Revolt of 1857

Mains Marks Booster     2nd August 2023        

The 1857 revolt was a watershed moment in Indian history. It emerged as a spontaneous uprising against various grievances and injustices inflicted by the British East India Company.

Interesting Facts:

  • According to Jawaharlal Nehru, he maintained that the Revolt of 1857 was essentially "a feudal uprising, though there were some nationalistic elements in it."
  • V.D. Savarkar considered the Revolt of 1857 as the First War of Independence.
  • R.C. Majumdar expressed his perspective on the Revolt of 1857 by stating, "The Revolt of 1857 is neither First, nor National, nor a War of Independence."

Political Causes:

  • Annexation of Princely States through various instruments such as doctrine of lapse, subsidiary alliance among others.
  • Discontent among Sepoys due to various acts of Britishers, such as General service enlistment act, use of greased cartridges in Enfield rifles.
  • Loss of Power and Prestige of the Mughal Emperor as well as Zamindar due to British policies such as doctrine of lapse and heavy taxes on land respectively.

Interesting Facts:

Doctrine of Lapse:

  • Introduced by: Lord Dalhousie, Governor-General from 1848 to 1856. 
  • The doctrine stated that if an Indian ruler died without a male heir, his kingdom would be annexed by the East India Company. 
  • Kingdoms annexed under this: Satara (1848), Sambalpur (1850), Udaipur (1852), Nagpur (1853), and Jhansi (1854). 

  • Economic Causes: The peasants suffered due to high revenue demands and the strict revenue collection policy. Artisans and craftsmen suffered from the influx of inexpensive British goods. The loss of royal patronage displaced those pursuing religious and cultural pursuits, resulting in a loss of livelihood. Zamindars were discontented due to high land taxes and stringent collection methods.
  • Socio-religious Causes: Racial discrimination caused resentment among Indians. Displacement of elites led to loss of status. Interference in Religious Practices through acts such as Abolition of Sati act of 1829, Hindu widow remarriage act of 1856.Protection of Religious Identity.
  • Immediate Cause: Use of Enfield rifle and greased cartridges and the rumours around them.

Places of Revolt and Indian Leaders:

  • Delhi-Bahadur Shah, General Bakht Khan
  • Lucknow-Begum Hazrat Mahal
  • Kanpur-Nana Saheb
  • Jhansi & Gwalior-Lakshmi Bai & Tantia Tope
  • Bareilly-Khan Bahadur Khan
  • Bihar-Kunwar Singh

British Suppression of the Revolt of 1857: 

  • The British faced significant challenges in suppressing the 1857 rebellion in India. Special laws were enacted, suspending ordinary legal processes and imposing harsh punishments, including death, for rebellion.
  • The Reconquest Efforts: 
  • The British launched a two-pronged attack to recapture Delhi, recognizing its symbolic value. 
  • One force moved from Calcutta into North India, while another advanced from the Punjab. 
  • British attempts to recover Delhi began in June 1857, with the city finally captured in late September. 
  • Heavy fighting and losses occurred due to rebels from across North India converging to defend the capital. 
  • Progress in the Gangetic plain was slow, as the British had to reconquer the area village by village. 
  • The countryside and local population were hostile, demonstrating widespread popular support for the uprising. 
  • The Use of Military Power: 
  • The British employed massive military force to suppress the rebellion. 
  • However, they also utilized other strategies alongside military operations. 
  • Breaking Unity and Rewarding Loyalty: In regions of present-day Uttar Pradesh, where big landholders and peasants united in resistance, the British aimed to divide them. 
  • Promises were made to return estates to loyal landholders while dispossessing rebel landholders. 
  • Loyal landholders were rewarded, while those who fought or fled to Nepal faced death from illness or starvation.
Nature of Revolt

Consequences of the revolt:

  • Transfer of power from company to crown through 1858 act
  • Expansionist policies came to be abandoned under the act.
  • Abandonment of the policy of cultural interference.
  • Increasing decentralisation at all aspects of administration, legislative, executive,etc.
  • Military organisation on the policy of divide and rule.
  • Increased proportion of white soldiers in army.

The 1857 revolt itself did not achieve immediate independence but left an indelible mark on India's history, shaping the trajectory of its freedom struggle.

Act of Good Governance of 1858:

  • Transfer of Power
      • The Act transferred the powers and territories held by the East India Company to the British Crown. 
      • The British government assumed direct control over India.
  • Establishment of Secretary of State for India
        • The Act created the position of Secretary of State for India, who was a member of the British cabinet and responsible for overseeing Indian affairs. 
  • Abolition of Company's Rule: 
    • The Act abolished the East India Company's rule and dissolved its administrative and military functions.