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India's First War of Independence, termed Sepoy Riots by the British was an attempt to unite India against the invading British and to restore power to the Mogul emperor Bahadur Shah. The resistance disintegrated primarily due to lack of leadership and unity on the part of Indians, as also to cruel suppression by the British Army. It was a remarkable event in Indian history and marked the end of the Mughal empire and sealed India's fate as a British colony for the next 100 years.

Causes for the Revolt

There were many causes that ultimately lead to this revolt. For the sake of convenience they can divided into the following categories.

1.Social and Religious Causes
2.Political Causes
3.Military Causes

Revolt of 1857

1. Social and Religious Causes

A. Change in pattern of trade and commerce
During the first two hundred years of its rule , the British East India Company confined its activities to trade and commerce. But in the 18th century the pattern of trade underwent a drastic change. With the onset of the the industrial revolution in England, many new industries came up and the dependance on Indian textiles came to an end. India became a raw material producing country and raw material which was purchased from India at very low costs was processed into finished goods in the factories in England and then exported back to India. British traders made enormous profits in this two way trade.

B. Ruination of Artisans and Craftsmen

C. Disgruntled Zamindars and Taluqdars
The estates of many landlords were taken over by the East India Company when the native provinces came under the company's dominion. The estates of 21,000 Taluqdars were confiscated when Oudh was annexed. The dispossesed landlords found themselves without a source on income, ashamed to beg,unable to work and thus condemned to penury.

D. Disbanded soldiers were seething with anger and were determined to revenge.

E. Activities Of Missionaries
The Indians had a lurking suspicion in their minds that they would be converted to Christianity under the new regime. CHurches and chaplains were established at Govt. expenses , even civil and military officers propogated the Christian gospel.

F. New Laws
The introduction of certain laws unsettled the mind of the Indians. Some of them were :
Sati Ban Act
Widow Remarriage Act
They even looked upon the reforming zeal of British officials with suspicion. They were against introduction of railways as all the castes would have to travel in the same compartment. They were shocked when a law was passed allowing Hindu converts to Christianity to inherit their ancestral property.

2. Political Causes

A. Lord Dalhousies Policy Of Annexation (Doctrine of Lapse)
According to this policy the rulers of native princes could not install their adopted son on the throne. This was opposed to Nana Sahib - the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II as he was refused the pension his father had been getting. Rani Laxmi Bai was also not allowed to install her adopted son on the throne. The house of the Mughals was humbled when it was announced that the successors of Bahadur Shah Zafar would not be allowed to use the title of King and would not be allowed to use the Historc Red Fort as thier palace and had to move to a place near the Qutb Minar.

B. British disregard of treaties and pledges

C. Exposure of myth of British Invincibilty
The British had suffered very heavy losses in the 1st Afghan War , the rebellion of the Santhal tribes of Bihar and Orissa and the Crimean War. Moreover the people believed that the British rule had started after the battle of Plassey in 1757 and would end after the completion of a century.

3. Military Causes

A. Ill-Treatment of Indian Soldiers in The East India Company

B. Deprivation of foreign service allowance (Bhatta)

C. General Services Enlistment Act
According to this act the Indian soldiers in the EI Company had the obligation to serve wherever required. The extension of British frontiers involved their presence in strange, different lands. They dreaded sea voyage and considered it against their customs.

D. Enfield Rifles
This was perhaps the immediate cause of the revolt. The British introduced new rifles which had cartridges greased with the fat of cows and pigs. The cover had to be plucked out by the teet before using. The Hindu and Muslim sepoys refused tot ouch these cartridges.

Events Of The Revolt


The violence started on May 10, 1857 in Meerut, when Pandey, a soldier in the Army shot his commander for forcing the Indian troops to use the controversial rifles. Indians constituted 96% of the 300,000 British Army and the violence against British quickly spread (Hence the name Sepoy Mutiny). The local chiefs encouraged scattered revolts in hopes of regaining their lost privileges.

Siege of Delhi

Bahadur Shah II, pensioned descendant of the Mogul dynasty, was popularly acclaimed emperor. On June 8 a British relief force defeated an army of mutineers at Badli Sari and took up a position on the famous ridge, overlooking the city of Delhi. Nominally the besieging force, they were themselves besieged by the mutineers, who made a daring attempt to intercept their train. The arrival of more British reinforcements finally led to the defeat of the mutineers by John Nicholson, commander of the relief force. After six days of street fighting, Delhi was recaptured.  This action was the turning point in the campaign and is known as Siege of Delhi. Bahadur Shah was captured and was exiled to Burma.

British Take Control

  In spite of the loyalty of the Sikh troops, conquered only eight years before, and of the Gurkhas, the British commander, Sir Colin Campbell, had a difficult task. In addition to quelling the disturbance, he also had to protect the Ganges Valley and all of Hindustan against possible attacks from central India, to the south. Forces were dispatched from Madras and Bombay. However, the revolt had quickly spread to Kanpur and Lucknow. Kanpur, on the Ganges 250 miles southeast of Delhi, surrendered to the mutineers on June 28, 1857, and was the scene of a massacre before it was recaptured by the British on July 16. Lucknow, 45 miles  to the northeast, had been immediately besieged by the mutineers and was relieved by Henry Havelock's troops on September 25, five days after the final reoccupation of Delhi, the other chief center of the mutiny. However, Havelock's forces, even when joined by those of James Outram, were not strong enough to disarm and remove the enemy garrison, and they had to be relieved on November 16 by troops under Colin Campbell. The civilians of Lucknow were evacuated, but not until the siege of Mar. 9-16, 1858, had enough British troops massed to defeat the rebel army.

The final stage of the mutiny took place in central India, which was aroused by a roving band of rebels under the Maratha General Tatya Tope. After his capture and execution in April 1859, the leaderless mutineers were soon pacified.

Why It Failed?

* Native Indian states, influenced by the example of powerful Hyderabad, did not join the rebels

* Sikh soldiers of the Punjab area remained loyal to the British throughout. The Sikhs were a strong, well trained army, who the British had conquered using Indian soldiers.

* The aging Bahadur Shah was neither a brave general, nor an astute leader of the people


In England, the mutiny proved the last straw on the heavy load of criticism and opposition which the East India Company had carried for some time. In August 1858, by the Act for the Better Government of India, its political authority was entrusted to a secretary of state.  In August 1858 the British crown assumed control of India from the East India Company  and in 1877 Queen Victoria was crowned empress of India. The mutiny played a pivotal role in Anglo-Indian history. The British afterward became cautious and defensive about their empire, while many Indians remained bitter and would never trust their rulers again. It was not until the emergence of Indian National Congress and Mahatma Gandhi   that Indians  re-gathered their momentum for home rule

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