Did we learn the true reasons of it in the School? Perhaps not. Read on to know the real reasons for this great event.
The most important event in the annals of Indian History
Or we may call it a turning point is, what is popularly known as “The First Indian War Of Independence , 1857 “. The great event was the first effort towards freedom. And sowed the seeds of independence and rebellious spirit in the minds of the people; Who were subjugated to more than a century of the tyrannical rule of The East India Company .
The East India Company came to our country for pursuing trade; Slowly entrenched on our soil, finally emerging as rulers. This Historical event heralded a series of metamorphic changes in the country ; Forcing the British Rulers to see the writing on the wall ; And come to the conclusion that it is time to change the way ;The then The East India Company administered the conglomerate of score of Indian princely states .
Up rising and Rebellion of the Indians
Thus 1857 was a watershed one in the history of India. No doubt the British East India Company quelled the ‘up rising and rebellion of the Indians”. Thus paving the way for India to become a British colony. But nevertheless, the uprising shocked the British government. And was a big jolt for the imperial and expansionist intentions of the British. It resulted in many decisions that changed the fate of India. It is only then, the British government took matters to their hand. And proclaimed direct rule of the Indian states under the queen Victoria. It was through her representative ‘The Viceroy’, promulgating “Government Of India act 1858”.
The Revolt of 1857
Interestingly, such a historical milestone was very much sidelined by almost all British historians – Who for their own partisan reasons dismissed it derisively – As a mutiny or Uprising by disgruntled Indian Sipoys. And termed it as “ Sepoy mutiny of 1857” or “The Revolt of 1857”.
Some of them knowing the seriousness of circumstance, which forced the events, called it “The Great Revolt of 1857.” Others labelled it as “Soldier-Peasant Uprising” against the foreign rule. The rebels who were involved in the uprising were treated as traitors. And severe punishment was meted out to them and their leaders. It is very unfortunate that , what is documented as Indian history today is what was recorded by the British writers. Those, who at the behest of their rulers, gave a version which downplayed the heroic exploits of the Indian native soldiers and their leaders .
Infact, the rebellion of the Indian soldiers against their British officers attracted wide notice in England, France and Germany and United States. As the news of the revolt spread widely through out Great Britain, The matter was raised in British Parliament. In London Benjamin Disraeli in the House of Commons on 27 July 1857, asked, “Is it a military mutiny, or is it a national revolt?” several Marxist writers including Karl Marx expressed the similar doubts. According to leftist historians, the 1857 revolt was – “the struggle of the soldier-peasant democratic combine against foreign as well as feudal bondage” – which transpired into a national revolt.
The Holy Book for the Revolutionaries
Karl Marx treated it as a struggle for independence and called it as “The First Indian War of Independence- 1857-59” in his book carrying the same title. It is only after a near half century later , in 1907 , a sensational book written by Veer Savarkar , the doyen of revolutionaries of the Indian freedom struggle opposing the British rule, rekindled and strengthened the sentiments against the British rule. The book was slated to be released to commemorate the “Fiftieth Anniversary” of 1858 Revolt”.
The book , titled as “The Indian War of Independence 1857” caused such uproar against the imperial rulers and fanned countrywide support for revolutionaries like Bhagath Singh , Chandra Shekhar Azad, Ros Bihari Bose , Nethaji Subhash Chandra Bose and many more. The book banned by the British government even before its publication was published clandestinely in Europe and brought surreptiously to India and distributed through the network of revolutionaries. The book became the bible for the revolutionaries and provoked the patriotic feelings among the Indian soldiers in the british army during World War I and II.
Circumstances that led to revolution:
Though historians attribute the incidents which took place at Berhampur (Odisha) where soldiers of the 19th Native Infantry refuse rifle practice and involving the sepoy Mangal Panday in the barracks of barrackpore as the precursor of the revolution , many opine that it was merely a trigger and offshoot of the accumulated grievances of the people against the East India Company’s style of administration and of their dislike for the foreign regime. To get a picture of actual things which led to the revolt of the Indian soldiers against the company’s administration should visualise scenario of our country at that time . The country was struggling under the tyrannical rule of the British and how Indian civilians were oppressed by the cruel administration.
The reasons for the rebellion:
Let us now see the reasons that led to this great happening.
Introduction of use of Enfield riffles in the army
The East India Company’s army was mainly consisting of Indian Sepoys mainly drawn from Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs , all are deeply religious with lot of deep rooted traditional and religious practices. There was no love last between the Company officers and the Indian sepoys.They were in Company’s service for their livelihood , as the Company was one of the biggest employers in British India, as there were no big industry or factory to talk about. It was under this circumstances that the Company officers introduced the induction of Enfield riffles in the army. It was believed that the cartridges used in the riffles were made of pig fat and cow fat which were a taboo for the Muslims and Hindus respectively. The main persons behind this rebellion were the soldiers or sepoys as they were called .That is why the rebellion labelled as sepoy Mutiny by the British writers.
But the revolt did not remain limited to the soldiers, it soon encompassed civilians, farmers and others drawing support from several princes and Nawabs big and small alike, rapidly spread over much of the northern parts of India and took a massive form revolt.
Socio and Religious Causes:
No sooner the East India Company acquired control over the Indian princes ,Nawabs and other wealthy land lords in the country than they started meddling in the internal affairs of the princely states , abandoning its policy of non-interference in the socio-religious life of the Indians. They introduced certain ordinances like Abolition of Sati (1829), Hindu Widow Remarriage Act (1856), Abolition of Child marriage , all of which were imbibed in the society at that time.The Religious Disabilities Act of 1850 which modified the traditional Hindu law which According to it, the change in religion would not debar a son from inheriting the property of his deceased father. These measures were grossly unpopular soon fanning wide spread discontent, resentment and fury among the native populace.. Christian missionaries were encouraged to enter India and spread Christianity . The people resented the gradual westernisation of the country.
The British East India company’s rule had thoroughly destroyed cottage industry in the rural India which led to destruction of handloom industry resulting in hundreds of weavers loosing their jobs .It led to massive breakdown of the village self-sufficiency. Commercialisation of agriculture with emphasis on cash crops like tobacco. Jute, rubber and cotton , changed the priority and pattern of agriculture, burdening the peasantry whose main cultivation pattern centred around food crops like wheat, paddy, bajra etc , adoption of free trade practices, de- industrialization and draining of country’s wealth and its natural resources by the company’s rulers . all of which led to overall decline of economy.
Military Grievances and Discontent :
The extension of East India company’s dominion in India had drastically affected the service conditions of the Indian soldiers. For their service in the company’s army they were paid meagrely as compared to their British counter parts. There was gross disparity and discrimination between Indian and British ranks. They were required to serve in area away from their homes without the payment of extra allowances. The General Service Enlistment Act, 1856, which made it compulsory for the sepoys to cross the seas, whenever required caused military discontent .They were denied the free postage facilities which were available to their English counterparts.
The last major expansion of the British Indian territory took place during the time of Governor General Dalhousie. Dalhousie announced the draconian act called “Doctrine of Lapse “ made the Indian rulers insecure and angry.The promulgation for annexation of Kittur, Satara Jhansi, the cancellation pension to Nana Sahib ,all of which infuriated the Indian native princes. Even though company’s Board Of directors made some amends by cancelling the decision and restored some ruling houses like Baghat , Udaipur and Rajputana ,it was not enough and deep suspicion started getting created in the minds of the native princes that they will loose their kingdoms. Hence they were awaiting an opportunity for an uprising against company’s rule.
Thus the issue of greased cartridges and military grievances was a mere trigger which fired the first bullet of the rebellion of 1857 against the Company’s rule.. so one may come to the conclusion which is supported by recent research proving that the cartridge was neither the only cause nor even the most important. In fact, the multiple causes i.e., social-religious-political- economic reasons narrated above ,all worked together leading to the outbreak rebellion of 1857.
……….to be continued…..
Disclaimer : Author has referred to history books and opinions expressed here is of Author’s.