Revolt of 1857- A Gateway to the National Movement
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- Pratibha Verma
- August 19, 2012
Revolt of 1857 A Gateway to a new start.
The uprising of 1857 was a new start in Indian history. It was the time of Bahadhur Shah 2nd, the Mughal emperor, who was a mere pensioner of the British east India Company, and possessed the name but not the power. The acquisition of Delhi and the decree of Bahadhur Shah as the emperor of Hindustan gave a positive political meaning to the revolt and bestirred the rebels by recalling the past glory of the imperial city. The revolt of Meerut and capture of Delhi was the forerunner to a widespread mutiny by the sepoys and to the surging rebellion. Within a month of capture of Delhi, the revolt spread to different parts of country. The administration was invariably stumbled because of the intense anti-British feelings and by the rebel activities. Except for the Madras army, the revolt embraced smaller parts across India including , almost every cantonment in the Bengal and a few in Bombay.
The reason behind this revolt was multifarious. But it started with the unhappiness of the sepoys which first surfaced in 1824 when the 47th regiment at Barrackpur was ordered to go to Burma. According to Hindu beliefs , crossing the sea meant loss of caste. The sepoys refused to go, and for not obeying orders they were demobilized and those who steered the revolution were hanged. During these arduous campaigns the absconded sepoys were forced to eat and drink whatever came their way. This affected them severely after they reached their home back, as they were treated as ‘out of Biradri or Caste’. The 19th Native infantry at Berhampur, which refused to use the newly introduced Enfield rifle, was disbanded in March 1857. A young sepoy of 34th Native infantry, Mangal Pandey went a step further and fired the Sergeant Major of his regiment. After this ,he was overpowered and executed and his regiment too was disbanded.
There were many reasons which dissatisfied and enraged the sepoys , such as they had to bite off the cartridge before use, and the grease was reportedly made of beef and pig fat. The official missionary nexus gave credence to the rumour. It was considered prestigious to be in the service of the Company for it provided economic stability: but the fact was that the British Company wanted to destroy their religion. The people at that time were strong followers of religion and the rebelling sepoys, who majorly were predominantly drawn from upper caste Hindus ,were not ready to go against their religious beliefs. Other reasons also included the dissatisfaction of sepoys regarding their emoluments. What was more aggravated to them was the sense of deprivation compared to the British counterparts. The sepoys were discriminated racially and in matters of promotion and privileges. On one side the sepoys were unhappy and on the other , the civilians. The new land revenue system introduced after the annexation and confiscation of lands also dissatisfied the people. The British rule not only bought miseries in sepoys’ life but also in civilians’.
The revolt of sepoys was accompanied by rural population ,fearless from state and the control exercised by the administration. This upsurge in anger had immediate effects- government buildings were destroyed, the treasury was plundered, magazine was sacked, barracks and court houses were burnt, and prison gates were flung opened. The territorial magnates, artisans, peasants, religious mendicants and priests, civil servants, shopkeepers and boatmen , all with their own perpective got involved in the revolt. The revolt of sepoys, thus resulted in a popular uprising.
Eventually Talukdars lost their power and privileges. British rule also meant misery to the artisans and handicraftsmen. The coalition of the sepoys and civil population made the unprecendented 1857 revolt even popular. The revolt was carried for more than a year. Rebels received sympathy of people; the country , as a whole, was not behind them.
The revolt of 1857, was an unsuccessful but heroic attempt. Apart from commonly shared hatred for alien rule, the rebels had no political perspective or a definite vision of the future. They had no sources of getting arms and ammunition. They were often forced to fight with sword and pikes against an enemy supplied with most modern weapons. They had no quick system of communication. The merchant, intelligentsia and Indian ruler not only kept aloof, but actively supported the British. Almost half the Indian soldier not only revolted againt the British Company, but also fought against their own countrymen. The revolt ended unsuccessfully as it was without proper plan and was at embryonic stage.