Revolt of 1857
It refers to a rebellion against the British East India Company which ran from May 1857 to July 1859. Started on 10th May 1857, it began as mutiny of Sepoys of East India Company’s army in the cantonment of Meerut & rapidly increased into other mutinies and civilian rebellions.
Causes of the rebellion–
The rebellion was a consequence of accumulation of many factors-
- Company’s forces were divided into 3 presidential armies-Bengal, Madras & Bombay. High castes such as Rajputs & Bhumihar were recruited in Bengal army & it even restricted the enlistment of lower castes in 1855. In contrast, the Madras Army and Bombay Army were “more localized, caste-neutral armies” that “did not prefer high-caste men.Dominance of higher castes in Bengal army has been blamed for initial mutinies.
- Historians have stressed that by 1857, some Indian soldiers, interpreting the presence of missionaries as a sign of official intent, were convinced that the Company was masterminding mass conversions of Hindus and Muslims to Christianity.
- General Service Enlistment Act of 25 July 1856 signed into effect by lord Canning was a major cause of resentment. It required only new recruits of Bengal army to serve overseas if ordered while earlier men of the Bengal Army had been exempted from overseas service. So serving high-caste sepoys were fearful that it would be eventually extended to them.
- The nobility, many of whom had lost titles and domains under the Doctrine of Lapse, which refused to recognize the adopted children of princes as legal heirs, felt that the Company had interfered with a traditional system of inheritance. Rebel leaders such as Nana Sahib and the Rani of Jhansi belonged to this group.
- The ammunition for the new Enfield P–53 rifle provided the Final Spark. These rifles, which fired Minie balls, had a tighter fit than the earlier muskets, and used paper cartridges that came pre-greased. To load the rifle, sepoys had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder. The grease used on these cartridges was rumored to include tallow derived from beef, which would be offensive to Hindus, and pork, which would be offensive to Muslims.
Onset of Rebellion
- On 26 February 1857- The 19th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) regiment became concerned that new cartridges they had been issued were wrapped in paper greased with cow and pig fat, which had to be opened by mouth thus affecting the religious sensibilities.
- On 29 March 1857 at the Barrackpore parade ground, near Calcutta, 29-year-old Mangal Pandey of the 34th BNI, angered by the recent actions of the East India Company, declared that he would rebel against his commanders
- Officials such as Sergeant-Major James Hewson, Lt. Henry Baugh, and General John Hearsey investigated the case. Hearsey ordered the arrest of Mangal Pandey.All the sepoys except Shaikh Patlu refused the order.
- After failing to incite his comrades into an open and active rebellion, Mangal Pandey tried to take his own life, by placing his musket to his chest and pulling the trigger with his toe. He managed only to wound himself, and he was court-martialled on 6 April and hanged on 8 April.
The rebel spread in various parts of India –Delhi, Allahabad, Cawnpore, Lucknow, Jhansi to name some.
Jhansi was annexed to the British Raj by the Governor-General of India under the doctrine of lapse. Rani Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi protested against the denial of rights. In September and October 1857, the Rani led the successful defence of Jhansi against the invading armies of the neighboring rajas of Datia and Orchha. In March 1858, the Central India Field Force, led by Sir Hugh Rose, advanced on and laid siege to Jhansi. The Company forces captured the city, but the Rani fled in disguise.
After being driven from Jhansi, on 1 June 1858 Rani Lakshmi Bai and a group of Maratha rebels captured the fortress city of Gwalior. This might have reinvigorated the rebellion but the Central India Field Force very quickly advanced against the city.
The Rani died on 17 June, the second day of the Battle of Gwalior, after which the company forces recaptured Gwalior.
The rebellion led to the dissolution of the East India Company in 1858. It also led the British to reorganize the army, the financial system and the administration in India. The country was thereafter directly governed by the crown as the new British Raj.