Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Revolt of 1857

The mighty upsurge Revolt of 1857 swept over many parts of Northern and Central India like an avalanche. The British Empire in India was rattled to its foundations. It was the most significant movement of resistance against European colonial rule. The Rebellion generated enormous literature, including eyewitness accounts by British administrators, officials and civilians, as well as an entire genre of 'mutiny stories' in English. While for a long period, British accounts dominated historical understanding of these events. Attention since Indian Independence has shifted to Indian participants and eyewitnesses. Some of the important sources that are used by historians to understand the event its causes and impact are given below along with reference to some sources that are yet to be put to use by intellectuals:-

The Revolt was reflection of all that had happened in the course of a hundred years and was an indicator of hate/distaste the Indian people had developed for the companies rule. This violent uprising was undoubtedly the manifestation of a "deep-seated disorder" erupted primarily out of the manifold grievances/political, economic, social, religious, and military of the Indian against the increasingly hateful British domination.


The Revolt of 1857


There were many causes for the event. They were intricate and interrelated and in fact reinforced each other to a greater extent.


1.       Economic Causes

The Complete destruction of traditional economic structure and fabric of India took place under the East India Company. The colonial policies favored the British traders, industries and impoverished large masses of peasants of artisans. The British Economic policy was also detrimental to the traditional rural arts and handicrafts and disrupted the balance between the two major sectors of the Indian economy - agriculture and industry. Moreover, excessive demands of revenue were the major cause of hardship of Indians. The tax burden periodically increased. Large number of traditional zamindars and chiefs were dispossessed.

Further, creation of right of private property in land, sale laws and other laws made the life of Indians miserable. The British systematically drained the wealth of the country. Because of the drain, the Indian people were subjected to increasing and excessive taxation. The British machine made goods and led to unprecedented destruction of Indian cottage and handicraft industries and ruined the artisans and craftsmen.

Apart from this the prevalence of corruptions at the lower levels of administration hurt the common man. At the same time the complex judicial system enabled the rich to oppress the poor. Annexations of territories resulted in huge unemployment as people employed by the older regimes - dependants of the princely courts, and artisans for example -were deprived of their livelihood.


2.       Political Causes

Politically unjustified ways were employed by British to establish effective control over Indian native states. This was disliked by all section of society. Lord Wellesley perfected the Subsidiary Alliance System. Lord Dalhousie's doctrine of lapse was only one of the many convenient tools for the extinction of the Indian States. The case of Oudh was unique. It was annexed on the ground of misgovernment. The Annexation of Oudh created panic among rulers of native states and considerably damaged the political prestige of the British. These actions also angered the Company's sepoys, most of who came from Oudh.

Apart from this Nana Saheb, the adopted heir of the ex-Peshwa, Baji Rao II was actually disowned by the British Government and his pension was terminated. The titular Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II was treated shabbily by the British official and there was a proposal to remove his successor from his ancestral palace in Delhi. These events and overall approach of British annoyed masses and the traditional aristocracy and generated suspicion in them. What bewildered the people was that the unflinching and determined loyalty of the rulers of Oudh was no protection against the increasing territorial cupidity of the British. It was safely assumed that the days of other Indian States too were numbered and this alarmed all concerned.


3.       Socio-Religious Causes

The revolt of 1857 was also caused due to certain issues pertaining to social and religious issues. British rule deprived the people of India of their traditional and natural leaders i.e. zamindars/tughlaqdars by dispossessing them. Zamindars/tughlaqdars often acted as father figure in the village society had reputation and respect in the society. New zamindars (Usually absentee land lords) were new class and hardly belonged to the village community owned its existence to the varying British policy was exploitative and least considerate even in moment of distress. Several humanitarian measures which Government had undertaken like abolition of sati, infanticide, validation of widow remarriage etc. annoyed the orthodox section of the society, who considered these as undesirable interference of alien Christian government in their religion and customs.

The suspicion that the British were out to convert Indians to Christianity was widely prevalent. The activities of the Christian missionaries who openly ridiculed and denounced the long cherished customs and traditions of the people, created a fear that under British rule their religion was in danger. Innovations as the laying of railway or the erection of telegraph lines appeared to masses as part of the grand design to proselytize them In the same light was viewed the introduction of Common messing in jails, as also the Act XXI of 1850 which enabled converts to inherit their ancestral property.

The official policy of taxing lands belonging to temples and mosques and to their priests who had been expemted from taxation by previous Indian rulers hurt the religious sentiments of the people. The cry or slogan of rebels like "customs and religion in danger" or "call of dharma or deen" etc. speaks about the fear and suspicion of the masses.


4.       Military Causes

Some scholars consider military issues to be the most important cause for the Revolt since they were at the core of the rebellion, its armed element, its most steadfast component. The seopys of the British Indian army were most unhappy with their employers because they were lowly paid, much less than the "British soldiers of the corresponding ranks. Sepoys were treated with contempt by their British officiers and were called niggers and Sooers (pgs). They had little career prospects. No Indian could rise higher than a 'Subedar'. Dissatisfaction of sepoys over the order that they would not be given the foreign allowances (the payment of Bhatt) while serving in Sindh and in Punjab. They also nourished grievances on religious and caste grounds. The sepoys considered the acts like forbidding them to wear caste and sectarian marks (beards, turbans etc.) as a direct interference in their religion. Every fresh recruit had to furnish an undertaking that he would serve overseas (under the General Enlistment Act, 1856). Moreover, the Act was a direct attack upon the Hindu caste system as the popular belief among the Hindus was that crossing the seas meant loss of caste.

Moreover, Rumors started circulating among the native soldiers that the British were trying to break caste and convert the sepoys to Christianity. It was said that all sepoys would be baptized and those refusing it would be a murdered en mass by a mine under the parade ground. It was rumored that all the armies of the Company had been killed in Burma and in the Crimean War.

It was also believed that the British had polluted sugar and mixed ground bullock's bones with flour and the sepoys were to be forced to eat cow's flesh.

Besides this the fact that sepoys were peasants in uniform and they shared all those fears and suspicions which were at the time assailing the mind of their kiths and kins unconnected with the army. Like the general mass of people, they were also seriously concerned about the activities of the missionaries and the innovations introduced by the government. Manner in which the ruler of Oudh/the home state of a large number of sepoys of Bengal Army - caused serious offense to them.

The increased ratio of Indian troops to British troops in India gave a sense of self-confidence to the Indian troop. The lowered prestige of the British due, to the reverses suffered by their armies in Afghanistan and the Punjab, the withdrawal of large number of Europeans from India for the Crimean War 1854-56 etc. created favorable conditions for the sepoys to make a bid to rebel.


5.       Immediate Causes

Sepoys believed that the Government was deliberately trying to destroy their religion by introducing Enfield rifle whose cartridges were greased with fat of beef and pig. The sepoys, both Hindus and Muslims were enraged and this became the immediate cause of revolt.


These were the main causes that led to the revolt of 1857 and marked the beginning of the Independence of India.



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