Great Revolution of 1857, Nature of Revolution, Causes and Results
Tension had been running high for some time when soldiers of the Bengal Army mutinied at Meerut on 10 May 1857. The immediate cause of military discontent was the deployment of the new breech-loading Enfield rifle, whose cartridges were allegedly greased with pork and cow fat. When Muslim and Hindu soldiers learned that the tip of an Enfield cartridge had to be bitten off in order to prepare it for firing, many soldiers refused to accept the ammunition for religious reasons.
These recalcitrant troops were put in shackles, but their comrades soon came to their rescue. They shot the British officers and made for Delhi, 40 miles (65 km) away, where there were no British soldiers. The Indian garrison in Delhi joined them, and by the next night, they had secured the city and the Mughal fort, declaring the aged Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah II, as their leader. In one stroke there was an army, a cause, and a national leader – the only Muslim who appealed to both Hindus and Muslims.
Nature and causes of the rebellion
This movement of disgruntled and mutinous soldiers became much more than a military mutiny. There has been much controversy over its nature and causes.
Sir James Outram – British military commander Sir James Outram thought it was a Muslim conspiracy taking advantage of Hindu grievances. Or it could be an elite conspiracy, which started very soon after the Meerut outbreak. But the only evidence for any of this was the circulation from village to village of chapattis, or cakes of unleavened bread, a custom which, while also occurring on other occasions, was known to occur in any time of unrest. The lack of planning following the rebellion rules out both of these explanations, while the degree of popular support argues for more than a purely military rebellion.
First Indian War of Independence – Nationalist historians have seen this in the first Indian War of Independence. In fact, it was the last attempt at traditional India. It started at a point of caste pollution; Its leaders were traditionalists and religious conservatives who wanted to revive the past, while the small New Western class actively supported the British. And the leaders were not united, as they sought to revive the former Hindu and Muslim regimes that clashed bitterly in their heyday. But something significant was needed to incite so many people to seize the opportunity for a military mutiny to stage a war of independence.
Military reasons- Military reasons were both special and general. The specific reason, the greased cartridges for the Enfield rifles, was a mistake that was rectified as soon as it was discovered; But the fact that the explanation and re-issue could not quell the soldiers’ suspicions suggests that the soldiers were already upset for other reasons.
The Bengal Army of about 130,000 Indian soldiers may have included 40,000 Brahmins as well as many Rajputs. The British had emphasized caste consciousness through meticulous regulations, had allowed lax discipline, and failed to maintain understanding between British officers and their men.
In addition, the General Service Enlistment Act of 1856 required recruits to serve overseas when ordered, which was a challenge for the castes that composed so much of the Bengal Army. To these points may be added the fact that at this time British troops in Bengal were reduced to 23,000 due to troop withdrawals for the Crimean and Persian Wars.
The general factors that transform a military insurgency into a popular insurgency can be broadly described under the heading of political, economic, social, and cultural Westernization.
Politically, many of India’s princes went into seclusion after their final defeat in 1818. But the war against the Afghans and Sikhs and then the occupation of Dalhousie worried and angered him.
The Muslims had lost the large kingdom of Awadh; The Marathas had lost Nagpur, Satara, and Jhansi. In addition, the British were becoming increasingly hostile to traditional survivalists and disdainful of most things Indian. The British decision to abolish the Mughal imperial title on the death of Bahadur Shah, therefore, caused both resentment and uneasiness among the old ruling class spread across Delhi.
Economically and socially, as a result of the British land-revenue settlements, setting group against group, there were many displacements in the landlord class throughout northern and western India. Thus there was pent-up tension in the countryside, ready to break out whenever government pressure could be eased.
Then came the western innovations of the now overconfident British. His education policy was westernized, replacing Persian with English as the official language; The old elite who had been schooled in the traditional pattern felt humiliated.
Western inventions such as the telegraph and railways aroused the prejudices of a conservative society (though Indians had crowded trains).
More troubling to traditional sensibilities were the interventions, in the name of humanity, into the realm of Hindu rituals—such as the prohibition of Sati, campaigns against infanticide, and legislation legalizing the remarriage of Hindu widows.
Finally, there was the activity of Christian missionaries, which was widespread by that time. The government was ostensibly neutral, but Hindu society was inclined to destroy the Hindu society without the missionaries openly intervening. In short, this combination of factors produced, in addition to the general tension in India, an uneasy, fearful, suspicious, and resentful state of mind and an air of unrest ready to fan the flames of any real physical outbreak.
Rebellion and its consequences
The dramatic capture of Delhi turned the rebellion into a full-scale rebellion. The whole episode comes in three periods:—–
The first came in the summer of 1857, when the British, without reinforcements from home, had their backs to the wall fighting;
the second concerned the campaign for the relief of Lucknow in autumn; And
The third was a successful campaign in the first half of 1858 by Sir Colin Campbell (later Baron Clyde) and Sir Hugh Henry Rose (later Baron Strathnairn of Strathnairn and Jhansi). This was followed by mopping-up operations, which lasted until the British captured the rebel. leader Tantia Tope in April 1859.
In June the rebellion spread from Delhi to Kanpur (Kanpur) and Lucknow. After the surrender of Kanpur, after a relatively brief siege, almost all the British civilians and loyal Indian soldiers in Kanpur were massacred.
Despite the death of Sir Henry Lawrence on 4 July, the Lucknow garrison held out in the Residency from 1 July. The campaign then hinged on British attempts to capture Delhi and relieve Lucknow. Despite their apparently desperate situation, the British had long-term advantages: they could and did receive reinforcements from Britain; He had, thanks to Sir John Lawrence’s offer, a firm base in Punjab, and he had another base in Bengal, where the people were quieter; They had virtually no concern in the South and only little in the West; And he had great faith in himself and in his civilization, which resolved his initial frustration.
On the other hand, the rebels lacked good leadership almost to the end, lacked confidence in themselves, and suffered from the rebels’ guilty feelings for no reason, causing them to be alternately frantic and fearful.
There were some 10,000 British troops in Punjab, which made it possible to disarm the Indian regiments; And the recently defeated Sikhs were so hostile to the Muslims that they supported the British against the Mughal reestablishment in Delhi.
A small British force was reformed, which held the ridge in front of Delhi against many superior forces until a siege train under Sir John Lawrence John Nicholson was able to be dispatched.
With this and the aid of rebel discontent, Delhi was attacked and captured by the British on 20 September, while Emperor Bahadur Shah surrendered on the promise of his life.
Down-country operations focused on the relief of Lucknow. Sir Henry Havelock, setting out from Allahabad, fought his way to Lucknow Residency on 25 September via Kanpur, where he was besieged in turn. But the back of the rebellion was broken and it was time for reinforcements to arrive to restore British superiority.
This was followed by the relief of the Residency (November) and the capture of Lucknow by the new Commander-in-Chief, Sir Colin Campbell (March 1858). Through a campaign in Awadh and Rohilkhand, Campbell cleared the countryside.
The next phase was the Central Indian campaign of Sir Hugh Rose. He first defeated the Gwalior contingent and then, when the rebels of Tatya Tope of Jhansi and Rani Lakshmi Bai captured Gwalior, broke their forces in two more battles. Rani learns of the death of a soldier and Tatya Tope becomes a fugitive. With the return of the British to Gwalior (June 20, 1858), the rebellion was virtually over.
The restoration of peace was interrupted by calls for retribution by the British, which often led to indiscriminate reprisals. The treatment meted out to veteran Bahadur Shah, who was sent into exile, was a disgrace to a civilized country; Also, the entire population of Delhi was driven out into the open, and thousands were killed in reckless trials or no trials at all. Order was restored by the persistence of Charles John Canning (later Earl Canning), the first Viceroy of India (ruled 1858–62), whose title of “clemency” was ridiculed by angry British merchants in Calcutta and by Sir John Lawrence In Punjab. The ferocity led to serious excesses on both sides, distinguishing the horror from other 19th-century battles.
Measures to prevent future crises naturally began with the army, which was completely reorganized. The ratio of British and Indian troops was fixed at roughly 1:2 instead of 1:5 – one British and two Indian battalions were built into a brigade so that no major station was without British troops. The effective Indian artillery was abolished except for a few hill batteries, while the Brahmins and Rajputs of Awadh were reduced in favor of other groups. The officers remained British but were more closely associated with their men. The army became an efficient professional body, largely isolated from the North West and from national life.
The climax of the Raj, 1858–85
The quarter century following the bitter Indian Rebellion of 1857–59, although at the height of British imperial power in India, ended with the birth of a nationalist movement against the Raj (British rule). For both Indians and the British, the period was marred by dark memories of the rebellion, and a number of measures were taken by the British Raj to avoid another conflict. However, in 1885, the establishment of the Indian National Congress marked the beginning of effective, organized opposition to “national” self-determination.