Mutiny of 1857

Published: 2020-06-20 13:46:04
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The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began as a mutiny of sepoys of the British East India Company’s army on 10 May 1857, in the town of Meerut, and soon erupted into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with the major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, and the Delhi region. [3] The rebellion posed a considerable threat to Company power in that region,[4] and it was contained only with the fall of Gwalior on 20 June 1858. 3] The rebellion is also known as India’s First War of Independence, the Great Rebellion, the Indian Mutiny, theRevolt of 1857, the Uprising of 1857, the Sepoy Rebellion, and the Sepoy Mutiny. Other regions of Company-controlled India—Bengal province, the Bombay Presidency, and the Madras Presidency—remained largely calm. [3] In Punjab, the Sikh princes backed the Company by providing both soldiers and support. 3] The large princely states, Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore, and Kashmir, as well as the smaller ones of Rajputana did not join the rebellion. [5] In some regions, such as Oudh, the rebellion took on the attributes of a patriotic revolt against European presence. [6] Rebel leaders, such as the Rani of Jhansi and Rani of Tulsipur Ishwori Kumari Devi of Tulsipur-State, became folk heroes in thenationalist movement in India half a century later;[3] however, they themselves generated no coherent ideology” for a new order. 7] The rebellion led to the dissolution of the East India Company in 1858, and forced the British to reorganize the army, the financial system, and the administration in India. [8] India was thereafter directly governed by the Crown in the new British Raj. [ East India Company expansion in India Main article: Company rule in India Although the British East India Company had earlier administered the factory areas established for trading purposes, its victory in the Battle of Plassey in 1757 marked the beginning of its firm foothold in Eastern India.
The victory was consolidated in 1764 at the Battle of Buxar (in Bihar), when the defeated Mughal emperor, Shah Alam II, granted the right for collection of Revenue” of the provinces of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa to the Company. The Company soon expanded its territories around its bases in Bombay and Madras: the Anglo-Mysore Wars (1766–1799) and the Anglo-Maratha Wars (1772–1818) led to control of vast region of India south of the Narmada River. The expansion did not occur without resistance.
In 1806 the Vellore Mutiny was sparked due to new uniform regulations that created resentment amongst both Hindu and Muslim sepoys. [9] After the turn of the 19th century, Governor-General Wellesley began what became two decades of accelerated expansion of Company territories. [10] This was achieved either bysubsidiary alliances between the Company and local rulers or by direct military annexation. The subsidiary alliances created the Princely States (or Native States) of the Hindumaharajas and the Muslim nawabs.
Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, and Kashmir were annexed after the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849; however, Kashmir was immediately sold under the Treaty of Amritsar (1850) to the Dogra Dynasty of Jammu and thereby became a princely state. The border dispute between Nepal and British India, which sharpened after 1801, had caused the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814–16 and brought the Gurkhas under British influence. In 1854, Berar was annexed, and the state of Oudh was added two years later. For practical purposes, the Company was the government of much of India. edit]Causes of the rebellion Main article: Causes of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 The Indian Rebellion of 1857 did not occur as a result of one specific event; it was an accumulation of several events, over time, resulting in its eventual outbreak. The sepoys were a combination of Hindu and Muslim soldiers. Just before the Rebellion there were over 200,000 Indians in the army compared to about 40,000 British. The forces were divided into three presidency armies: the Bombay; the Madras; and the Bengal. The Bengal Army recruited higher castes, uch as Rajputs and Brahmins”, mostly from the Avadh (nearLucknow) and Bihar regions and 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. [11] The domination of higher castes in the Bengal Army has been blamed in part for initial mutinies that led to the rebellion. In fact, the role of castes had become so important that men were no longer selected on account of the most important qualities in a soldier, i. e. physical fitness, willingness and strength, docility and courage, but because he belonged to a certain caste or sect”. In 1772, when Warren Hastings was appointed the first Governor-General, one of his first undertakings was the rapid expansion of the Company’s army. Since the available soldiers, orsepoys, from Bengal — many of whom had fought against the Company in the Battle of Plassey and Battle of Buxar— were now suspect in British eyes, Hastings recruited farther west from the high-caste rural Rajputs and Brahmins of Awadh and Bihar, a practice that continued for the next 75 years.
However, in order to forestall any social friction, the Company also took pains to adapt its military practices to the requirements of their religious rituals. Consequently, these soldiers dined in separate facilities; in addition, overseas service, considered polluting to their caste, was not required of them, and the army soon came officially to recognize Hindu festivals. This encouragement of high caste ritual status, however, left the government vulnerable to protest, even mutiny, whenever the sepoys detected infringement of their prerogatives. [12] It has been suggested that after the annexation of Oudh by the East India Company in 1856, many sepoys were disquieted both from losing their perquisites, as landed gentry, in the Oudh courts and from the anticipation of any increased land-revenue payments that the annexation might bring about. [13] Others have stressed that by 1857, some Indian soldiers, reading 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. 14]Although earlier in the 1830s, evangelists such as William Carey and William Wilberforce had successfully clamored for the passage of social reform such as the abolition of Sati and allowing the remarriage of Hindu widows, there is little evidence that the sepoys’ allegiance was affected by this. [13] However, changes in the terms of their professional service may have created resentment.
With East India Company victories in wars or with annexation, as the extent of Company jurisdiction expanded, the soldiers were now not only expected to serve in less familiar regions (such as in Burma in the Anglo-Burmese Wars in 1856), but also make do without the foreign service” remuneration that had previously been their due. [15] Another financial grievance stemmed from the general service act, which denied retired sepoys a pension; whilst this only applied to new recruits, it was suspected that it would also apply to those already in service.
In addition, the Bengal army was paid less than the Madras and Bombay armies, which compounded the fears over pensions. [16] A major cause of resentment that arose ten months prior to the outbreak of the Rising was the General Service Enlistment Act of 25 July 1856. As noted above, men of the Bengal Army had been exempted from overseas service. Specifically they were enlisted only for service in territories to which they could march.
This was seen by the Governor-General Lord Dalhousieas an anomaly, since all sepoys of the Madras and Bombay Armies (plus six General Service” battalions of the Bengal Army) had accepted an obligation to serve overseas if required. As a result the burden of providing contingents for active service in Burma (readily accessible only by sea) and China had fallen disproportionately on the two smaller Presidency Armies. As signed into effect by the new Governor-General Lord Canning, the Act required only new recruits to the Bengal Army to accept a commitment for general (that is overseas) service.
However serving high caste sepoys were fearful that it would be eventually extended to them, as well as preventing sons following fathers into an Army with a strong tradition of family service. [17] There were also grievances over the issue of promotions, based on seniority (length of service). This, as well as the increasing number of European officers in the battalions,[16] made promotion a slow progress and many Indian officers did not reach commissioned rank until they were too old to be effective. 18] [edit]Tallow-greased cartridges The final spark was provided by the ammunition for new Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle. These rifles had a tighter fit, and used paper cartridges that came pre-greased. To load the rifle, sepoys had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder. [19] Now, the grease used on these cartridges included tallow[citation needed], which if derived from pork would be offensive to Muslims, and if derived from beef would be offensive to Hindus.
At least one British official pointed out the difficulties this may cause: unless it be proven that the grease employed in these cartridges is not of a nature to offend or interfere with the prejudices of caste, it will be expedient not to issue them for test to Native corps… [20] However, in August 1856, greased cartridge production was initiated at Fort William, Calcutta, following British design. The grease used included tallow supplied by the Indian firm of Gangadarh Banerji & Co[citation needed].
By January, the rumours were abroad that the Enfield cartridges were greased with animal fat. Company officers became aware of the rumours through reports of an altercation between a high-caste sepoy and a low-caste labourer at Dum Dum. [21] The labourer had taunted the sepoy that by biting the cartridge, he had himself lost caste, although at this time such cartridges had been issued only at Meerut and not at Dum Dum. [20][22]
On January 27, Colonel Richard Birch, the Military Secretary, ordered that all cartridges issued from depots were to be free from grease, and that sepoys could grease them themselves using whatever mixture they may prefer”. [23] A modification was also made to the drill for loading so that the cartridge was torn with the hands and not bitten. This however, merely caused many sepoys to be convinced that the rumours were true and that their fears were justified. Additional rumours started that the paper n the new cartridges, which was glazed and stiffer than the previously used paper, was impregnated with grease. [edit]Civilian disquiet The civilian rebellion was more multifarious in origin. The rebels consisted of three groups: the feudal nobility, rural landlords called taluqdars, and the peasants. 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 latter, for example, was prepared to accept East India Company supremacy if her adopted son was recognized as her late husband’s heir. [24] In other areas of central India, such as Indore and Saugar, where such loss of privilege had not occurred, the princes remained loyal to the Company even in areas where the sepoys had rebelled. [25] The second group, the taluqdars, had lost half their landed estates to peasant farmers as a result of the land reforms that came in the wake of annexation of Oudh.
As the rebellion gained ground, the taluqdars quickly reoccupied the lands they had lost, and paradoxically, in part due to ties of kinship and feudal loyalty, did not experience significant opposition from the peasant farmers, many of whom joined the rebellion, to the great dismay of the British. [26] It has also been suggested that heavy land-revenue assessment in some areas by the British resulted in many landowning families either losing their land or going into great debt with money lenders, and providing ultimately a reason to rebel; money lenders, in addition to the Company, were particular objects of the rebels’ animosity. 27] The civilian rebellion was also highly uneven in its geographic distribution, even in areas of north-central India that were no longer under British control. For example, the relatively prosperous Muzaffarnagar district, a beneficiary of a Company irrigation scheme, and next door to Meerut, where the upheaval began, stayed mostly calm throughout. [28]

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