The revolt of 1857 was one of the greatest & most significant developments in the history of the 19th century. This revolt had shaken the foundation of British Rule. It spread like wildfire & had engulfed almost all of North India. But despite being an event of such great significance, scholars had put forward opinion about the nature and character of the revolt of 1857.
The Major Causes of revolt
Like other uprisings before the revolt of 1857, the causes of this revolt also seemed to have emerged from all aspects of social & cultural, political, religious, and economic which were of daily existence for the Indian population related to all sections and classes. Let’s discuss all the causes one by one.
Social and Religious reasons
The attitude of British officials towards Indian natives was racial and full of a superiority complex. In addition to this nature, Christian missionaries from England were trying to influence the religion of Indian natives which makes them suspicious. Other than this, several reforms such as the abolition of Sati pratha, support to widow-remarriage, and education for girls seemed to be considered as a hindrance in the social and cultural practices being followed for many years. Also, the British decided to collect tax from Mosque and Temples angered the locals, thus creating hatred among them for British officials.
The policies being followed by the East India company were colonial which ultimately destroyed the traditional economy of Indian society. The implementation of various Land settlements systems made peasants completely disable and dependent only on landlords or traders. High taxation on peasants eradicate them as landlords and made traders & moneylenders as the new Landlords.
The colonial policies of the company completely discouraged the Indian handicrafts and in place of Indian handicrafts, British goods were promoted. Highly skilled Indian craftsmen were forced to search for new employment sources for their livelihood. British Administration forfeited the land rights of Zamindars by use of quo warranto.
The greedy policy of the Company for the expansion of British colonies by breaking pledges and oath seems to have triggered this revolt against them. The devastating policy of annexing other states put them in direct conflicts with rulers and local natives. Lord Dalhousie’s Doctrine of Lapse which denied succession to the throne to Hindu princes, made princes and rulers to uproar their voice against the East India Company.
It was famously told that the Indian sepoy mutiny in 1857 was only based on the religious ground that was hurt due to animal fat greased cartridge. But that was not only the single thing for which Indian sepoy in the company’s army mutinied upon. Yes, there was a religious reason for sure, but that was not only due to rumors being spread about animal fat greased cartridge. Numerous religious and non-religious factors lead to the Indian sepoy’s mutiny.
In the British Company army, religious or caste-based sectarian marks were not allowed. Christian missionaries under the British flag were continuing to work on their mission of proselytizing Indian sepoys and local natives. Also, there was Brahmanical influence in the Company’s army, and there was a belief among religious Hindu that if anyone crossed the sea i.e. moved outside of the nation, then they will loose there caste and religion. And that will force them to get convert into Christian as there own society and religion will reject them. So, most of the Brahmans sepoys refused to move outside the nation. This leads to the disengagement of the Bengal army by Lord Canning in 1856, causing more resentment among soldiers.
Also, emoluments being paid to the Indian sepoy was quite low when compared to their British counterpart of the same rank. Also, Indian sepoys were not allowed foreign service allowances by the company when they were on the mission in Punjab and Sindh.
Nature of Revolt of 1857
According to Sir John Lawrence, the revolt of 1857 was a revolt of a selfish army. According to L.E. Rees, it was a war of religious fanatics against Christians. According to James Outram & W. Taylor, it was a Hindu-Muslim conspiracy. According to T.R. Holmes, it was a war between civilization & barbarism.
According to Benjamin Disraeli, the leader of opposition in the British parliament at the time of the revolt, it was a national revolt. According to V.D. Savarkar, the revolt of 1857 was the 1st war of Indian independence. According to R.C. Majumdar, the revolt of 1857 was neither 1st nor national nor a war of independence.
Real Character of Revolt of 1857
Different views put forward by a scholar about the character of this great revolt reflect their brasses & understanding. The real character of revolt only comprehended only by having looked at aims, objects, methods, the spread of revolt & its success/failure. The revolt of 1857 did not result in any sudden development but in reality, its causes were inherent in the very constitution of British Rule. The revolt was unplanned.
Some historians tried to prove that the message of revolt was propagated through lotus flower & chapattis. But even Britain had failed to prove that revolt was planned one. At the time it was emphasized that revolt was planned by Maulvi Ahmadullah & Rangoji Bapu in London. But there is no truth in such contents. The outbreak of revolt came as a great surprise to everybody.
Britain made every effort to prove that Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Jafar was part of planning so that he couldn’t be hanged but they could not find any evidence of planning of revolt. Rebels wanted to turn the clock to the pre-British period to which Bahadur Shah Jafar was the right full representative.
The revolt was anti-British because every British institution was attacked their buildings were burnt & whites were killed. The revolt was violent, the extent excess was coming from both sides. The revolt of 1857 was not 1st revolt against British Rule because the tradition of Revolts & Rebellions against British Rule was going on since 1763 itself. But at the same time, it must be emphasized that this revolt was 1st of this kind in terms of the scale of mass participation.
In terms of the modern understanding of nationalism, the revolt was not nationalist. The rebels were motivated by their interest not by any common national cause. Rani Laxmibai fought for Jhansi, Begum Hazrat Mahal – Awadh. Though it’s difficult to accept the national character of revolt in the modern sense it can’t be denied that rebels were nationalists in a local sense.
Nationalist understanding in time-specific because the idea of nation varied from period to period. At that time Jhansi was a nation for Laxmibai & Awadh was a nation for Begum Hazrat Mahal. The revolt was not the war of Indian independence because the concept of India as one unit was absent but this revolt was a war of independence.
What begins for a fight for religion in March 1857 very soon transformed into a war of independence because there was not the slightest doubt that rebels wanted to get rid of the alien government & restore the old order of which kind of Delhi the rightful representative. It was a mass revolt because at many places like the Awadh region, Jagdispur & parts of Central India, the mutiny of sappy followed by a popular uprising. It commented that what being as sappy mutiny ended up as a mass revolt.
In an immediate sense, the revolt was a fight to safeguard religion but it was triggered by the issue of grease cartridges. The revolt failed in overthrowing British Rule. The rebels were suppressed by the British but at the same time, it must be emphasized that this revolt was not a complete failure. This revolt shocked the foundation of British Rule & forced the British government to imitate several changes in the politico-admin military, economic & cultural activities.
Through the government India Act 1858, the rule of East India Company brought to an end & direct British Rule commenced in India. The Queen’s proclamation read by Governor-General Lord Canning at Allahabad at 1st November 1858 marked as a fundamental shift in the character of British Rule because it emphasized that no territorial expansion would be carried out in India, no discrimination was carried out in the appointment of state, and no interference would make in personal life people.
Indian administration will be carried out by keeping in mind the largest interest of Indian. Also, the number of changes in the military strength of Indian soldiers was reduced from 2.38 lacs to 1.48 lacs. Indians were divided into marshal & non-marshal group. Groups that participated in revolt were termed unfit for military services. The group helped in revolt suppression marshal.
Battalion raised along caste & regional lines so that one could be used against others in an emergency. A very cautious & conservative approach adopted by the British in India in 1858 liberal & program references has abounded conservative elements like Radhakant Dev. The policy of direct plunder of Indian resources was dropped. Hereafter Indians exploited discretely by using the instrument of Euro financial capital & home charges.
The outlook of the Native system was also changed because the native ruler played important role in the suppression of the revolt. The policy of subordination isolation got replaced by the policy of the subordinate union after 1858. British had realized that native rulers were not their enemies & their support would be crucial in the continuation of British Rule in India.