Conquest of India
Early Resistance to British Rule
Nationalism in India
Indian Freedom Struggle Under Gandhiji
Social Reforms in British India
Partition of India
Other Important Topics

9. The Revolt of 1857


A lot of events and policies prior to 1857 caused a lot of discontent amongst Indians and led to the Revolt of 1857. Some examples of such events are:

a) Erosion of authority of the Nawabs, stationing of English Residents in their Courts etc.

b) Governor General Canning decided that after 1856, the title of “King” would be substituted with “Prince” and all descendants of Bahadur Shah Zafar to be called so.

c) A lot of discontent among the Sepoys with regard to low pay, allowances, religious beliefs etc.

d) This is how the discontent grew among different section of Indians and culminated into what is also referred to as The First War of Indian Independence- THE REVOLT OF 1857.

e) The Causes of the Revolt can be categorized into the following heads as there were different reasons that attributed to this mutiny. The causes being-

Economic Causes of The Revolt of 1857

1. Exploitative Trade Policy of Britishers.

2. Heavy taxation on cultivated lands.

3. Ruin local Indian industry and handicrafts

4. 12 major famines from 1770 to 1856 which caused a lot of poverty and innumerous difficulties.

Political and Administrative Causes of The Revolt of 1857

1. Doctrine of Lapse policy by Sir Dalhousie.

2. Policy of Subsidiary Alliance by Sir Wellesley

3. Corruption at low level especially in judiciary and passing of various laws that were against the Indians. Ex: A law was passed in 1856 that mandated the Indians deployed in British army to travel and fight wars overseas as and when required.

Social and Religious Causes of The Revolt of 1857

1. Tax on Mosques and Temples

2. Freedom to Christian Missionaries. Ex: A law was passed by the British in 1850 to allow for easier conversion to Christianity and several benefits were associated to it to lure conversions.

3. Sir Bentinck introduced Sati Abolition Act in 1829.

4. The Hindu Widow Remarriage Act in 1856 was introduced by Lord Dalhousie.

5. Excessive promotion of English Education.

Military Causes of The Revolt of 1857

1. Annexation of Awadh by Sir Dalhousie on the pretext of misgovernance.

2. Passing of General Service Enlistment Act, 1856.

3. Issue of new rifles whose cartridges were believed to be loaded with cow and pig fat.

4. Cruelty towards Indian soldiers. Ex: Mangal Pandey, a soldier at Barrackpore, was hanged to death for having attacked English officers.

5. All of the above were contributing factors to an air of revolt, but the immediate reason was the Cartridge Issue that Indians refused to do a drill with.

6. On this, the British jailed 85 such Sepoys for 10 years. On 10th May 1857, the Indian soldiers at Meerut attacked and killed British officers as a sign of protest and freed their Indian counterparts.

7. They then marched towards Delhi, declaring a war on ” Firangis”. This is how the Revolt took shape and led to an uprising in the form of a Sepoy Mutiny.

Read more:- Indian Rebellion of 1857

Historians Views about Revolt of 1857

  • Dr K Dutta said it was mainly a military outbreak that was used by different sections to express their discontent.
  • According to Dr RC Majumdar, it was neither a revolt nor a national war of independence because almost 90% population remained unaffected.
  • According to the Marxist approach, this revolt was the struggle of the soldiers and peasants of India.
  • It has also been looked upon by some as the biggest Armed Resistance to Colonialism in the 19th Century.

Important Leaders and their Places of The Revolt of 1857

a) Nana Saheb – Kanpur

b) Birjis Qadr – Lucknow

c) Lakshmi Bai – Jhansi. Also assisted by Tantia Tope

d) Ahmadullah Shah – Faizabad

e) Bakht Khan, Bahadur Khan – Bareilly

f) Kunwar Singh – Bihar

g) Zeenat Mahal, Bakhtwar Khan – Delhi

h) Nana Saheb, Azimullah – Kanpur

i) Rani Avantibai – Mandla region of MP.

Outcome of the Revolt of 1857

Initially, the Company tried to suppress the revolt with all its might. New reinforcements were brought from England and laws were passed to make convictions easy. Delhi was recaptured by Sep 1857. Bahadur Shah Zafar was sentenced to life imprisonment, Rani Lakhmibai was killed in June 1858, Tantia Tope was killed in 1859.

However, apart from repressing the revolt, the British now understood that they would have to win back the loyalty of Indian people and changed certain policies in favour of Indians. Some of these are as listed –

a) Ruling Chiefs were now assured that no annexations would be made to their territory.

b) Adopted sons could now take on the kingdoms as Heir. Holding of Kingdoms was allowed with the condition of acknowledging the British Queen as Supreme Paramount.

c) Decision to respect Indian sentiments and religious, social practices.

d) Policies made to protect Landlords, Zamindars and provide them with Security of Rights.

e) Other changed policies include- Acceptance of Direct Responsibility by British Govt for ruling India by passing an Act in 1858. Induction of Indian soldiers to decrease and tilt it in favour of Gurkhas, Sikhs, Pathans. Land and property of Muslims were confiscated on a a large scale.

Significance of the Revolt of 1857Success & Failure

  • It helped expose the true character of East India Company.
  • It helped Indians realize they will have to free themselves from colonial rule and that they could achieve it if united.
  • It served as an example for other colonialised nations to rise up against foreign rule.
  • Hindu Muslim unity factor and rise of modern nationalism.

The Revolt however was not an entire success, some of the reasons for failure being-

  • Division amongst Indians and poor coordination.
  • No shared and definite vision of the future.
  • Viewed as being backwards in approach by the Indian elite and the intelligentsia.

Conclusion to the 1857 Uprising

The Revolt of 1857 helped ignite the fire in most of Indian hearts and minds. Though it suffered its own drawbacks and was curbed down by the British, it did make them rethink on changing their policies and outlook. Most of all, it helped me realize that there is power in independence and that Indians must stand up against the atrocities and the tyranny of British rule.

Practice Questions

  1. The 1857 Uprising was the culmination of the recurrent big and small local rebellions that had occurred in the preceding hundred years of British Rule. ( UPSC CSE 2019)

2. Explain how the 1857 uprising constitutes an important watershed in the evolution of British Policies towards colonial India. ( UPSC CSE 2016)

Also read:-The Battle of Plassey 1757