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The Revolt of 1857

· In 1857, a Revolt broke out in Northern and Central India and nearly swept away British rule.

· The Revolt began with a mutiny of the sepoys, or the Indian soldiers of the Company's army, but soon engulfed wide regions and people. Millions of peasants, artisans, and soldiers fought heroically for over a year and by their courage and sacrifice wrote a glorious chapter in the history of the Indian people.

· The Revolt of 1857 was much more than a mere product of sepoy discontent. It was, in reality, a product of the accumulated grievances of the people against the Company's administration and of their dislike for the foreign regime.

Immediate Cause of Revolt

·· The new Enfield rifle had been introduced in the army. Its cartridges had a greased paper cover whose end had to be bitten of before the cartridge was loaded into the rifle.

· The grease was in some instances composed of beef and pig fat. The sepoys, Hindu as well as Muslim, were enraged, as the use of the greased cartridges would endanger their religion.

· Many of the sepoys, believed that the Government was deliberately trying to destroy their religion.

· The major causes of 1857 Revolt can be studied under the following heads


Economic Cause

· the most important cause of the people’s discontent was the economic exploitation of the country by the British and the complete destruction of its traditional economic fabric.

Socio-Political Cause

· Other general causes of revolt were the British land revenue policies and the systems of law and administration. In particular, a large number of peasant proprietors lost their lands to traders and most of the lenders found themselves hopelessly burden under debt.

· The common people were hard hit by the prevalence of corruption at the lower levels of administration. The police, petty officials, and lower (law) courts were notoriously corrupt.

· The middle and upper classes of Indian society, particularly in the North, were hard hit by their exclusion from the well-paid higher posts in the administration. · Displacement of Indian rulers by the East India Company meant the sudden withdrawal of the patronage and the impoverishment of those who had depended upon it.

· Religious preachers, pandits, and maulavis, who felt that their entire future was threatened, were to play an important role in spreading hatred against the foreign rule.

· · The British army suffered major reverses in the First Afghan War (1838-42) and the Punjab Wars (1845-49), and the Crimean War (I854-56).

· In 1855-56, the Santhal tribesmen of Bihar and Bengal rose up armed with axes and bows and arrows and revealed the potentialities of a popular uprising by temporarily sweeping away British rule from their area.

· The British ultimately won these wars and suppressed the Santhal uprising; however, the disasters British suffered in major battles revealed that the British army could be defeated by determined fighting, even by an Asian army.

· The annexation of Avadh by Lord Dalhousie in 1856 was widely resented in India in general and in Avadh in particular. It created an atmosphere of rebellion in Avadh and in the Company's army. · Dalhousie's action angered the Company's sepoys, as most of them came from Avadh.

· The annexations rule of Dalhousie, created panic among rulers of the native states. They now discovered that their most groveling loyalty to the British had failed to satisfy the British greed for territory.

· This policy of annexation was, for example, directly responsible for making Nana Sahib, the Rani of Jhansi, and Bahadur Shah their staunch enemies.

· Nana Sahib was the adopted son of Baji Rao II, the last Peshwa. The British refused to grant Nana Sahib the pension they were paying to Baji Rao II, who died in 1851.

· The British insistence on the annexation of Jhansi incensed the proud of Rani Lakshmibai who wanted her adopted son to succeed her deceased husband.

· The house of the Mughals was humiliated when Dalhousie announced in 1849 that the Successor to Bahadur Shah would have to abandon the historic Red Fort and move to a humbler residence at the Qutab on the outskirts of Delhi.

· In 1856, Canning announced that after Bahadur Shah's death, the Mughals would lose the title of kings and would be known as mere princes.

Religious Cause

· An important role in turning the people against British rule was played by their fear that it endangered their religion. The missionaries tried to convert people and made violent and vulgar public attacks on Hinduism and Islam. They openly ridiculed and denounced the long cherished customs and traditions of the people.

· In 1850, the Government enacted a law, which enabled a convert to Christianity to inherit his ancestral property. · The sepoys also had religious or caste grievances of their own. The Indians of those days were very strict in observing caste rules, etc.

· The military authorities forbade the sepoys to wear caste and sectarian marks, beards, or turbans. · In 1856, an Act was passed under which every new recruit undertook to serve even overseas, if required. This hurt the sepoys' sentiments as, according to the current religious belief of the Hindus, travel across the sea was forbidden and led to less of caste.

Historical Cause

· The sepoys' dissatisfaction was because of the recent order that they would not be given the Fo