Saga of fight for Independence!
Chapter 27: The Revolt of 1857 —the First War of Independence!
By the first half of the 19th century, the East India Company had taken control of major portions of India under its control.
One hundred years after the Battle of Plassey, anger against the oppressive British Government took the form of a revolt that shook the very foundations of British East India Comapany rule in India.
While British historians called it the Sepoy Mutiny, Indian historians particularly Swatantra Veer Savarkar named it the Revolt of 1857 or the First War of Indian Independence. The Revolt of 1857 had been preceded by a series of disturbances in different parts of the country from the late eighteenth century onwards.
The Revolt of 1857:
The first expression of organised resistance was the Revolt of 1857. It began as a revolt of the sepoys of the Company’s army but eventually secured the participation of the masses. Its causes lay deeply embedded in the grievances that all sections of Indian society nurtured against the British rule.
The political causes of the revolt may be traced to the British policy of expansion through the Doctrine of Lapse and direct annexation. A large number of Indian rulers and chiefs were dislodged, thus arousing fear in the minds of other ruling families who apprehended a similar fate.
Rani Lakshmi Bai’s adopted son was not permitted to sit on the throne of Jhansi. Satara, Nagpur and Jhansi were annexed under the Doctrine of Lapse. Jaitpur, Sambalpur and Udaipur were also annexed. Other rulers feared that the annexation of their states was only a matter of time. The refusal to continue the pension of Nana Saheb, the adopted son of Baji Rao II, created hostility among the ruling class.
The annexation of Awadh by Lord Dalhousie on the pretext of maladministration left thousands of nobles, officials, retainers and soldiers jobless. This measure converted Awadh, a loyal state, into a hotbed of discontent and intrigue.
Social and Religious Causes:
A large section of the population was alarmed by the rapid spread of Western civilization in India. An Act in 1850 changed the Hindu law of inheritance enabling a Hindu who had converted into Christianity to inherit his ancestral properties. Besides, the missionaries were allowed to make conversions to Christianity all over India. The people were convinced that the Government was planning to convert Indians to Christianity.
In rural areas, peasants and zamindars resented the heavy taxes on land and the stringent methods of revenue collection followed by the Company. Many among these groups were unable to meet the heavy revenue demands and repay their loans to money lenders, eventually losing the lands that they had held for generations. Large numbers of sepoys were drawn from the peasantry and had family ties in villages, so the grievances of the peasants also affected them.
The economic exploitation by the British and the complete destruction of the traditional economic structure caused widespread resentment among all sections of the people. After the Industrial Revolution in England, there was an influx of British manufactured goods into India which ruined industries, particularly the textile industry, of India.
Indian handicraft industries had to compete with cheap machine- made goods from Britain. India was transformed into a supplier of raw materials and a consumer of goods manufactured in Britain. All those people who previously depended on royal patronage for their livelihoods were rendered unemployed. So they bore a deep- seated grievance against the British.
The Revolt of 1857 started as a sepoy mutiny. It was only later on that other elements of society joined the revolt.
Indian sepoys formed more than 87% of British troops in India. They were considered inferior to British soldiers. An Indian sepoy was paid less than a European sepoy of the same rank. Besides, an Indian sepoy could not rise to a rank higher than that of a Subedar
The extension of the British Empire in India had adversely affected the service conditions of Indian sepoys. They were required to serve in areas far away from their homes. In 1856 Lord Canning issued the General Services Enlistment Act which required that the sepoys must be ready to serve even in British land across the sea.
(to be continued)…