Chapter 7:REVOLT OF 1857
and killed the European officers and
entered the red fort. They
urged the Mughal Emperor Bahadur
shah [a pensioner for the east India Company]
to become their leader and give legitimacy to their
emperor was initially reluctant but gave in and was
declared Shahenshah of Hindustan.
Capture of Delhi
provided a rallying point to the movement.
movement then spread to rest of north India,
central and western India
Punjab and Bengal were marginally affected.
Beginning of the revolt
The revolt of the sepoys was accompanied by a rebellion of the civil
population, particularly in the north-western provinces and Awadh. Their
accumulated grievances found immediate expression and they rose en masse
to give vent to their opposition to British rule.
It is the widespread
participation in the revolt by the peasantry, the artisans, shopkeepers,
day laborers, zamindars, religious mendicants, priests and 'civil
servants which gave it real strength as well as the character of a
popular revolt. Here the peasants and petty zamindars gave free
expression to their grievances by attacking the moneylenders and
zamindars who had displaced them from the land.
. They took advantage of
the revolt to destroy the moneylenders' account books and debt records.
They also attacked the British-established law courts, revenue offices
(tehsils), revenue records and police stations.
At Delhi the nominal and symbolic leadership belonged to the Mughal
emperor, Bahadur Shah, but the real command lay with a court of soldiers
headed by General Bakht Khan who had led the revolt of Bareilly troops and brought them to Delhi.
court consisted of ten members, six from the army and four from the
civilian departments. The court conducted the affairs of the state in
the name of the emperor.
Emperor Bahadur Shah was perhaps the weakest
link in the chain of leadership of the revolt. His weak personality, old
age and lack of leadership qualities created political weakness at the
nerve centre of the revolt and did incalculable damage to it.
Maulvi Ahmadullah of Faizabad was another outstanding leader of the
revolt. He was a native of Madras and had moved to Faizabad in the north
where he fought a stiff battle against the British troops. He emerged as one of the revolt's acknowledged leaders once it broke out in Awadh in
Phase 1 of the Revolt
the Meerut incident the 19th native
Behrampur infantry refused to use the Enfield rifles. 34th
infantry soldier at Barrackpore Mangal Pande fired at
his superior and was executed and his unit disbanded.
Oudh infantry officers too had same fate.
absence of leaders of military rank led to emergence of
territorial aristocrats and feudal chiefs who had suffered
under British. At Kanpur Nana sahib was
the leader [son of last Peshwa Baji rao II]. In
Awadh Begum Hazrat Mahal took over leadership
under her son Birjis Qadr’s name.
Rohilkhand Bahadur khan offered
resistance to the British by organizing an army. In Bihar
Kunwar Singh a zamindar discontent with the
British joined the mutiny. In Jhansi Rani
Laxmibai joined the mutiny and was the most
formidable opponent to the British. Initially she offered
to the British to keep Jhansi safe if they recognized her
adopted son as the heir [under Dalhousie doctrine of lapse
adopted heir couldn’t succeed to the throne].
Reasons for Sepoy
Dalhousie’s policy of annexation had created strong anti
British feelings in minds of people from areas unjustly
annexed by British. The royal families and princes were
alarmed by the doctrine of lapse.
feared that the British were going to convert the army to
Christianity and destroy the religion of the army. The
army was dominated by upper caste Hindus and the British
could segregate them on caste and other distinctions. This
would have affected the cohesiveness of the unit.
had to go overseas to fight and this meant a caste was
lost. Thus he would be disbarred from his fraternity.
and artisans were exploited by the unfair British
were allowed to preach to the soldiers. There were rumors
that the cartridge of Enfield rifles was coated with
grease of cow and pig. Thus the Sepoy felt his
religion was in danger as cow is sacred to Hindus and
pig meat is avoided by Muslims.
given a poor remuneration compared to British counterpart.
Also he was made to feel subordinate at every stage of
promotion and privileges.
revolt was followed by revolt by civilians as the British
policies of taxation had affected people from all sections
of society. Landed Taluqdars too faced humiliation as
their lands were confiscated and hence they too joined the
revolts. The orthodox Hindus and Muslims too felt that the
British legislations favored missionary work. The
educational institutes of Christian missionaries imparted
western education in place of oriental subjects. The
native population felt they were losing their social
identity. Thus the civilians formed a coalition with the
Sepoy’s to mutiny.
Reasons for the failure of
no source of arms and ammunition except the captured
British arsenal. The British had the most modern weapons.
Sepoy’s had no system of communication and were isolated
from each other. Due to this no coordination was possible.
princely states and merchants actively supported the
British. The princes even provided men and materials. This
affected the Sepoy success.
rebels had no effective leadership. Leaders like Bahadur
shah and Zeenat Mahal negotiated with the British.
Taluqdars supported the mutineers only till their interest
the Indian Sepoy’s in the British army did not revolt but
actively fought against their own kin. Rebels too lacked a
vision. They were primarily fighting to gain lost
Aftermath of the Revolt
the revolt failed it inspired a national movement which
achieved what the revolt couldn’t. It was hailed as the first
war of independence by Vir Sawarkar.
of Britain Benjamin Disraeli called admitted
it wasn’t a local revolt but a National Uprising.
revolt led to change in the character of Indian
administration. The administration was transferred from
Company to the queen by a proclamation on 1st
canning became the last governor general and first
made by the Company with the princes would be respected.
The rights, powers, dignity and honor of princes would be
get equal protection of law and freedom of religion and
to public services for Indians.
of the officers of east India company.
Positives from the 1857 Revolt
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. Rebels and sepoys, both Hindu and
Muslim, respected each other's sentiments.
Immediate banning of cowslaughter 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
The revolt of 1857 played an important role in bringing the Indian
people together and imparting to them the consciousness of belonging to
A positive leadership was clearly still less to be expected from the world of the 'native' princes
and zamindars. Post-1857 British policy was fairly consistently geared towards an alliance with
such 'feudal' elements—'breakwaters in the storm', Canning had already described many of them
to be even during the Mutiny itself.
The new policy involved forgetting about the doctrine of
lapse, returning Mysore to its Hindu ruling family after fifty years in 1881, Durbar pageantry
under Lytton and an Imperial Service Corps under Dufferin, and public school-type education for
the sons of princes at Mayo College in Ajmer and for Avadh taluk-dars at Colvin College in
'British paramountcy' was always firmly maintained in theory and enforced whenever
necessary in practice through British Residents, but under this overall umbrella feudal
paraphernalia and autocracy were encouraged to flourish in the one-third of India theoretically
under 'native' rule
Thus, The princely
states remained social, cultural and political backwaters, petty despotisms which did not have to
bother about the legal forms and civic rights which had been developed with much fanfare in
It was only the development of the States Peoples' Movement from the 1930s
which united these artificially secluded islands with the sub-continental mainstream, and thus the
British claim to have been the unifiers of India is also more than a little dubious.
As for the
zamindars, landlord-dominated bodies like the British Indian Association of Calcutta had
anticipated many of the later demands of the Moderate Congress in the 1850s, but with the rise
of 'middle class' associations from the 1870s these rapidly degenerated into ultra-loyalist and
largely inactive coteries.
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