of political prestige for it, through such policies as of ‘Effective Control’ ,Subsidiary Alliance , ‘Doctrine of Laps’ .
Rampant corruption in the Company’s administration, especially among the police, petty officials and lower law courts, and the absentee sovereignty character of British rule imparted a foreign and alien look to it in the eyes of Indians.
Outbreak of the Revolt
On 29 March 1857 at the Barrackpore parade ground, near Calcutta, 29-year-old Mangal Pandey, angered by the recent actions of the East India Company, declared that he would rebel against his commanders. Informed about Pandey’s behaviour Sergeant-Major James Hewson went to investigate, only to have Pandey shoot at him. Hewson raised the alarm. When his adjutant Lt. Henry Baugh came out to investigate the unrest, Pandey opened fire but hit Baugh’s horse instead. The Sergeant-Major ordered the Indian commander Jemadar of the unit Ishwari Prasad to arrest Mangal Pandey, but he refused. Other sepoys present, with the single exception of a soldier called Shaikh Paltu, drew back from restraining or arresting Mangal Pandey. Shaikh Paltu restrained Pandey from continuing his attack.
At Meerut in May 1857, 85 sepoys of the 3rd Cavalry regiment were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment for refusing to use the greased catridges. Therefore, on 10 May the sepoys broke out in open rebellion, shot their officers, released their fellow sepoys and headed towards Delhi. General Hewitt, the officer commanding at Meerut was helpless to prevent the army’s march.
Next morning the rebellious army reached Delhi. The city of Delhi fell into the hands of the rebellious soldiers on 12 May 1857. Soon, the mutineers proclaimed the aged nominal king, Bahadur Shah II of the Mughal dynasty as the Emperor of India.
CENTERS OF THE REVOLT
Rebels turned to those who were leaders before the British came. Very soon the rebellion spread throughout northern and central India at Lucknow, Allahabad, Kanpur, Banaras, in parts of Bihar, Jhansi and other places.
The leadership at Delhi was nominally in the hands of Bahadur Shah, but the real control was exercised by General Bakht Khan. On the side of the British the combined effort of Nicholson, Wilson, Baird Smith and Neville Chamberlain enabled the recapture Delhi by September 1857. In Delhi, Emperor Bahadur Shah II was arrested and deported to Rangoon, where he remained in exile till he died in 1862.
Nana Saheb was the adopted son of the last Peshwa, Baji Rao II. He was not conferred the title of Peshwa but instead he was banished from Poona. As he was living near Kanpur he was urged by the sepoys to assume the leadership of the revolt there. Tantia Tope was one of his able lieutenants. Sir Hugh Wheeler the commander of the British garrison at Kanpur surrendered on the 27 June 1857. But, soon Kanpur was recaptured by the British commander Sir Colin Campbell.
Begum Hazrat Mahal undertook the task of leading the rebellion in Lucknow. Her son, BirjisQadir, was proclaimed as the Nawab. Henry Lawrence, the chief commissioner tried to defend the British. Lawrence was killed in a bomb blast during the fight. The final relief for the British forces in Lucknow came in the form of Sir Colin Campbell, who suppressed the revolt.
Khan Bahadur was the descendent of the ruler of Rohilkhand. After British annexed most of the Rohilkhand, he was reduced to a pensioner. When the revolt broke out he assumed administration, organized an army of 40,000 soldiers and offered stiff resistance to the British.
Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, the widowed queen of Gangadhar Rao played a heroic role in this revolt. Rani Lakshmi Bai was affected by Dalhousie’s Doctrine of Lapse. Driven out of Jhansi by British forces, she gave the battle cry—”main apni Jhansi nahidoongi” (I shall not give away my Jhansi). She was joined by Tantia Tope, a close associate of Nana Saheb, after the loss of Kanpur. The combined efforts of Rani and Tantia Tope saw the capture of Gwalior. The Scindhia, the local ruler, however, decided to side with the English and took shelter at Agra. Nana Saheb was proclaimed the Peshwa and plans were chalked out for a march into the south. Gwalior was recaptured by the English in June 1858. The Rani of Jhansi died a
soldier’s death on 17 June 1858. Tantia Tope was captured and hanged on charges of rebellion.
In Bihar, the revolt was led by Kunwar Singh, the zamindar of Jagdishpur. An old man in his seventies, he nursed a grudge against the British who had deprived him of his estates. He unhesitatingly joined the sepoys when they reached Arrah from Dinapore. He had a good fight and harried British forces for nearly one year and remained invincible till the end. But he was defeated by William Taylor and Eyre and died in the battle.
Impact of the Revolt
- In August 1858,the British Parliament passed an Act, The Act was termed as – ‘Act for Good Government in India’.The British Parliament passed a new Act in 1858 and transferred the powers of the East India Company to the British Crown in order to ensure a more responsible management of Indian affairs.
- QUEEN’S PROCLAMATION: All ruling chiefs of the country were assured that their territory would never be annexed in future. They were allowed to pass on their kingdoms to their heirs, including adopted sons. However, they were made to acknowledge the British Queen as their Sovereign Paramount. Thus the Indian rulers were to hold their kingdoms as subordinates of the British Crown. The Proclamation was called the ‘Magna Carta of Indian Liberty’. The British rule in India was strongest between 1858 and 1905.
- Reduction in Indian Soldiers: It was decided that the proportion of Indian soldiers in the army would be reduced and the number of European soldiers would be increased. It was also decided that instead of recruiting soldiers from Awadh, Bihar, central India and south India, more soldiers would be recruited from among the Gurkhas, Sikhs and Pathans. Indians were prevented to take higher ranks in army. Crucial branches of army like Signals, Artillery etc were in hands of Europeans only.
- Policy towards Princely States: In the words of Lord Canning, ‘Princely states acted as breakwaters in storm’. They were rewarded by the announcement that they will now be allowed to adopt heirs and their territorial integrity will be respected. British now saw them as useful allies. However, subordinate position of the princely states remained. States have to acknowledge Britain as paramount power.
- Antagonism towards Muslims: The land and property of Muslims was confiscated on a large scale and they were treated with suspicionand hostility. The British believed that they were responsible for the rebellion in a big way. However, post 1870 British started to attract Muslims to counter the national movement. It used allure of government jobs to divide various communities.