The Revolt OF 1857 has been marked as the “watershed” or “the great divide” in the history of British India. It is regarded as “India’s 1st War of Independence” against the British Rule. It was the most remarkable single event in the history of India after the establishment of British Rule. This Revolt was initiated by the sepoys of the company, so it has been commonly termed as ‘Sepoy Mutiny’. But it was not simply a revolt of sepoys.
CAUSES OF REVOLT
Many causes led to the outbreak of Revolt of 1857. There were political, economic, social, religious and military causes of the revolt. A brief account of these causes is given below:
A. POLITICAL CAUSES
- EXPANDING BRITISH EMPIRE
Since the battle of Plassey, the British conquered territory after territory to extend their empire. They defeated rulers after rulers and annexed their kingdoms. Siraj-ud-Din was the first to become their victim. Some of the rulers feared destruction and thus accepted subsidiary alliance. They escaped war but lost their independence. They thus wanted to regain their lost territories as well as their ranks.
To annex more territories, Dalhousie passed Doctrine of Lapse. According to this, the adopted sons of the decreased kings were not the heirs to the throne. Hence those territories whose kings had no natural heirs were forcibly annexed to British Empire after the death of their respective kings. The kingdoms of Sitara, Nagpur, Sambhalpur, Baghat, Udaipur, and Jhansi were from those that became the victims of this policy. This policy became one of the causes of the Revolt of 1857.
- ANNEXATION OF AWADH
About 3/4th of the company’s sepoys were recruited from Awadh and most of them were simply peasants in uniform. Thus any change in the agrarian setup was felt by them. Awadh was annexed in 1856 A.D. on the pretext of mal-administration which became cause for many who participated.
After the annexation, Nawab’s army was disbanded, economy was disturbed and many Taulakdars lost their properties. The revolt was perhaps of the highest intensity in Awadh.
- DISRESPECT TO BAHADUR SHAH-II
Maltreatment towards the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah-II hurt the sentiments of Indians especially Muslims who showed great respect to him. This also became as cause of the revolt.
B. MILITARY GRIEVANCES
Indian soldiers were paid low salaries as compared to Britishers of the same rank. Although Indian soldiers outnumbered the British soldiers, they could not rise above the rank of Subedar and were also racially insulted.
They were prohibited to observe some customary practices like wearing saffron mark on their foreheads, growing beard and wearing turbans.
Moreover in 1856 A.D., a new rule was adopted according to which the Indian soldiers were not given extra allowances (Batta). But on the other hand, the British soldiers continued to receive this allowance. All these causes paved way for the revolt.
C. RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION
British government brought many social reforms in Hindu society like widow remarriage, abolition of Sati, education for girls, Christian Missionaries etc.
Indian soldiers were given Enfield rifle, the cartridge of which was greased with fat of cow and pig. Hindu as well as Muslim soldiers took it as a great insult to their religions.
Invention of railways, telegraphs etc and spread of western knowledge frightened Indians. Britishers followed the policy of racial discrimination.
D. ECONOMIC CAUSES
The British policy of economically exploiting India also became one of the causes of the revolt. This hurt all the sections of the society. The peasants suffered due to high revenue demands and the strict revenue collection policy.
The large scale influx of cheap British manufactured goods into India ruined artisans and craftsmen as it made their hand-made goods uneconomical to produce.
Many other factors like economic underdevelopment of India, drain of wealth and commercialization of agriculture, free trade imperialism added fuel to fire.