OBJECTIVES OF LEARNING
- assesses the nature of the First War of Independence;
- analyses the political, economic, social, religious and military causes;
- enumerates the causes for the failure of the war;
- recognises the effects and
- understands the significance of the Queen's Proclamation.
The Indian soldiers in the service of the English East India Company revolted against their English military officers during 1857-58. English historians have written that the revolt was just a mutiny. But Indian historians saw that it was the First War of Indian Independence. It is also known as the Great Revolt of 1857. At that time Lord Canning was the Governor-General of India.
The causes of the Great Revolt
may be given under the following heads - political,
economic, social, religious and military.
1. POLITICAL CAUSES
Political causes had their origin in Dalhousie's policy of annexations, particularly the application of the 'Doctrine of Lapse". His policy had created fear and uneasiness throughout India. The annexation of Hindu
states like Satara and Nagpur were resented by the Hindus. The annexation of Oudh whose ruler had been a friend and an ally of the English East India Company for about a century was resented not only by the Muslims but also by the other rulers of India. The British Government had ordered that on the death of the last Mughal Emperor,
his sucesssor was to give up his ancestral palace.
Again, certain unguarded
remarks made by some high British officials created
an impression that the government
had made up its mind to put an end to the existence of Native
States. Sir Charles Napier had stated thus: " Were I the Emperor
of India for twelve years... no Indian Prince
should exist, the Nizam should be
no more heard of,
Nepal should be ours." By stopping the pension to Nana Saheb, the adopted son of Baji Rao II, the British made him their deadly enemy.
2. ECONOMIC CAUSES
The annexation of a Native State not only deposed a king, but also resulted in the growing unemployment of his hundreds of officials. Bentinck's resumption of rent-free lands brought a lot of money to the government
but reduced many land owners to poverty.During the five years before the outbreak of the revolt, the Imam Commission in Bombay, appointed by Lord Dalhousie to investigate the title deed of the landowners,
confiscated some 20,000 estates in the Deccan. In Oudh, the Nawab's capital was occupied by the Chief Commissioner, his officials were dismissed and his army was disbanded. 60,000 professional soldiers
lost their livelihood. All these converted Oudh into "a hot bed of discontent and intrigue'.
The Zamindari system introduced by Lord Cornwallis, brought economic ruin to the Indian peasants. As a result of the Industrial Revolution in England, industrial goods like textiles were flooded in Indian markets. Indian industries perished. Several thousands of Indian artisans lost their jobs.
3. SOCIAL AND RELIGIOUS
The conservative section of Indian population was alarmed by the rapid speed of western culture in India.The abolition of "Sati" and female infanticide,was considered to be an interference in the customs and traditions of the Hindus. The Hindu law of property was changed to enable a Christian convert to receive his share of ancestral property, and to encourage the Hindu to convert Christianity. Further, the statement of Mr.Mangles made in the House of Commons aroused the fear among the people that the government intended to convert everyone to Christianity. Mr.Mangles had said, "Providence has entrusted the extensive empire of Hindustan to England, in order that the banner of Christ should wave triumphant from one end of India to the other." Even the introduction of the railways and telegraphs was regarded
as an attempt to westernise the Indians.
If the army had been loyal to the British as before, such an outbreak might not have taken place. A feeling of discontent developed among the Indian sepoys for various reasons. The highest pay given to an Indian sepoy as subedar was less than the minimum pay of a raw European recruit. Generally, there was no promotion for Indian soldiers. The sepoys were also insulted very badly. The feeling of discontent was intensified by Lord Canning's General Services Enlistment Act (1856) ordering all recruits of the Bengal army to be ready for service both within and outside India. The CrimeanWar, the Persian war and the Chinese war had sorely taxed the resources of England. The proportion of the Indian troops to the British troops was very high. The number of the native
soldiers was five times more than that of the British. Further, places of strategic importance like Delhi and Allahabad were wholly held by the Indian soldiers. These factors emboldened the sepoys to rise against the
5. IMMEDIATE CAUSE.
The greased cartridges supplied for the new Enfield rifles was the immediate cause for the mutiny. The cartridges had to be bitten off before insertion.TheBritish manufacturers supplied fat of cows and pigs. Both the Hindus and the Muslims refused to use them as the cow is sacred to the Hindus and the pig is detestable to the Muslims.At Barrackpore, near Calcutta, Mangal Pandey, an Indian soldier,shot his officer dead. He was hanged to death and the troops at Barrackpore were court-martialled and sentenced to imprisonment.
SPREAD AND SUPPRESSION OF REVOLT
The first sign of unrest appeared early in 1857 at Barrackpore and Berhampore in Bengal. That was quickly suppressed and the rebels were punished. But the sepoys broke out in open revolt at Meerut in May 1857,
broke open the prison and released their imprisoned comrades.Then they galloped to Delhi and brought it under their control. The Revolt then spread to Lucknow, Bareilly,Cawnpore, Agra, Jhansi,Benares,Central India,
Bundelkhand and to other places. The sikh leaders in the Punjab, Nizam of Hyderabad and Scindia remained
quiet. The Afghans, Sikhs and Gurkhas were loyal to the British. The Madras and the Bombay Regiments did not join the revolt.
The important leaders of the mutiny were Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, Tantia Topi, Nana Saheb and Kunwar Singh. The mutiny chiefly centered aroung three cities - Cawnpore, Delhi and Lucknow. When the revolt broke out at Cawnpore, Nana Saheb who was living there in comfort, joined the rebels and declared himself to be the Peshwa. The English,t here, surrendered to the rebel forces. The English men,women and children were mercilessly massacred. Nana Saheb was finally defeated by Sir Colin Campbell and he fled to Nepal, where he died after a few years. By the middle of November 1857, Cawnpore was brought under control.
Sir Archdale Wilson, Nicholson and Sir John Lawrence were the military officers who freed Delhi from the rebels. The Kashmir Gate was blown up in September and the city and the palace were captured after desparate fighting. The city was sacked by the British soldiers and the people were massacred mercilessly. Bahadur Shah II, the powerless Mughal Emperor in Delhi was tried for treason and exiled to Rangoon,where he died at the age of eighty-seven. With his death,ended the once mighty Mughal dynasty. His sons surrendered to Lt. Hodson,a fierce cavalry officer.But they were cruelly shot down on the pretext that they were guilty of the murder of the English men, women and children.
The recapture of Delhi and imprisonment of Bahadur Shah broke the back of the mutiny. Lucknow was another centre of rebellion. The Chief Commissioner, Sir Henry Lawerence and Colonel Neil were killed. Begum Hazarat Mahal, the wife of Nawab of Oudh had also joined the rebels. Finally Lucknow was recaptured by Sir Colin Campbell in March,1858 with the help of a powerful Gurkha contingent under Jang Bahadur.
In Central India, the great rising was led by Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi and Tantia Topi, who came from Cawnpore. Both fought very bravely. The Rani fought very bravely till she was killed in the battle in June 1858. Tantia Topi escaped, but was captured and put to death.
Thus ended the episode of the Great
Revolt. Lord Canning proclaimed peace throughout India. Though there was
much demand for vengeance from the English, Canning was prudent enough
to disregard it , and arranged for the proper trial and punishment
of only those who were really guilty.
CAUSE FOR THE FAILURE OF THE
Various causes led to the failure of the Revolt of 1857. There was no unity of purpose among the rebels. The sepoys of Bengal wanted to revive the ancient glories of the Mughals while Nana Saheb and Tantia Topi tried to re-establish the Maratha power. Rani Lakshmi Bai fought to regain her lost State. Secondly, this rising was not widespread. It was localised to North and Central India. Even in the north, the Punjab, Sind and Rajputana remained quiet. The British managed to get the loyalty of the Madras and Bombay regiments and the Sikhs, Afghans and Gurkhas. The Gurkhas actually
helped the British in suppressing the mutiny.
The lack of resources both in men and money made the rebels give up the struggle on many occasions. The telegraphic system and postal communication helped the British to speed up their operation. Indian leaders lacked organisation and planning. The rebel leaders were no match to the British Generals. Lakshmi Bai, Tantia Topi and Nana Saheb were courageous but were not good generals. Finally the English mastery of the sea enabled them to get timely help from England.
RESULTS OF THE REVOLT
Though the Great Revolt failed to achieve its aim, it certainly produced far reaching results. It put an end to the Company's rule in India. Administration of India was directly taken over by the British Crown. By a special Act, both the Board of Control and the Board of Directors were abolished and the office of the Secretary of State for India was created with an Indian Council of 15 members to assist the Governor-General and Viceroy of India.
The Indian army was thoroughly reorganised.
The policy of ruthless conquests in India was given up and the Indian princes
were given the assurance that their States would not be annexed. The right
of adoption was also given to them. Full religious freedom was guaranteed
to Indians. Indians were also given the assurance that high posts would
be given to them without any discrimination.
THE QUEEN'S PROCLAMATION, 1858
The Queen's Proclamation is described as the "Magna Carta" of the people. It confirmed the earlier treaties of the East India Company with the Indian Princes; promised to pay due regard to the ancient rites and customs of India and granted general pardon to all offenders except those who had directly taken part in the murder of the British subjects.