The rebellion of 1857 (also named as Sepoy Mutiny, Indian Mutiny, North India’s First War of Independence and North India’s first struggle for independence) was the first rebellion for the independence of India. It was a very important event and the first mass rebellion against the British Government which, according to the sources, was initiated on 10th May 1857 from Meerut.
East India Company was ruling India at that time and most of its policies were against the people of India so it was also a major reason for this Rebellion. The rebellion of 1857 gave an unexpected result because it was started as a Sepoy Mutiny but later emerged as the rebellion of the people against the British.
History of Rebellion of 1857
With the victory in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, East India Company had established its dominion in India. It wanted to rule all over India and use all the assets and resources for its own profit. Charles John Canning also knew as Lord Canning was the Governor-General of British India at that time.
The Rebellion of 1857 was not the first rebellion against British but there were many other small rebellions before it in different parts of India which failed to acquire mass participation. The few of the important revolts are:
- Sanyasi Revolt: The Sanyasi Revolt was initiated in Bengal in late 18th It was the period when Bengal was going through a terrible famine. The people were dying of hunger but the British Government was indifferent to this situation. Also, the Indian public was not allowed to visit their holy places which aroused the Indian Sanyasis’ to Rebel. The detailed information of the Sanyasi Revolt is found in ‘Anandmath’ of Bankim Chandra Chattarji.
- Chuad Rebellion: The Chuad Rebellion was started by the people of Kurmi society against the East India Company. The Company was illegally selling the forests and the lands of people without their consent. When Kurmi people opposed it, the people of the Company started beating them. Being fed up with this incident, they started a Rebellion in the leadership of Raghunath Mahato against the British Government.
- Nayak Rebellion: Nayak is a group of people in Bagadi of Rajasthan. These people also could not escape from the atrocities of the Company and the British Government. Achal Singh was the leader of the Nayaks and together with his people he rebelled against the British Government. The result of the revolt was quite in the favor of the Nayaks but a traitor betrayed and Achal Singh was arrested.
- The Great Rebel of 1824: The great rebel of 1824 is called the pioneer of Revolt of 1857. Gurjars played a very important role in this rebellion. It was started in 1824 and continued for the next 5 months. This Gurjar Rebellion was led by Rana Vijay Singh who was a revolutionary leader. The Rebellion was started when Rana Singh got the news of the defeat of the British Government in the Battle of Burma in 1824. Like other rebellions, this one also ended in failure due to lack of Arms and Ammunitions and Rana Vijay Singh was killed by the British Government.
- Santhal Rebellion: Santhal is a native group of Bengal and Bihar. At that time, Santhals were imposed with many taxes by the British Government and they were unable to bear its burden. The government had appointed few persons to collect the taxes. They also used to sexually harass the women of Santhal group. All these incidents provoked Santhals to rebel against the British Government. Sidho Kanho was their leader but thousands of Santhals were killed and soon the rebel was suppressed.
There were many other movements and Rebellions started in India. Few of them are The Jungle Mahal Rebellion in 1767, The Second military rebellion of Bengal in 1795, Vellore’s Rebellion in 1803, Mahikant Rebellion of Gujarat in 1836 and Military uprising of 1855, etc.
Causes of Revolt
India already had many local revolts before but the revolt of 1857 was the first which was followed by the Major population of India. As it was a mass rebellion so it was sure that it must not have happened because of one, two or a few reasons. There were many reasons for this rebellion to be accompanied by the majority. Few of them are:
- Economic Causes: The British government used to beat Indian people and rob their properties, which led Indian people to live in poverty and die with hunger. They imposed a number of taxes on Farmers and Landlords which created dissatisfaction against them. Many Indian families involved in Small industries had no money to continue the running of their businesses.
- Political Causes: The Doctrine of Lapse by Lord Dalhousie created a sense of fear and dissatisfaction among the rulers of India. According to this rule, “Any ruler who does not have a natural heir to the throne would have to forfeit the right to rule for his future generation.” This was clearly a policy to grab control over the whole of India. It created a sense of discontentment among the people and rulers of India.
- Social Cause: The British Government was completely against of few Indian Orthodox customs like ‘Sati Pratha’, Bal-Vivah’ and initiated ‘Vidhwa Punarvivah’ which created anger among Indians Conservatives. They started spreading Western Cultures in India and introduced Rails and Posts which was unacceptable for Indians. Also, the company was in support of spreading Christianity and so the people of other religions were disregarded.
- Military Causes: The condition of Indian people working in the British Army was very pitiable. They were the victims of partiality. The salary of an Indian soldier used to be Rs. 7 or 8 but he was actually paid Rs. 1 or 2. The salary of British army personals was approximately 5 times the salary of the Indian army personals on the same post. The Sikh soldiers in the Army were forced to remove their hair which was just an exploitation of the soldiers.
The Rise of the Rebellion
It was 29th March in 1857, 42 days before the rebellion. A soldier of the British Army named Mangal Pandey refused to use the bullets because their covers were made of the fats of Cows and Pigs. He with his friends raised the voice against the use of those bullets and denied to use them so the British Government sent his people to capture Mangal Pandey. He shot every British who wanted to fight him or arrest him. By the way, he was arrested and was sentenced to life imprisonment but later was hanged on 8th April that year. Many other soldiers were also arrested for not using the bullets and the incident started the rebellion of 1857 in many parts of India.
Finally, the first rebellion for independence started on 10th May 1857 from Meerut. The arrested soldiers broke the Jail and killed many British Officers. On hearing the news of the revolt of Indian soldiers, the people of Meerut also revolted against the British Government. Dhan Singh Gurjar, who himself was a Kotwal in the army, was leading the revolt. Then they left for Delhi to spread their revolt. Slowly the revolt started in other parts of India in the leadership of some great personalities which are as follows:
- General Bakht Khan – Delhi
- Gajadhar Singh – Gorakhpur
- Begum Hazrat Mahal – Lucknow
- Maulawi Ahmadullah – Faizabad
- Khan Bahadur – Bareilly
- Nana Sahab – Kanpur
- Tatya Tope – Gwalior
- Rani Laksmi Bai – Jhansi
- Liyaqat Ali – Allahabad/Prayagraj
- Kunwar Singh – Bihar
- Humayun – Mandsaur
- Devi Singh – Mathura
The Rebellion was also continued in many other parts of British India.
The Result of Rebellion of 1857
Now the major parts of India had revolted and continued it for a long time. The British Government was stunned and was unable to take any action because the number of Indian soldiers in the British Army was much more than that of British Soldiers. Also, the British Government lured Sikhs and Madrasi soldiers in their favor. The British used many tactics and conducted many massacres and finally, Lord Canning announced that the great rebellion was completely suppressed.
Causes of Failure of ‘Rebellion of 1857’
Besides mass co-operation in the revolt of 1857, it was ended with failure. However, it was not completely failed except it brought many major changes in the Administration still it is said to be ended with failure only because it could bring many more changes and also the freedom of India from the British Sovereignty. The few major reasons for the failure of this revolt are as below:
- Since the revolts in different parts of India were led by the different leaders so they were not united and it was a big reason for is a failure.
- Sikh and Madrasi soldiers who should have supported the revolt were working for the British Government.
- The rebellions of India were also lacking good ammunitions while the British soldiers had modern arms and guns.
- The British Army consisted of well-trained soldiers while Indian rebellions did not have any training.
- The Indian Rebellions also lacked capital and good transportation which became an obstacle for them.
- And one of the major reasons for the failure of the Rebellion was the lack of integration and sense of National Welfare as rebellion in different parts of India was started with the problems of their local people. It caused a lack of integration and co-operation.
The Revolt of 1857 was a very mass rebellion. Though it ended with failure, it brought some unprecedented and important changes in the British Government. These important changes were:
- The Doctrine of Lapse which was a curse for the people of India and which had devastated many families was put to an end after the revolt.
- The East India Company was completely removed and the power of ruling was transferred to Queen Victoria.
- After the next few years, the post of Governor-General was changed to Viceroy which used to serve under the Queen.
- The Queen asked for the supports of the Kings of India for a successful administration and also assisted them with her support.
- The failure of the Rebellion inspired the people of India to follow the concept of brotherhood and integration.
- The ratio of Indian to British in the army was fixed to 2:1 which before the revolt was 5:1.
So we see that the Revolt of 1857, which started as a Sepoy Mutiny became a complete Rebellion and ended with a number of major changes in India. It can be viewed as the victory over the East India Company and its unfair policies. The revolt made the British Government understand its responsibilities for Indians. The revolt of 1857 also delivered a message to the British Government not to underestimate Indian so he decided to increase the number of British Soldiers in the Army.
Now the Rebellion for Independence has started and somewhere it was clear that the people have become united and are ready to fight for their freedom and will achieve it at any cost.