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Real Reasons for The First Indian War Of Independence , 1857

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.

Economic Reasons: 

           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.

Political Reasons: 

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.

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A.V.Prasanna Gopal
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