Sepoy Mutiny – Revolt of 1857
During the British Raj, there was unrest and discontent amongst the people of India. Soon, many rebellions followed in various parts of the country. There were several causes which led to this. One of them being that the Hindu soldiers protested against the addition of Gurkha, Sikh and lower caste soldiers to their ranks. Economic policies of the British had an adverse effect on the soldiers’ families back home.
The use of animal grease on the cartridges of the newly introduced Enfield rifles was the last straw. While loading the rifles, soldiers had to bite off the end of the cartridges. It was made up of either pig or cow fat, which violated the religious sentiments of the Muslim and Hindu soldiers.
In 1857, three regiments of the army refused to use the ammunition for the Enfield rifles. These men were disbanded. Then later another 85 soldiers disobeyed orders to load their rifles. They were arrested. The rest of the soldiers mutinied on May 19, 1857. These men marched on to Delhi and demanded that the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, take over as the ruler of India and the head of the rebels. Though he reluctantly agreed, the British defeated him and sent him into exile in Burma, where he died in 1862.
This uprising came to be known as the Sepoy Mutiny or the Revolt of of 1857. Mangal Pandey is the most famous figure of this uprising who attacked the British regiment. He was later arrested and hanged.
Soon after, another regiment revolted. Ninety thousand men from the Bengal Army joined the mutiny. Initially the British suffered heavy casualties as they were unable to respond to the uprising. After suffering major losses in Kanpur and Lucknow, the British sought the help of the loyal Sikh and Gurkha forces. The British with their help managed to ward off the army of rebels near Delhi.
In response to the mutiny, the British Parliament passed an act, abolishing the East India Company. India became a crown colony to be governed by the British Parliament directly. A British cabinet member, the Secretary of State for India, and the Governor General looked after Indian affairs.
In the following year, the title of Viceroy was bestowed upon the Governor-General of India by Queen Victoria. She introduced a policy of ‘Divide and Rule’ which prevented Indians from uniting to rebel against her. By implementing this, the British sought accommodations with Princes and landlords, in turn allowing them a degree of freedom. This ensured their loyalty. The army was reorganized to avoid further conspiracies.
The British turned their attention to commerce and development. The first step was the building of a transport system to move imported British ready made goods and to export Indian raw materials. Construction of the railroad and railway stations began and many new towns came into existence just to transport Indian resources to the markets. New roads were built, a new communications system came into existence and a harbour was built in Bombay.
During this period the conditions of the poor worsened. Village artisans went broke as a result of competition from English machine-made goods. Many were forced into poverty with the destruction of the Indian craft industry.
They were forced to turn to tilling land for a living.
During the American Civil War, Indian agriculture shifted from foodstuffs to cotton for supply to the English textile industry. This and a severe drought in the 1870s led to a terrible famine that spread throughout the country of India.
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