When People Rebel

History

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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 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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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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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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