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
were many causes that ultimately lead to this revolt.
For the sake of convenience they can divided into
the following categories.
and Religious Causes
Social and Religious Causes
A. Change in pattern of trade and
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
C. Disgruntled Zamindars and
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
F. New Laws
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
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
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
B. British disregard of treaties
C. Exposure of myth of British
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. Ill-Treatment of Indian Soldiers
in The East India Company
B. Deprivation of foreign service
C. General Services Enlistment
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
re-gathered their momentum for home rule