Saga of Independence:
Chapter 28: Military and Immediate Causes for Sepoy revolt
Besides the political and administrative, economic, social and religious grievances, another major cause for the revolt was the unrest of the sepoys in the army of the British. We are aware that the action of Mangal Pandey, a sepoy of Barrackpore near Calcutta on 29 March, 1857 led to the mutiny of sepoys in the beginning which precipitated the revolt of the people.
Mangal Pandey’s action was not a spontaneous outburst against the British officer but it was a culmination of a simmering discontent brewing in the sepoys. Mangal Pandey was a representative of the totality of the sepoys’ wrath against the British.
The sepoys’ revolts were not a new phenomena. As we have learnt already ,There was a clash between the service conditions and religious practices of the sepoys due to the policies of the British. The army of Vellore mutinied against the British in 1806 opposing the replacement of turban by a leather cockade. In 1824, the sepoys of Barrakpore did not agree to proceed to Burma as their custom was against the crossing of the sea which results in the loss of the caste. In 1844, the Bengal army opposed the decision to go to Sind and wage war for the same reason mentioned above.
Added to the above grievances, there was professional discontentment among the sepoys for the following reasons:
(i) The British paid a paltry amount of Rs 7 per month to an infantry sepoy,
(ii) The British paid Rs 27 for a cavalry sawar from which he had to meet the cost of maintaining uniform, food and upkeep of the horse, and
(iii) The British publicly showed discrimination in treatment between the native sepoy and the British in the matters of promotion, pension and service provisions and fear of forgoing their jobs agitated the minds of the sepoys.
Annexation of territories by the British also annoyed the sepoys. The general service establishment Act of 1856 of the time of Lord Canning was the immediate cause of discontentment as it stipulated that every sepoy must be ready to serve anywhere in India or abroad.
the suspicion that the greased cartridge which was used in Enfield rifles was filled with the fat of cow and pig made the sepoys to openly rebel by killing a British officer. The event of March 29, 1857 of Barrackpore kindled the spirits of other sepoys and by the 11 May, 1857, almost half of the sepoys joined the great revolt. It can be conclusively said that the discontentment, suspicion, and hatred among all sections and displacement of earlier power structures led to the great revolt of 1857.
The mutiny of sepoys started at Barackpore on 29 March, 1857 spread to Meerut by May 1857, and to Delhi by 12 May, 1857. At Delhi, the sepoys selected Bahadur Shah Zafar as their leader and declared him as the emperor of India.
Encouraged by the success at Delhi, the sepoys of Lucknow, Bareilly, Kanpur, Jhansi, Central India, Bundelkhand, etc., rebelled and by the middle of June 1857, the whole of Northern India was in revolt. South India was comparatively peaceful because of the lukewarm support to the cause of the sepoys. The Punjab and Hyderabad were absolutely peaceful. By July 1858, the revolt was totally crushed but for local risings in certain areas. In this revolt, human loss on both sides was considerable.