Revolt of 1857

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Political causes of Revolt of 1857

The political causes for the First War of Independence (1857) include:
(a) British policy of expansion
(b) Disrespect shown to Bahadur Shah
(c) Treatment given to Nana Saheb and Rani Laxmi Bai 
(d) Absentee sovereignty of the British

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Brief introduction of socio-religious causes

The British government's attempt to interfere in the social and religious life of the Indians led to the widespread fear among the masses. The main socio-religious causes of the first war of independence included: (a) Interference with social customs; (b) Apprehensions about modern innovations; (c) Policy of racial discrimination; (d) Corruption in administration; (e) Oppression of the poor; (f) Activities of missionaries; (g) Fears regarding western education; (h) Taxing religious places; and (i) Law of property.

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Brief introduction of economic causes

The most important reason for the popular discontent was the economic exploitation by the British. It played a major role in the uprising of 1857. The main economic causes for the First War of Indian Independence were: (a) Exploitation of economic resources; (b) Drain of wealth; (c) Decay of cottage industries and handicrafts; (d) Economic decline of peasantry; (e) Growing unemployment; (f) Inhuman treatment of Indigo cultivators; (g) Poverty and famines; and (h) Decline of landed aristocracy.

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Brief discussion about military causes

The military causes for the First War of Independence were: ill-treatment of Indian soldiers, General Service Establishment Act, larger proportion of Indians in the British Army, bleak prospects of promotions, deprivation of allowances, faulty distribution of troops, poor performance of British troops and the lower salaries.

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Events in Meerut and Delhi during 1857

On May 9, eighty-five sepoys refused to touch the cartridges on the parade ground at Meerut. They were sentenced to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment. On May 10, all the sepoys at Meerut rushed to the jail and set free their comrades. The next morning, they reached Delhi and seized the city and proclaimed Bahadur Shah the emperor of India. Sir John Nicholson surrounded Delhi and after four months of attack captured Delhi. Bahadur Shah's sons were shot in front of him and Bahadur Shah was deported to Yangon in Myanmar where he died in 1862.

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Explain about the policy of expansion

The British tried to expand their political power in four ways, i.e., by outright wars, the Subsidiary Alliance System, the Doctrine of Lapse and on the pretext of alleged misrule.

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Interference with social customs

The British introduced some social reforms without taking into consideration the feelings of Indians. Reforms like abolition of Sati (1829), the introduction of the Widow Remarriage Act (1856) and the opening of the western education to girls were not welcomed by the masses.

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Exploitation of economic resources and drain of wealth

India was forced to export raw materials like cotton and silk at cheaper rates, plantation products which were urgently needed in Britain. India was made to accept readymade British goods either duty-free or at nominal rates. Since the Indian artisans could not compete with the machine-made goods, many of them lost their means of livelihood. The transfer of wealth from India to England for which India got no proportionate economic return, is called the Drain of Wealth. The drain included the salaries, incomes and savings of English men office establishment, interest on debts, etc.

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Discuss about ill-treatment of Indian soldiers

Despite the fact that Indian soldiers were as efficient as their British counterparts, they were poorly paid, ill-fed and badly housed. The Britishers forbade Indian soldiers from wearing caste or sectarian marks, beards or turbans.

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Events in Kanpur and Lucknow during 1857 revolt

Begum Hazrat Mahal, the wife of the Nawab of Awadh, led the uprising at Lucknow on May 30, 1857. The city was recaptured by the British in March 1858. She fled towards the Nepal frontier. At Kanpur, Nana Saheb led the struggle for independence where the British initially surrendered in June 1857 but later defeated Nana Saheb in December 1857. He then fled to Nepal.

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Apprehensions about modern innovations

Orthodox Indians had apprehensions about the introduction of modern innovations like railways and telegraphs. They believed that the British had introduced such practices to challenge their caste and religion.

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Decay of cottage industries and handicrafts

Heavy duties on Indian silk and cotton textiles in Britain destroyed Indian industries. The art of spinning and weaving, which had given employment to thousands of artisans, became extinct. The disappearance of artisans' patrons i.e., princes, chieftains, zamindars further compounded their miseries.

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Discuss about general service enlistment act

As per the General Service Enlistment Act of 1856, Indian soldiers could be sent overseas on duty. The Act did not take into account the sentiment of the Indian soldiers. The Brahmin soldiers saw in this a danger to their caste.

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Events in Central India (Jhansi and Gwalior)

The battle began at Jhansi in June 1857. Jhansi was captured by the British. The Rani escaped from the fortress to join Tantia Tope at Kalpi. She died fighting the British on June 17, 1858 at Gwalior. Tantia Tope was betrayed by the Gwalior Chief Man Singh and was hanged on April 18, 1859.

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Disrespect shown to Bahadur Shah

Bahadur Shah Zafar, The Mughal ruler was under the protection of the Company and received a pension from the British. In 1849, Lord Dalhousie announced that the successors of Bahadur Shah would not be permitted to use the Red Fort as their palace. In 1856, Lord Canning announced that after the death of Bahadur Shah, his successors would not be allowed to use the imperial titles with their names and would be known as mere princes.

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Policy of racial discrimination

The British officers believed that they were superior to Indians. They followed a policy of contempt towards the Indians. Some European officers ill-treated and insulted Indians. Such unjust acts of discrimination alienated the British from the Indian masses.

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Explain about economic decline of peasantry

The peasantry bore the heavy burden of taxes to provide money for the trade of the Company, for the cost of administration and the wars of British expansion in India. Increase in the land revenue forced many peasants into indebtedness or selling their lands. The economic decline of the peasants affected cultivation and led to many famines.

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Larger proportion of Indians in the British Army

In 1856, the Company's troops comprised 2,38,000 Indians and 45,322 British soldiers. Thus, it made it easier for the large number of Indian soldiers to take up arms against the British.

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Results of the revolt of 1857

The First War of Independence resulted in the end of the Company rule in India; Queen Victoria's proclamation; End of the Mughals and Peshwas, Change in relations with Princely states; Policy of divide and rule; Racial antagonism; Foreign policy; Religious changes; Changes in the army; Increased racial bitterness; Economic exploitation; Rise of nationalism.

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Treatment given to Nana Saheb and Rani Laxmi Bai

The British refused to grant Nana Saheb, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II, the pension they were paying to Baji Rao II. Nanasaheb was forced to live at Kanpur, far away from his family seat at Poona. The adopted son of Rani Laxmi Bai was not accepted as the heir to the throne as Rani Laxmibai had become a victim of the Doctrine of Lapse.

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Corruption in administration

The police and petty officials in the British administration were corrupt. The rich got away with crime but the common man was looted, oppressed and tortured.

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Discuss about growing unemployment

Scholars, preachers and men of arts were no longer patronised as many rulers who supported them declined which led to their impoverishment. When the Indian States were annexed to the British dominion, thousands of soldiers and officials in administrative, military and judicial posts became unemployed because British policies excluded Indians from high posts.

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Discuss about bleak prospects of promotions

All higher positions in the employment were reserved for the British, irrespective of their performance. Even the Indian soldiers formerly occupying high positions in the armies of native princes could not rise above the rank of a Subedar.

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Nature of the revolt of 1857

Historians and scholars have different views about the nature of the outbreak of 1857. V D Savarkar describes it as "a planned war of national independence". Noted historian S. N. Sen also believes that the uprising of 1857 was a war of independence. According to him, the uprising began as a fight for religion and ended as a war of Independence.

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Absentee sovereignty of the British

Absentee Sovereignty of the British rule was resented by the Indians as they felt that they were being ruled by the British government from England, at a distance of thousands of miles and India's wealth was being drained to England and not utilised for their welfare.

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Oppression of the poor

The complex judicial system enabled the rich to oppress the poor. Flogging, torture and imprisonment of the cultivators for their inability to pay rent, land revenue and interest on debt were quite common. 

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Discuss about inhuman treatment of Indigo cultivators

The peasants were forced to cultivate only Indigo in the fields chosen by the British planters. If they planted anything else, their crops were destroyed, and their cattle were carried off as punishment.

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Discuss about deprivation of allowances

The extension of the British dominion in India adversely affected the service conditions of the sepoys. They were required to serve in areas away from their homes without extra payment and additional allowances.

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Discuss the consequences of the First War of Independence

The consequences of the First War of Independence include the end of the Company rule; Queen Victoria's proclamation; End of the Mughals and Peshwas, Change in relations with Princely states; Policy of divide and rule; Racial antagonism; Foreign policy; Religious changes; Changes in the army; Increased racial bitterness; Economic exploitation; Rise of nationalism.

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Activities of missionaries

The British began to interfere with the the local religious and social customs. They denounced idol worship and dubbed local beliefs as ignorance. After 1813, there was an increase in the activities of the Christian missionaries. The Indians thought that the Government was supporting missionaries who would convert them into Christianity.

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Discuss about poverty and famines

British economic exploitation, decay of indigenous industries, high taxation, the drain of wealth, stagnation of agriculture, etc. reduced the Indians to extreme poverty. Twelve major and numerous minor famines between 1770 to 1857 had also ravaged the country.

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Faulty distribution of troops and lower salaries

There were no British armies deployed in places of strategic importance like Delhi and Allahabad which were wholly held by the Indian soldiers. Since the Britishers were involved in many other wars the Indian soldiers felt that the protection of their country depended on them and they were willing to strike at them at a suitable time.

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Discuss the drawbacks of the First War of Independence

The drawbacks of the uprising of 1857 include lack of planning, organisation and leadership; lack of common cause; lack of participation of all sections of society; lack of resources; lack of nationwide dimensions; and beginning of the movement before the fixed date.

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Fear regarding western education

The Western system of education was introduced in a number of schools. The shifting of emphasis from oriental learning to Western education was not received well by the people, especially the Pandits and the Maulvis. They saw in it an attempt to discourage traditional Islamic and Hindu studies.

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Discuss about decline of landed aristocracy

The landed aristocracy which included the taluqdars and the hereditary landlords were deprived of their estates. About 20,000 estates were confiscated when the landlords were unable to produce evidence like title-deeds by which they held the land under the Inam Commission (1852) which drove the landed aristocracy to poverty.

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Poor performance of British troops

The British army suffered major reverses in the First Afghan War, in the Punjab wars and in the Crimean War. They also suffered disasters in the Santhal uprising that broke the myth of their invincibility.

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Taxing religious places and law of property

Religious sentiments of the Indians were hurt by the official policy of taxing lands belonging to temples and mosques. The Religious Disabilities Act of 1850 changed the Hindu Law of Property enabling a convert from Hinduism to other religions to inherit the property of his father.

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Discuss about immediate causes

The immediate cause of the First War of Independence in 1857 was the introduction of the 'Enfield Rifle'. There was a rumour that the greased cartridge had the fat of cow or pig and was to be bitten off in order load these rifles. The Indian soldiers saw this as a deliberate move of the British to contaminate the religion of the Hindus and the  Muslims.