The mutiny of 1857 was a turning point in the history of India under British rule. This event is considered as one of the most dangerous threats to rulers of contemporary India. The mutiny caused some very significant changes in the history of India and affected every aspect of the India. This paper intends to discuss 1857 mutiny and further probes what were the principal causes and characteristics of the Mutiny of 1857.
1857 mutiny took place in the year 1857 when some soldiers revolted against their employer, East India Company. This revolt was resulted due to number of grievances that these soldiers had against the company, but surfaced only when rebel soldiers came to know that the bullets they are given are greased with pork and beef fat, and they have to bite the same before using the same. This angered both Hindu and Muslim soldiers in different parts of India, and they revolted against their superiors (Bose and Jalal, 2004).
In order to understand the mutiny of 1857, its causes and its repercussions, it is necessary to evaluate the contemporary state of affairs of India. A number of factors were responsible for the abovesaid mutiny that changed the history of British rule in India. The structuring of company’s force, religious, regional, political, financial, demographic and spontaneous reasons accumulated and caused this mutiny. India was ready for a revolt since a long time and the cartridge of Enfield rifle sparked the fire (Bhadra, 1985).
Caste, subcastes, and religion were very prominent factors that guided the Indian society since time immemorial. Even British could not tackle this issue in the way, they wanted to do. They recruited sepoys from the upper caste hindus like Brahmin, Rajputs and Bhumihars. A major part of these people came from Awadh and other parts of the northern India. Thes epeople were very sensitive towards their caste and religious issues and any thing that hurt their caste or religion was completely intolerable to them.
Indian soldiers constituted a major part of the British army in India, but they were treated in the most inhuman manner. Their superiors used to abuse them and humiliate them very often. Indian Sepoys were not paid as their white counterparts, and they were kept confined as sepoys only as the higher posts were given only to the British. As a fundamental part of the Indian society, Sepoys were also the sufferers of British exploitations and did not hesitate from revolting when they got a chance.
British introduced various social reforms in the Indian society which were seen as an intervention in the internal matters of the indian society. Indians became suspicious about the activities of British, and they became angry when they were ordered to stop sati pratha, child marriages and rearranging widow marriages. Women education and a couple of other steps angered Indians, and they developed a feeling of hate and anger towards British. Indians also feared that British are doing all in order to convert them into Christianity.
Economic exploitation of India by the east India company and their employees was one of major reasons that angered Indians. Economic exploitation affected every segment of the society. Farmers were burdened by higher taxes and inflexible system of revenue collection. Craftsmen, weavers, suffered loss of business as British flooded Indian markets with their cheap imported products. People who used to earning their livelihood by working in the religious sector lost their earnings and regard as they were not given any protection nor were they encouraged by the state anymore.
Economic exploitation by the British always angered Indians. Not only common people but sepoys and other intellectuals were sad seeing this loot by the British. Economic fabrication of indian society was ruprtured by the British in order to capture the Indian economy. This loot of indian resources was a major reason that caused the mutiny of 1857. The only intention of the East India Company was to make money and all their policies were designed with this perspective. The british robbed Indians by making various harsh policies and mode of revenue collection.
Several political decisions including annexation of Awadh by British, angered people of the region as well as soldiers who belonged to this region. Local lords and peasants became the bitter enemy of the British as their interests were directly affected by such acts of the British. Annexation of Indian states by British on grounds of Doctrine of lapse and misgovernance were highly criticized, and some eminent leaders Lakshmi Bai, and Nana Saheb waged war against British. Such tricks and political games were considered as deceitfulness of British and Indians decided to teach them a lesson on an appropriate time.
When British annexed the Awadh and Jhansi, people became suspicious about their intentions. The annexation was done by the British on frivolous grounds and it angered not only the rulers of these states but it also angered the soldiers who belonged to these states. These steps impacted soldiers in several ways. Their economic interest was defied as their ‘bhatta’ (perks) was reduced. They were emotionally attached to these provinces and when they saw that British have captured their places, they were angry.
Lack of proper organisation and communication among the army worsened the things. British were the officers while Indians were the sepoys, and there was not any cordination between officers and the lower rank officials. Low rank sepoys had no values in eyes of officials. They never bothered to know their opinions and their problems. Sepoys were always considered and treated like animals by the British. The lack of communication between the officers and sepoys was a major issue.
The soldiers, across India, were given new emerald rifle that was much powerful than the rifles they were using since a long time. The cartridges, which were used in these rifles, were coated with pork and beefs fat, and soldiers were to bite the cartridge before using it. This angered Indian soldiers and they revolted against their superiors on grounds that it was deliberately conspired to hurt the religious feelings of both hindus and muslims (Metcalf and Metcalf, 2012).
Mangal Pandey is known as the leader of this mutiny who shot two British officials on 29 march 1857 in the Barrackpore. Mangal Pandey and his unit were to be punished for the refusal of orders. The whole unit refused to obey the commands of their superiors on the issue of disputed cartridges and their use. Mangal Pandey was hanged by the British for his act, but the uprising started spreading in other parts.
Sepoys in Meerut and Delhi refused to used the cartridges and revolted. They captivated some British and moved towards Delhi. Rebels attacked and killed several British officers, civilians and their family. They captured Delhi and kept this place in their control for a couple of months. Mutineers declared Bahadur Shah Zafar as their leader and requested him to lead the expedition against the British. Old Bahadur Shah Zafar accepted their request and took the charge of the mutiny.
The mutiny was spreading in different parts and local lords as well as several tribes, khaps were also joining the mutiny. Local leaders like Shah Mal, Devi Singh, and Gonoo waged wars against British and contributed a lot in this mutiny. Lakshmi Bai lead the campaign from Jhansi while, in Cawnpore, hundreds of British men, women were killed by Nana Saheb, one of major leaders of the mutiny (Bayly, 2002).
Lakshmi Bai captured the region of Bundelkhand and Eastern Rajasthan. The queen was angry with the British because they annexed her state on the ground of doctrine of lapse. She became thecenter of this mutiny, and it became hard for the British to take these regions back from the Lakshmi Bai. She was killed by the British forces while fighting against the British in the battle of Gwalior.
In states of Arrah and Jaunpur, British suffered huge losses, and they lost control of these areas. It became difficult from them to regain these areas in the presence of very strong lords such as Kunwar Singh in Arrah and Rajput lords of Jaunpur. They damaged British substantially but with the help of Sikh forces, British gained control of these areas. Rajputs, on the other hand, suffered heavy losses in terms of human lives and area.
The British officials planned to regain in the mutineers in a slow manner. It seems that they initially either underestimated mutineers or were not prepared for such situation. They started their operation and could recapture lost regions just because they were supported by some Indian states. Sikhs and Pathans supported British while rebels could not get any assistance from other parts of the India, and they were fighting at their own.
British forces handled mutineers with the utmost brutality especially after knowing about massacre of Cawnpore. They started killing mutineers in the most brutal manner and also in the open view to gave the message to others. British took assistance from other Indian states who were not supporting mutineers. They got most of their regions in few months only, although they suffered huge losses by the mutiny of 1857.
British gained control of lost empire within one year of the mutiny though they suffered substantial loss. British were slow in reacting but when they react, they suppressed the mutineers in a brutal manner. The mutineers were either killed or imprisoned and the landlords who helped these mutineers were punished brutally. Several states were annexed in the British Empire after killing the kings and queens by the British.
Acts of violence were committed by mutineers as well as British in the mutiny of 1857. People from both sides lost their lives and property. This mutiny affected the Indian history as well as the British history in a substantial manner. The company rule was ended, and British crown took control of the Indian empire. The goal of British from Converting Indians into Christianity was shifted to rule and exploit India.
India, after transfer of power, witnessed a new era of suppressing rule. New administrators made economic, military, and administrative reforms. Changes were visible in every area of the Indian society. New administrators were strategically strong and prepared for any unwanted situations like mutiny of 1857. India was made as a market for the British products. Indians became poorer as their resources were being utilized by the British for their own welfare.
When India earned its freedom, the mutiny of 1857 was termed as the first battle of Indian independence and people like Mangal Pandey are remembered as national heroes. Mutiny of 1857 is an important chapter of Indian history as it teaches about the suppressions, brutality, patriotism, and the gallantry. British also cannot forget the mutiny as they also suffered losses, but the reasons and priorities were completely different. This mutiny further affected economic, military and society of India in coming years.
Mutiny of 1857 was not a preplanned event. It was accumulations of several incidents that burst out in the form of a mutiny in the year 1857. Neither soldiers nor civilians were ready for this mutiny, and if they had planned, the situation would have certainly different. Indians helped British against their own people. Mutineers got no support from powerful states, and they were oppressed by British with the help of Indians; Indians helped British instead of helping mutineers.
It can be concluded that this is one of the most important events of the Indian history after observing the succinct analysis of the mutiny, causes and characteristics of the mutiny of 1857. This event affected every aspect of India and in a broader perspective. This mutiny taught British rulers a lot about India, and this was clearly visible in their behavior when the power was transferred from the company to the British crown. Their goals and ways of achieving these goals were completely changed.
Bayly, C.A., 2002. Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire. 6th ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Bhadra, G., 1985. Four Rebels of Eighteen-Fifty-Seven. Selected Subaltern Studies, pp.129-75.
Bose, S. and A. Jalal, 2004. Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy. N. Delhi: Psychology Press.
Metcalf, B. D. and T. R. Metcalf, 2012. A Concise History of Modern India. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.