Chapter 7:REVOLT OF 1857

Introduction 

The

Sepoy's of Meerut reached Delhi 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 cause. The Mughal emperor was initially reluctant but gave in and was declared Shahenshah of Hindustan. Capture of Delhi provided a rallying point to the movement


The movement then spread to rest of north India, central and western India too. However south 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.


  • The 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 May 1857.


Phase 1 of the Revolt


Before 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.


The 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. 


At 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 mutiny:    


1.    Lord 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.

2.      It was 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.

3.      Indian soldier had to go overseas to fight and this meant a caste was lost. Thus he would be disbarred from his fraternity.

4.      Indian peasantry and artisans were exploited by the unfair British policies.

5.      Christian missionaries 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. 

6.      He was given a poor remuneration compared to British counterpart. Also he was made to feel subordinate at every stage of promotion and privileges.

7.      The military 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 the revolt:


1.      They had no source of arms and ammunition except the captured British arsenal. The British had the most modern weapons.

2.      The Sepoy’s had no system of communication and were isolated from each other. Due to this no coordination was possible.

3.      The intelligentsia, princely states and merchants actively supported the British. The princes even provided men and materials. This affected the Sepoy success.

4.    The rebels had no effective leadership. Leaders like Bahadur shah and Zeenat Mahal negotiated with the British. Taluqdars supported the mutineers only till their interest was protected.

5.     Half of 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 privileges.


Aftermath of the Revolt


Though 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.

PM of Britain Benjamin Disraeli called admitted it wasn’t a local revolt but a National Uprising.

The revolt led to change in the character of Indian administration. The administration was transferred from Company to the queen by a proclamation on 1st November 1858.

Lord canning became the last governor general and first viceroy.


Queen Victoria’s proclamation:


     1.      Endorsed treaty made by the Company with the princes would be respected. The rights, powers, dignity and honor of princes would be protected.

      2.      Indians would get equal protection of law and freedom of religion and social practices.

      3.      Impartial admission to public services for Indians.

      4.      Confirmed appointments 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 soldiers.


  • 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.


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