The Revolt of 1857
TOPIC: General studies 1
- Modern Indian History
Causes behind the Revolt of 1857
- Destruction of traditional Indian Economy
- Ruin of agriculture by draconian land reforms
- Annexation of princely states = no patronage for artisans = destruction of Indian handicrafts
- Loss of status for Zamindars = ashamed to work = anger against British
- Aggressive policies of Subsidiary Alliance , Doctrine of Lapse
- Rampant corruption and exploitation especially at lower levels of administration (police, local courts etc.)
- Restriction on wearing caste specific clothing and items, Eg. Turban
- Forced to travel overseas, which was forbidden in Hindu tradition
- Unequal pay for Indian sepoys + racial discrimination and subordination
- Newly introduced Enfield rifles had beef fat coatings (trigger point)
- Racial discrimination towards native Indians (Theory of White Man’s Burden)
- Religious propagation by the Christian Missionaries
- Reforms like Abolition of Sati, Widow-Remarriage Act, and Women’s Education were seen as interference in the traditional Indian Society
- Taxation on mosques, temples etc.
- Crimean Wars 1854-56
- Punjab Wars 1845-49
- First Afghan War 1838-42
The British suffered serious losses in these wars = psychological boost for Indians
Causes for the failure of Revolt 1857
- It was estimated that not more than one fourth of the total area and not more than one tenth of the total population was affected. South India remained quiet and Punjab and Bengal were only marginally affected.
- Almost half the Indian soldiers not only did not Revolt but fought against their own countrymen. The revolt was poorly organized with no co-ordination or central leadership. Apart from some honourable exceptions like the Rani of Jhansi, Kunwar Singh and Maulvi Ahmadullah, the rebels were poorly served by their leaders. Most of them failed to realize the significance of the Revolt and simply did not do enough.
- The rebels represented diverse elements with differing elements with differing grievances (not common). Apart from a commonly shared hatred for alien rule, the rebels had no political perspective or a definite vision of the future.
- Modern educated Indians viewed this revolt as backward looking, and mistakenly hoped the British would usher in an era of modernisation.
Significance of the Revolt
The significance of the Revolt of 1857 lies in the fact that it voiced, through violently, the grievances of various classes of people. The British were made to realize that all was not under control in British India.
Modern Nationalism was unknown in India, yet the revolt of 1857 played an important role in bringing the Indian people together and imparting to them the consciousness of belonging to one country. It had seeds of nationalism and anti- imperialism, but the concept of common nationality and nationhood was not inherent to the revolt of 1857. One may say that the revolt of 1857 was the first great struggle of Indians to throw off British Rule. It established local traditions of resistance to British rule which were to pave the way for the modern national movement.
Hindu Muslim Unity Factor- During the entire revolt, there was complete cooperation between Hindus and Muslims at all levels- people, soldiers, leaders. All rebels acknowledged Bahadur Shah Zafar, a Muslim, as the emperor and the first impulse of the Hindu sepoys at Meerut was to march to Delhi, the Mughal imperial Capital. Rebel and sepoys, both Hindu and Muslims, respected each other’s sentiments. Immediate banning of cow slaughter was ordered once the revolt was successful in a particular area. Both Hindus and Muslims were well represented in leadership, for instance Nana Saheb had Azimullah, a Muslim and an expert in political propaganda, as an aide, while Laxmibai had the solid support of Afghan Soldiers. Thus the events of 1857 demonstrated that the people and politics of India were not basically communal before 1858.
Changes made in the British Indian army after the Revolt of 1857
The Revolt of 1857 gave a severe jolt to the British administration in India and made its reorganization inevitable. The Government of India’s structure and policies underwent significant changes in the decades following the Revolt.
Changes in Administration: By the Act of Parliament of 1858, the power to govern India was transferred from the East India Company to the British Crown. The authority over India, wielded by the Directors of the Company and the Board of Control, was now to be exercised by a Secretary of State for India aided by a Council.
Provincial Administration: The British had divided India for administrative convenience into provinces, three of which- Bengal. Bombay and Madras- were known as Presidencies. The Presidencies were administered by a Governor and his Executive Council of three, who were appointed by the Crown. The other provinces were administered by Lieutenant Governor and Chief Commissioners appointed by the Governor-General.
Local Bodies: Financial difficulties led the Government to further decentralize administration by promoting local government through municipalities and district boards. Local bodies like education, health, sanitation and water supply were transferred to local bodies that would finance them through local taxes.
Changes in the army: The Indian army was carefully re-organised after 1858, most of all to prevent the recurrence of another revolt. Firstly, the domination of the army by its European branch was carefully guaranteed. The proportion of Europeans to Indians in the army was raised. The European troops were kept in key geographical and military positions. The crucial branches of artillery, tanks and armored corps were put exclusively in European hands. The Indians were strictly excluded from the higher posts. Till 1814, no Indian could rise higher than the rank of a subedar. Secondly, the organization of the Indian section of the army was based on the policy of ‘divide and rule’ so as to prevent its chance of uniting again in an anti-British uprising. A new section of army like Punjabis, Gurkhas and Pathans were recruited in large numbers.
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- Important Leaders & Place of Revolt
- Mangal Pandey: Barrakpore
- Soldiers: Meerut Cant.
- Bahadur Shah Zafar: Delhi
- Zeenat Mahal: Delhi
- Bakhtawar Khan: Delhi
- Nana Sahib: Kanpur
- Tatya Tope: Kanpur
- Azimullah: Kanpur
- Maharaj Kunwar Singh: Arrah (Bihar)
- Khan Bahadur Khan: Bareilly
- Begum Hazrat Mahal: Lucknow
- Maulvi Ahmadullah: Faizabad
- Do you know?
- The Revolt was written about and discussed not only within the confines of India but also in England, France and Germany. Benjamin Disraeli in the House of Commons on 27 July 1857, asked, “Is it a military mutiny, or is it a national revolt?” Karl Marx in the summer of 1857 expressed the same doubt in the pages of New York Daily Tribune: “What he (John Bull) considers a military mutiny”, he wrote, “Is in truth a national revolt”. According to Marxist historians, the 1857 revolt was “the struggle of the soldier-peasant democratic combine against foreign as well as feudal bondage”. Some views such as those of L.E.R. Rees Christians or T. R. Holmes who saw in it a conflict between civilization and barbarism were also forwarded.
- Safety Valve Theory & 1857 Revolt
- It was believed that in order to avoid another political crisis like 1857, a vent was required to channelize the discontent of Indians. For this, the retired Civil Servant A O Hume, founder the Indian National Congress. This theory is called: Safety Valve Theory
- The concept of Safety Valve Theory says that the British had seen the political situation in the country leading to another rebellion on the lines of the Mutiny of 1857; and they wished to avoid such a situation. So, they wanted to provide a platform to the people, where they could discuss their political problems. Indian National Congress was founded by a Retired Civil Servant and not by any Indian. It was said that the INC was started by Viceroy Lord Dufferin with the help of an ex Civil Services member as a “Safety Valve” against the popular discontent.
- Which revolt was the first to happen, even before the revolt of 1857, and which is also known as The First War of Independence?
Ans: The ‘Paika Bidroha’ (Paika rebellion) of 1817 led by Bakshi Jagabandhu [Bidyadhar Mohapatra] in Khurda of Odisha
What is Paika rebellion?
When the British started tinkering with the revenue system in 1803, the farming community of Odisha rose in rebellion. At that critical juncture, Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar — the military chief of the King of Khurda — led his motley army of Paikas forcing the British East India Company forces to retreat. The rebellion came to be known as Paika Bidroh (Paika rebellion).
When did it take place?
The rebellion, by the landed militia of Khurda called Paiks, predates the first war of independence in 1857 but did not get similar recognition. It took place when the British East India company wrested the rent-free land that had been given to the Paiks for their military service to the Kingdom of Khurda.
Before 1857, there were two wars that acted as a milestone to establish English as the supreme power in India:
- Battle of Plassey: British (Robert Clive) Vs Siraj ud Daula(Nawab of Bengal)
- Battle of Buxar: British Vs. Mir Qasim (Nawab of Bengal) & Shuja ud Daula (Nawab of Awadh)
Connecting the Dots:
- The revolt of 1857 was a desperate effort to save India in the old way and under traditional leadership. Critically comment.
- Was the revolt of 1857 really an effort towards independence? Critically analyse.
- The year of 1858 can be treated as a watershed in India’s constitutional, political and administrative history. Analyse.