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Revolt of 1857 Causes

The Revolt of 1857, commonly called as the Sepoy Revolt, was the first organised
revolt against British rule in India It was the culmination of the manifold grievances
that Indians had against the !ast India "ompany#s rule It was to a great e$tent a
popular revolt led %y e$iled princes and displaced landlords The revolt was largely
confined to &orth and "entral India The revolt failed due to various reasons,
including lac' of organised planning on the part of the re%els and superior strength of
the British The transfer of the Indian administration from the !nglish !ast India
"ompany to British "rown was the important result of the Revolt The revolt has %een
hailed as the watershed or the (great divide# in the colonial history of British India
The revolt of 1857 was the most dramatic instance of traditional India#s struggle
against foreign rule )owever, it was not a sudden occurrence The revolt did not
happen overnight It was the culmination of a century long tradition of fierce popular
resistance to British domination
*ue to the nature of early historiography of the revolt, which was written %y officials
turned historians, it was %elieved to %e a (mere mutiny# of the sepoys in Bengal and
+eerut, which was later ,oined %y the civil populace )owever, an analysis shows that
such a simplistic view is limited in its scope It is difficult to highlight a single caused
for the out%rea' of the revolt
Economic Causes
British economic policy was the primary reason for the Revolt It destroyed the
traditional economic fa%ric of country It impoverished the vast mass of peasants,
artisans and handicraftsmen The land revenue policies li'e the -ermanent Settlement
e$or%itantly raised the land revenue demand It led to the replacement of traditional
.amindars %y a new class of .amindars The new .amindars, mostly merchants, were
merely interested in raising more money than improving agriculture The mercantilist
policies followed also destroyed India#s e$ternal trade
The British utilised their political power in India for the advancement of British trade
and industrial development They adopted several policies that resulted in the
destruction of the cottage and handicraft industries /n act was passed in 1701 %y the
British government which prohi%ited the use of Indian sil' in !ngland The British
imposed heavy import duties on the Indian te$tile the Indian rulers and aristocrats
were great patrons of te$tile and cotton industry )owever, the British e$pansion led
to the displacement of these rulers and aristocrats /rtisans and handicraftsmen were
affected %y import of cheap machine made clothes from !ngland
Political Causes
*alhousie had a ma,or share in the out%rea' of the Revolt )is *octrine of 2apse
created new tensions This doctrine refused to recognise the right of the adopted sons
to succeed as heirs to a protected state, unless the adoption was approved earlier %y
the British It was %ased on this doctrine he anne$ed Satara, &agpur and 3hansi )e
also refused to recognise the titles of e$4rulers li'e the &awa%s of Surat and "arnatic
and Ra,a of Tan,ore )e refused pension to e$4rulers of India The most important of
such e$4rulers was &ana Sahe%, the adopted son of the e$4-eshwa Ba,i Rao4II )e
also decided that the +ughal successor to Bahadur Shah 5afar would have to shift
from Red 6ort to more hum%le 7uarter#s in *elhi#s outs'irts This was greatly
resented for in the people#s mind +ughals were still considered as the rulers of India
The culmination of *alhousie#s imperialistic policies was the anne$ation of /wadh on
the prete$t of maladministration %y the reigning &awa% 8a,id /li Shah
This caused a great uproar in /wadh and caused the displacement of thousands of the
e$4&awa%#s no%les and soldiers It also led to the e$tension of British policies to
/wadh Thus *alhousie#s policies had a great %earing on the out%rea' of the revolt
The other political causes were the decision of 2ord "anning in 1859 that henceforth
+ughals would %e merely princes and loose their title of 'ings The reverses the
British army faced during the 6irst /fghan 8ar :18;8 4 <0=, the -un,a% 8ars :18<5 4
<>= and the "rimean 8ars lessened their authority and prestige
Administrative Causes
?nder the new administrative dispensation all higher posts were reserved for
!nglishmen *uring 2ord "ornwallis# tenure he tried to ensure that all positions of
authority were out of %ounds for the Indians The Indian middle and upper class, who
served the native rulers, were the worst affected They lost their only source of
livelihood 6urthermore the administration at lower levels was corrupt 3udicial and
police administration seemed to favour the landlords than the poor farmer /nother
aspect of British administration was its foreignness ?nli'e earlier invaders, the
British never tried to %ecame a part of the Indian society They remained aloof and
were more interested in e$ploitation rather than development of India
Social and Religious Causes
The social and religious causes played no minor role in the out%rea' of the Revolt
The people feared that !nglish rule was a danger to their religion They thought that
they were always trying to convert them to "hristianity This feeling was encouraged
%y the activities of the "hristian missionaries who were seen almost everywhere in
mar'ets, schools, hospitals and prisons Their vulgar attac's on )induism and Islam
and centuries old tradition and customs under police protection angered the people
"ertain @overnment measures li'e the Religious *isa%ilities /ct 1859 :which
protected civil rights of the )indu converts=, the law which ena%led a convert to
inherit his ancestral property added fuel The @overnment also ta$ed the lands
%elonging to temples and mos7ues or priests or charita%le institutions This was
resented %y the priests and maulavis for these lands were hitherto not ta$ed These
people were also affected %y the disappearance of native Indian rulers who were their
chief patrons
This made them the sworn enemies of the !nglish "ertain social reforms instituted on
demand %y Indian social reformers were not li'ed %y the conservative sections of the
society They viewed them as government deli%erately tampering with their age4old
customs /%olition of Sati, the legalisation of widow remarriage, and the opening of
8estern education to women were regarded as instances of deli%erate infringement of
the government on the people#s customs
Sepoy iscontent!"ilitary Causes
/ ma,or part in the out%rea' of the Revolt was undou%tedly played %y sepoy
discontent *iscrimination was a way of life in the !nglish !ast India "ompany#s
army The principle of e7ual pay for e7ual wor' or ran' had no place The Indian
sepoys were paid less, lodged and fed far inferior to his British counterpart )e was
always nearly insultingly addressed as (nigger# or (suar# or (pig# )e had no avenues
for promotion /n Indian could utmost %ecome a su%edar ?nli'e earlier times the
soldiers no longer won any ,agirs for their wor' /s more and more parts of India
were con7uered, the sepoys lost their %atta :6oreign Service allowance= This was a
huge cut in their salary The new rulers also hurt their religious sentiments Thus the
@eneral Services !nlistment /ct of 1859 necessitated them to serve %eyond the seas
This was against the prevalent )indu %elief that overseas travel would deprive a
person of the caste status They were also for%idden to wear their caste mar's 6urther
the sepoys were also not immune to the economic changes %rought a%out %y British
con7uest /s has %een said a sepoy was only a Apeasant in uniformB )e too felt the
destruction of traditional socio4economic structure %y the British
Immediate Cause
The immediate cause was the introduction of the new !nfield rifle and the greased
cartridges episode The cartridges of the !nfield rifle had a greased paper cover The
end of this paper had to %e %itten off %efore the cartridge was loaded into the rifle The
grease, it was suggested, was made of %eef and pig fat This enraged %oth )indus and
+uslims for whom it was against their religion to touch %eef and pig fat They felt
that it was another instance of the @overnment deli%erately trying to destroy their
religion and convert them to "hristianity