The Revolt of 1857, also known as the First War of Independence, marked a significant turning point in India’s history. It was the culmination of British direct intervention in various aspects of Indian society that had been ongoing since 1757.
Reasons for the Revolt of 1857:
During Lord Dalhousie’s administration, a policy was implemented that had significant consequences for many Indian rulers. According to this policy, if a local king did not have a biological heir, they were deprived of their rule. Even if they adopted a son, the British authorities refused to recognize the adoption, resulting in the forceful conversion of numerous Indian rulers into subjects under British dominion.
Under this comprehensive policy, several states were annexed by the British, including:
- Satara (1848)
- Jaitpur, Sambalpur, Bundelkhand (1849)
- Balaghat (1850)
- Udaipur (1852)
- Jhansi (1853)
- Nagpur (1854)
- Awadh (1856)
The British authorities removed the rulers of these states from power, prompting them to make persistent efforts to regain their territories and authority.
The denial of Indians from high-ranking positions in the administration and the continued unequal treatment of Indians were key administrative grievances that fueled the Revolt of 1857.
Economic policies imposed by the British played a role in the origins of the revolt. The three land revenue policies, namely Permanent Settlement, Ryotwari Settlement, and Mahalwari Settlement, along with increased export taxes, decreased import taxes, the decline of handicraft industries, and the drain of wealth, all contributed to economic dissatisfaction among the Indian population.
The entry of Christian missionaries into India, the abolition of the sati system, the legal recognition of widow remarriage, and the forceful deployment of Indian soldiers on sea voyages were significant socio-religious factors that instigated the Revolt of 1857.
The unequal treatment of Indian soldiers, denial of promotions to higher posts, lower pay compared to European soldiers, the passing of the Post Office Act, and the abolition of free postal services were major military grievances that led to the outbreak of the revolt.
The combination of various policies implemented by the British over the past century, along with the aforementioned reasons, generated widespread resentment among different sections of Indian society and served as the catalyst for protests. Some of the immediate causes that ignited the fire of dissent are as follows:
Introduction of the Enfield rifle: In January 1857, the British Indian Army introduced the new Enfield rifle. It was rumored that the cartridges used with this rifle were greased with cow and pig fat, which were considered sacred and tabooed in Hindu and Muslim religious beliefs respectively. The soldiers, considering it an affront to their religious sentiments, refused to use the rifle.
Mangal Pandey’s uprising: In response to the new rifle and its cartridges, on March 1857, Mangal Pandey, a soldier, attacked his senior officers in Barrackpore. As a consequence, Mangal Pandey was hanged on April 8, 1857.
Refusal of Indian soldiers: On May 9, 1857, in Meerut, 85 Indian soldiers openly refused to use the controversial Enfield rifle.
These events played a crucial role in fueling the growing discontent and rebellion against British rule in India.
Beginning and Events of the Revolt of 1857
The Revolt of 1857, as per historians, was meticulously planned by Nana Saheb and Azimullah Khan in Bithoor. The date of May 31, 1857, was chosen for the uprising according to their strategic Planning.
To symbolize the Revolt of 1857, the ‘Lotus’ and ‘Roti’ were selected as powerful representations.
On March 29, 1857, a significant event occurred when Mangal Pandey, a constable stationed in Barrackpore Cantonment, refused to use greased cartridges and consequently attacked and killed two of his officers, Lt. Gen. Hewson and Lt. Bagh.
The spark that ignited the Revolt of 1857 occurred on May 10, 1857, when the 20th Native Infantry of Meerut Cantonment joined the armed rebellion by refusing to use the greased cartridges. This marked the official commencement of the Revolt of 1857.
These initial events played a crucial role in setting the stage for the widespread uprising that followed, shaping the course of one of the most significant episodes in India’s struggle for independence.
Spread of the Revolt of 1857
Following the announcement of an armed rebellion in Meerut on May 10, 1857, the rebels advanced towards Delhi, successfully capturing the city at dawn on May 11, 1857. Upon their arrival in Delhi, the rebels declared Bahadur Shah Zafar, the then-Mughal emperor, as the leader of the rebellion and the emperor of India.
The rebellion quickly spread to various regions including Kanpur, Lucknow, Aligarh, Allahabad, Jhansi, Rohilkhand, Gwalior, and Jagdishpur. Bakht Khan, acting as Bahadur Shah Zafar’s representative in Delhi, provided leadership during this tumultuous period.
In Kanpur, Nana Saheb took charge of the rebellion with support from Tantya Tope. Begum Hazrat Mahal assumed leadership in Lucknow and declared her minor son, Birjis Qadir, as the Nawab of Lucknow. Rani Lakshmibai led the rebellion in Jhansi, while General Hurose commanded the British army in the war against the rebels.
Jagdishpur saw Kunwar Singh leading the revolt, Ruhelkhand witnessed Khan Bahadur Khan’s leadership, Maulvi Ahmadullah took charge in Faizabad, and Tantya Tope played a significant role in Gwalior.
Consequently, this rebellion spread across most of northern India, while the provinces of Punjab and the majority of South India remained relatively unaffected.
It is noteworthy that the zamindars of Bengal assisted the British in suppressing the rebellion, and India’s educated and business classes refrained from active participation in the uprising.
Reasons for the Failure of the Revolt of 1857
The Revolt of 1857, despite its initial momentum, faced several challenges that led to its ultimate failure. Here are the key reasons for the revolt’s inability to achieve its objectives:
Lack of a Well-Planned Strategy:
The rebellion suffered from a lack of a well-organized and cohesive plan, resulting in a directionless approach. The absence of a unified strategy hindered the rebels’ ability to effectively coordinate their actions.
Insufficient Resources and Inferior Weapons:
The rebels faced significant resource constraints, lacking the necessary military equipment, ammunition, and supplies. Moreover, the quality of their weapons was generally inferior to those possessed by the British forces, putting them at a disadvantage in combat.
Limited Skilled Leadership:
While the rebels had a few notable leaders such as Tantya Tope and Rani Lakshmibai, the British forces possessed a larger number of skilled military leaders, including Nicholas Outram, Havelock, and Hudson. This imbalance in leadership expertise played a crucial role in tipping the scales in favor of the British.
Betrayal and Informants:
The rebel cause was undermined by the presence of traitors within their ranks who provided vital information about the skilled Indian leaders to the British. This betrayal compromised the rebels’ plans and allowed the British to effectively counter their movements.
Lack of Clear Political Vision:
The rebels lacked a clear and unified political vision for the revolt. The uprising was driven primarily by personal interests rather than a cohesive ideology or comprehensive plan for governance. This lack of a unified political objective limited the rebels’ ability to garner broader support and sustain their movement.
Support from Native Rulers:
Many native rulers, driven by self-interest or coerced by the British, sided with the colonial forces and actively worked against the rebellion. This collaboration with the British significantly weakened the revolt’s overall strength and undermined its chances of success.
Collectively, these factors contributed to the failure of the Revolt of 1857 to achieve its goal of overthrowing British rule in India. Despite its significance as a watershed moment in Indian history, the revolt faced numerous challenges that ultimately resulted in its suppression by the British colonial forces.
Nature of the Revolt of 1857
The nature of the Revolt of 1857 has been a subject of debate among scholars, with varying perspectives on its characterization. Some historians perceive it as a military rebellion, while others view it as a civilian uprising.
Sir John Seale classified the Revolt of 1857 as a mere military mutiny. However, this perspective fails to account for the active participation of not only soldiers but also the working class, peasantry, and common people in the rebellion. Considering the involvement of various segments of society, it is not logical to solely label it as a military rebellion.
Certain historians also describe it as India’s first national rebellion. However, it is essential to note that although the leaders of the revolt fought against the British, they lacked a cohesive nationalist vision. There was no clear plan for India’s political status as a nation following the success of the rebellion. Consequently, labeling it as a national rebellion may not be entirely accurate.
The participation in the 1857 revolt cut across different sections of society, including Hindus, Muslims, farmers, laborers, women, elders, and youth. This diverse composition suggests that the rebellion encompassed various social forms. Given that the revolt opposed British imperialist policies, it can be regarded as having an anti-imperialist character.
Considering these perspectives, the Revolt of 1857 emerges as a complex and multifaceted uprising that involved diverse segments of society and expressed opposition to British imperialism.
Results of the Revolt of 1857
The Revolt of 1857 had significant consequences that shaped the course of British rule in India. Here are the key outcomes of the rebellion:
End of East India Company Rule:
As a result of the revolt, the British East India Company’s governance in India came to an end. The British Crown assumed direct control over the administration of India.
Establishment of New Governing Bodies:
The “Board of Control” and the “Court of Directors,” institutions responsible for overseeing the East India Company, were abolished. In their place, an India Secretary and the India Council, consisting of 15 members, were established. The India Secretary, a minister of the British Government, was entrusted with matters pertaining to India.
Government of India Act:
The Government of India Act was passed following the revolt. It designated the “Governor General of India” as the “Viceroy of India.” Lord Canning, who was serving as the Governor General at the time, became the last Governor General and the first Viceroy of India.
Shift in British Policies:
The British rule abandoned its policy of expansion in India and adopted a policy of non-interference in the social and religious affairs of the Indian people. This shift aimed to alleviate tensions and promote stability.
Reorganization of the Indian Army:
In response to the rebellion, the British Government established the Peel Commission to reorganize the Indian Army. The commission recommended an increase in the ratio of European soldiers to Indian soldiers in the army, which was subsequently implemented.
Divide and Rule Policy:
A Royal Commission was formed after the revolt, which recommended the formation of regiments in the Indian Army based on caste, community, and religion. The British Government adopted this policy, known as the “divide and rule policy,” with the objective of dividing Indian society to maintain their rule.
These outcomes had a profound impact on the governance and administration of India under British rule. The Revolt of 1857 marked a turning point in Indian history and set the stage for further struggles against colonial rule in the years to come.
Prominent Leaders and Heroes of the 1857 Revolution
1. Bahadur Shah Zafar and Bakht Khan
- Date of Revolution: May 11, 1857
- Center: Delhi
Bahadur Shah Zafar: The last emperor of the Mughal Empire in India, Bahadur Shah Zafar, led the sepoys in the 1857 revolt in Delhi. Although the revolutionaries of Delhi were ultimately defeated, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s resistance against the British led to his exile in Rangoon Jail, where he died on November 7, 1862, while in captivity.
Bakht Khan: As the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian troops during the 1857 Revolt in Delhi, Bakht Khan played a crucial role. Previously serving as a Subedar in the British East India Company, he turned against the British due to the use of pig and cow fat on the cartridges of the Enfield rifle. On July 1, 1857, Bakht Khan joined the ongoing freedom struggle in Delhi.
2. Nana Saheb and Tantya Tope
- Date of Revolution: June 5, 1857
- Center: Kanpur
Nana Saheb: Also known as Dhondupant, Nana Saheb led Indian soldiers from Kanpur in India’s first war of independence against the British. Various disputes between Nana Saheb and the British fueled the rebellion, including his refusal to accept the title of Peshwa after the death of his father, Peshwa Baji Rao II, on January 1, 1851. On June 5, 1857, after capturing the East India Company’s treasury from a British magazine in Kanpur, Nana Saheb announced his participation in the Revolution of 1857 against the East India Company.
Tantya Tope: Tatya Tope served as Nana Saheb’s military advisor during the ongoing 1857 revolution in Kanpur. When Brigadier General Havelock attacked Kanpur from the Allahabad side with his army, Tatya Tope valiantly defended the city. However, he was defeated on July 16, 1857, and had to leave Kanpur. Despite the departure of other notable leaders like Rani Lakshmi Bai and Bahadur Shah Zafar, Tatya Tope continued to lead the Indian revolutionaries for nearly a year.
3. Begum Hazrat Mahal and Birjis Qadr
- Date of Revolution: June 4, 1857
- Center: Lucknow
Begum Hazrat Mahal: The second wife of Wajid Ali Shah, the Nawab of Awadh, Begum Hazrat Mahal assumed the responsibility of handling the state affairs of Awadh when the Nawab was driven out by the British. Under the leadership of Raja Jailal Singh, the soldiers of Begum Hazrat Mahal fought against the British East India Company from 1857 to 1858, successfully reclaiming authority over Lucknow. She personally fought against the English army and passed away on April 7, 1879, in Kathmandu, Nepal, at the age of 60.
Birjis Qadr: Birjis Qadr, the son of the 6th king of Awadh and Begum Hazrat Mahal, actively participated in the fight against the British alongside his mother during the 1857 revolution. In a time when the entire country was engulfed in the struggle for independence, Birjis Qadr, along with his mother, fought against oppressive British rule.
4. Rani Laxmibai
- Date of Revolution: June 4, 1857
- Center: Jhansi
Rani Lakshmibai: Rani Lakshmibai, the queen of Jhansi in present-day Uttar Pradesh, was a fierce warrior who led the army of the British Empire during the 1857 revolution. At the young age of 29, she valiantly fought against the British forces but tragically met her martyrdom in the battle for freedom. Rani Lakshmibai lost her life on June 18, 1858, while fighting the British army at the inn near Gwalior.
5. Veer Kunwar Singh and Amar Singh
- Date of Revolution: June 12, 1857
- Center: Jagdishpur
Veer Kunwar Singh: Veer Kunwar Singh, along with his commander Macu Singh and Indian soldiers, played a significant role in the 1857 war. On July 25, 1857, Veer Kunwar Singh assumed command of the mutineers at Danapur, capturing the district headquarters of Ara just two days later. However, his army was defeated by Major Vincent Eyre on August 3, 1857, and the town of Jagdishpur was destroyed.
Babu Amar Singh: Babu Amar Singh, the brother of Babu Kunwar Singh, emerged as a prominent warrior and revolutionary during India’s first struggle for freedom in 1857. Initially supporting his brother’s campaigns, including the infamous Siege of Arrah, Babu Amar Singh became the head of the army after Babu Kunwar Singh’s death on April 26, 1858. Despite facing overwhelming odds, he continued the struggle and established a parallel government in the Shahabad district.
6. Maulvi Ahmadullah and Maulvi Liaquat Ali
- Date of Revolution: June 1857
- Centers: Faizabad and Allahabad
Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah: Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah, known as the Light House of the Revolt of 1857, was the Maulvi of Faizabad. He actively fought for freedom alongside Nana Sahib and Khan Bahadur Khan during the Indian rebellion of 1857 and 1858. Ahmadullah Shah, leading the revolutionary army of Awadh with Barkat Ahmed, achieved a significant victory against Henry Montgomery Lawrence’s English army. However, he was treacherously shot and killed.
Maulvi Liaquat Ali: Maulvi Liaquat Ali, hailing from the village of Mahagaon in the Chail Pargana of Prayagraj, was a prominent leader during the 1857 Indian War of Independence against the British. The people of Chail provided their support to Liaquat Ali, including ammunition, in his resistance against the British forces.
He successfully captured Khusro Bagh and established it as his headquarters. However, the British recaptured Khusro Bagh within two weeks. After evading capture for 14 years, Maulvi Liaquat Ali was apprehended at Mumbai’s Byculla Railway Station in September 1871. He was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to Rangoon Jail (present-day Yangon), where he passed away on May 17, 1892, while in captivity.
Khan Bahadur Khan Ruhela
- Date of Revolution: June 1857
- Center: Bareilly
Khan Bahadur Khan: Khan Bahadur Khan Ruhela, the grandson of Hafiz Rahmat Khan, the second Nawab of Ruhelkhand, actively opposed the British during the Revolt of 1857. After the success of the rebellion in Bareilly, he formed his own government. However, when the Indian Rebellion of 1857 ultimately failed, Bareilly fell back under British control. Khan Bahadur Khan attempted to escape to Nepal but was captured by the local populace and handed over to the British. He was subsequently sentenced to death on February 24, 1860.
Major British heroes in the Revolt of 1857:
|Place of posting
|Date of suppression of a rebellion
|September 20, 1857
Some important and memorable facts related to the Revolt of 1857 include:
- Bahadur Shah served as the symbolic leader in Delhi, while the real leadership rested in the hands of a council of soldiers headed by Bakht Khan.
- Lord Canning was the Governor General of India during the time of the Revolt of 1857.
- The rebellion lacked a clear social blueprint for governance after seizing power.
- The rulers of Punjab, Rajputana, Hyderabad, and Madras did not participate in the Revolt of 1857.
- The rebellion faced various challenges, including a lack of unity, organization, and resources, which contributed to its failure.
- The zamindars of Bengal supported the British in suppressing the rebellion.
- B. D. Savarkar’s book, “India’s First War of Independence,” popularized the notion that the Revolt of 1857 was a planned national freedom struggle.
- The Revolt of 1857 involved not only the military but also various sections of society. Approximately 150,000 people lost their lives during the rebellion.
Revolution of 1857 Questions and Answers (FAQs):
Q: Who was the Governor General of India after the mutiny of 1857?
Ans: Lord Canning.
Q: Who called the Revolt of 1857 the First Indian War of Independence?
Ans: The rebellion is known by many names: Sepoy Mutiny (by British historians), Indian Mutiny, Great Mutiny (by Indian historians), Revolt of 1857, Indian Mutiny, and First War of Independence led by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
Q: Why was the mutiny of 1857 unsuccessful?
Ans: The mutiny of 1857 was unsuccessful because it lacked a strong sense of national unity and centralized leadership.
Q: Who led the Revolt of 1857 from Lucknow?
Ans: Begum Hazrat Mahal.
Q: Who was the Governor General of India during the Revolt of 1857?
Ans: Lord Canning.
Q: Where did Swami Dayanand Saraswati establish the first Arya Samaj in 1857?
Ans: In Bombay.
Q: Who, while analyzing the causes of the Revolt of 1857, advocated reconciliation between the British and the Muslims?
Ans: Syed Ahmed Barelvi.
Q: From which city did Begum Hazrat Mahal lead the Revolt of 1857?
Q: From where was Nana Saheb rebelling in the Revolt of 1857?
Q: Who started the Revolt of 1857?
Ans: The soldiers.
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