Friday, 12 December 2014 04:43








The revolt of 1857 though a regional manifestation yet the causes and the events that instigated the revolt were surely having a Pan-Indian characteristic. In fact, the revolt of 1857 was the outburst of people’s feelings against, social, economic and political exploitation and hence participants from almost every field i.e. social, economical (represented by peasants) and political (deposed rulers) participated in the revolt. The Indian public had been suffering under an oppressive foreign rule for almost a century by now and the discontentment had been rising. The revolt of 1857 which broke out in a sudden and spontaneous manner had deeper reasons.


• Political Cause:

The English Company’s policy of ‘effective control’ and gradual extinction of the Indian Native States was facilitated by the subsidiary alliance system that culminated with the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ of Dalhousie. While the Punjab, Sikkim had been annexed by the ‘Right of Conquest’, Satara, Nagpur, Jhansi, Udaipur, Sambhalpur, Baghat and Jaitpur were annexed by Dalhousie’s doctrine of lapse policy. The pretext of ‘good governance’ was adopted for the annexation of Awadh.

• Administrative and Economic Causes:

The annexation of Indian states deprived the native aristocracy of power and position. The new administrative set-up tended to reserve all high posts, civil and military to the Europeans. The chances of promotion to the Indians appointed to these services were few.

Peasants were forced to leave their agricultural land due to rise in revenue, the handicrafts and industry workers were forced to earn livelihood through beggary.

• Social and Religious Causes:

The English were infected with a spirit of racialism. They described the Hindus as barbarian and Muslims as bigots, cruel and faithless. The rumour was that the English were conspiring to convert the Indians to Christianity. Idolatry was renounced and Hindus were dubbed as ignorant and superstitious. The development of education made Indians feel that the British were going to conquer their civilization. Moreover, the abolition of Sati, child marriage, etc. were seen as an intrusion into the age-old tradition of the land.

• Military Causes:

Discrimination was present between Indian and European soldiers. Indian soldiers were required to serve in areas far away from their homes without any extra payment or Bhatta. In 1856, Canning passed the General Service Enlistment Act which feared that all future recruits for the Bengal Army would have to give an undertaking to serve anywhere as desired by the government.

The revolt was triggered with the introduction of greased cartridge of the newly replaced Enfield rifle. The greased cartridge contained the fat of pig and cow prepared at Woolwich arsenal. This was considered by the Sepoys as a deliberate move to defame their religion.


Delhi: A rebellion was led by Bakht Khan. In September 1857, Delhi was recaptured by the English under John Nicholson. The emperor was arrested and his two sons and grandsons were publicly shot by Lieutenant Hudson.

Kanpur: Nana Saheb was the leader at Kanpur. General Huge Wheeler surrendered on June 27. Nana Saheb was joined by Tantia Tope. Sir Campbell occupied Kanpur and Tantia Tope escaped and joined Rani of Jhansi.

Lucknow: Rebellion was led by Begum Hazrat Mahal and Ahmaddullah. Henry Lawrence and other Europeans at the British residency were killed by the rebels. The early attempts of Havelock and Outram to recover Lucknow met with no success. It was finally rescued by Colin Campbell in March 1858.

Jhansi: Rani Lakshmi Bai led the revolt who was defeated by Huge Rose and she fled to Gwalior and captured it. She was supported by Tantia Tope. Gwalior was recaptured by the English in June 1858 and the Rani of Jhansi died on 17th June 1958. Tantia Tope escaped southward. In April, one of the Sindhia’s feudatories captured him and handed him to the English who hanged him.

Bareilly: Khan Bahadur Khan proclaimed himself as the Nawab Nazim of Bareilly, however, the rebellion was crushed by Colin Campbell in May 1858 and Bareilly was recaptured.

Arah: Kunwar Singh and his brother Amar Singh led the rebellion. They were defeated by William Taylor and Vincent Ayar. Kunwar Singh was killed on 8th May, 1858.

Faizabad: Maulavi Ahmed¬dullah led the rebellion but was defeated by the English.

Allahabad & Banaras: The rebellion at Banaras and adjoining areas was mercilessly suppressed by Colonel Neill who put to death all suspected rebels.


The revolt of 1857 made it clear that the techniques of administering India must change in order to fully achieve the colonial goal. Hence, there were major changes in the policies of the rulers in almost every field-political, economical, social, religious and military.

1. By the Government of India Act 1858, the control of Indian administration was transferred to the Crown from the Company.

2. A Secretary of State of India was appointed who was to be assisted by an advisory council of 5 members, out of which 8 members were to be nominated by the Crown.

3. The policy of extension of territorial possession ended and it was promised “to respect the rights, dignity and honour of Native Princes as their own”.

4. The 1858 proclamation assured the free & impartial admission to offices under Crown without any discrimination of race or creed, provided the Indians qualified for them by their education, ability & integrity. This was manifested in the Indian Civil Service Act of 1861, which provided for an annual competitive examination to be held in London.

5. The English attitude towards the religious and social aspects of India changed. They now tried to follow a policy of non-interference in the religoius and social sphere of Indians which had caused resentment among them.

6. The unity of Hindus and Muslims during the revolt was thought problematic to the smooth working of British policies; hence the policy of ‘divide and rule’ was applied.

7. The era of territorial aggrandizement transited to the era of economic exploitation.