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Revolt of 1857 Essay Sample

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Revolt of 1857 Essay Sample

The Indian Rebellion of 1857 began as a mutiny of sepoys of the East India Company’s army on 10 May 1857, in the town of Meerut, and soon escalated into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plainand 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 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, the Revolt of 1857, the Uprising of 1857, the Sepoy Rebellion and the Sepoy Mutiny. The Mutiny was a result of various grievances.

However the flashpoint was reached when the soldiers were asked to bite off the paper cartridges for their rifles which were greased with animal fat, namely beef and pork. This was, and is, against the religious beliefs of Hindus and Muslims, respectively. Other regions of Company-controlled India – such as Bengal, the Bombay Presidency, and the Madras Presidency – remained largely calm.[3] In Punjab, the Sikh princes backed the Company by providing soldiers and support.[3] The large princely states of 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] Maratha leaders, such as Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, 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. It also led the British to reorganize the army, the financial system and the administration in India.[8]India was thereafter directly governed by the crown as the new British Raj.[5 ————————————————-

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 theBattle 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 Company the right for “collection of Revenue” in the provinces of Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha known as “Diwani”. 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 the vast region of India south of the Narmada River.

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 by subsidiary alliances between the Company and local rulers or by direct military annexation. The subsidiary alliances created the princely states (or native states) of the Hindu maharajas 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 occurred as the result of an accumulation of factors over time, rather than any single event. The sepoys were local soldiers, the majority Hindu or Muslim, that were recruited into the Company’s army. Just before the Rebellion there were over 300,000 sepoys in the army, compared to about 50,000 British. The forces were divided into three presidency armies:Bombay, Madras, and Bengal. The Bengal Army recruited higher castes, such as “Rajputs and Brahmins”, mostly from the Awadh(near Lucknow) and Bihar regions and even restricted the enlistment of lower castes in 1855.

In contrast, the Madras Army andBombay 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 India’s first Governor-General, one of his first undertakings was the rapid expansion of the Company’s army.

Since the sepoys from Bengal – many of whom had fought against the Company in the Battles of Plassey and 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 recognise 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 clamoured 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. As the extent of the East India Company’s jurisdiction expanded with victories in wars or with annexation, 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 Rebellion 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.

Governor-General Lord Dalhousie saw this as 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 Lord Canning, Dalhousie’s successor as Governor-General, 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. 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]

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