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Revolt of 1857 (First War of Independence against British)


  • The Revolt of 1857 was a major uprising in India during 1857-58 against the British regime. But it was unsuccessful and was superseded by the British East India Company, which ruled and acted as a sovereign power on behalf of the British Crown.
  • It is regarded as one of the severe outbursts of resentment against the prevailing British regime in the form of the Indian revolt of 1857.
  • The Revolt of 1857 event in Indian History was an important landmark.
  • The revolt began on May 10, 1857, at Meerut as a sepoy mutiny. It was initiated by sepoys in the Bengal Presidency against the British officers.
  • Its name is contested, and it is variously described as the Sepoy Mutiny, the Indian Mutiny, the Great Rebellion, the Revolt of 1857, the Indian Insurrection, and the First War of Independence (by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar).

Beginning of the revolt

  • The revolt of the sepoys was accompanied by a rebellion of the civil population, particularly in the north-western provinces and Awadh. Their accumulated grievances found immediate expression and they rose en masse to give vent to their opposition to British rule.
  • It is the widespread participation in the revolt by the peasantry, the artisans, shopkeepers, day labourers, zamindars, religious mendicants, priests and ‘civil servants which gave it real strength as well as the character of a popular revolt. Here the peasants and petty zamindars gave free expression to their grievances by attacking the moneylenders and zamindars that had displaced them from the land.
  • They took advantage of the revolt to destroy the moneylenders’ account books and debt records. They also attacked the British-established law courts, revenue offices (tehsils), revenue records and police stations.
  • At Delhi the nominal and symbolic leadership belonged to the Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah, but the real command lay with a court of soldiers headed by General Bakht Khan who had led the revolt of Bareilly troops and brought them to Delhi.
  • The court consisted of ten members, six from the army and four from the civilian departments. The court conducted the affairs of the state in the name of the emperor.
  • Emperor Bahadur Shah was perhaps the weakest link in the chain of leadership of the revolt. His weak personality, old age and lack of leadership qualities created political weakness at the nerve centre of the revolt and did incalculable damage to it.
  • Maulvi Ahmadullah of Faizabad was another outstanding leader of the revolt. He was a native of Madras and had moved to Faizabad in the north where he fought a stiff battle against the British troops. He emerged as one of the revolt’s acknowledged leaders once it broke out in Awadh in May 1857.

Journey of Revolt of 1857

Barrackpur (west Bengal)29 march 1857Mangal Pandey
Meerut (Uttar Pradesh)9 may 1857Kadam Singh
Delhi11 may 1857Bahadur Shah
Kanpur (Uttar Pradesh)June 1857Nana Sahib and Tatya tope
Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh)June 1857Wajid Ali Shah
Jhansi (Madhya Pradesh)June 1857Rani Laxmi Bai
Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh)June 1857Revolutionary Soldiers
Benaras (Uttar Pradesh)June 1857Revolutionary Soldiers
BiharOctober 1857Raja Kunwar Singh
Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh)May 1858Khan Bahadur Khan and Maulvi Ahmed Shah
Shahjahapur (Uttar Pradesh)May 1858Revolutionary Soldiers
PunjabMay 1857Revolutionary Soldiers

Causes of the Revolt

Political Cause:

British policy of expansion:

 The political causes of the revolt were the British policy of expansion through the Doctrine of Lapse and direct annexation.

Doctrine of lapse

  • The notable British technique called the Doctrine of Lapse was first perpetrated by Lord Dalhousie in the late 1840s.
  • It involved the British prohibiting a Hindu ruler without a natural heir from adopting a successor and, after the ruler died or abdicated, annexing his land.
  • To those problems added the growing discontent of the Brahmans, many of whom had been dispossessed of their revenues or had lost lucrative positions.
  • A large number of Indian rulers and chiefs were dislodged, thus arousing fear in the minds of other ruling families who apprehended a similar fate.
  • Rani Lakshmi Bai’s adopted son was not permitted to sit on the throne of Jhansi.
  • Satara, Nagpur and Jhansi were annexed under the Doctrine of Lapse.
  • Jaitpur, Sambalpur and Udaipur were also annexed.
  • The annexation of Awadh by Lord Dalhousie on the pretext of maladministration left thousands of nobles, officials, retainers and soldiers jobless. This measure converted Awadh, a loyal state, into a hotbed of discontent and intrigue.

Social and Religious Cause:

  • The rapidly spreading Western Civilisation in India was alarming concerns all over the country.
  • An act in 1850 changed the Hindu law of inheritance enabling a Hindu who had converted into Christianity to inherit his ancestral properties.
  • The people were convinced that the Government was planning to convert Indians to Christianity.
  • The abolition of practices like sati and female infanticide, and the legislation legalizing widow remarriage, were believed as threats to the established social structure.
  • Introducing western methods of education was directly challenging the orthodoxy for Hindus as well as Muslims
  • Even the introduction of the railways and telegraph was viewed with suspicion.

Economic Cause:

  • In rural areas, peasants and zamindars were infuriated by the heavy taxes on land and the stringent methods of revenue collection followed by the Company.
  • Many among these groups were unable to meet the heavy revenue demands and repay their loans to money lenders, eventually losing the lands that they had held for generations.
  • Large numbers of sepoys belonged to the peasantry class and had family ties in villages, so the grievances of the peasants also affected them.
  • After the Industrial Revolution in England, there was an influx of British manufactured goods into India, which ruined industries, particularly the textile industry of India.
  • Indian handicraft industries had to compete with cheap machine- made goods from Britain.

Military Causes:

  • The Revolt of 1857 began as a sepoy mutiny:
  • Indian sepoys formed more than 87% of the British troops in India but were considered inferior to British soldiers.
  • An Indian sepoy was paid less than a European sepoy of the same rank.
  • They were required to serve in areas far away from their homes.
  • In 1856 Lord Canning issued the General Services Enlistment Act which required that the sepoys must be ready to serve even in British land across the sea.

Immediate Reason of Revolt of 1857

  • The immediate factor was the introduction of the ‘Enfield’ rifle.
  •  The cartridge had to be bitten off before loading it into the gun. Indian sepoys believed that the cartridge was greased with either pig fat or made from cow fat.
  • This was against the Hindu and Muslim sentiments. Thus they were reluctant to use the ‘Enfield’ rifle.
  • This was a flashpoint to enrage the soldiers against the British. This was believed to be the immediate factor for the revolt of 1857.

Why did the Revolt Fail?

  • End of company rule: the great uprising of 1857 was an important landmark in the history of modern India.
  • The revolt marked the end of the East India Company’s rule in India.
  • Direct rule of the British Crown: India now came under the direct rule of the British Crown.
  • This was announced by Lord Canning at a Durbar in Allahabad in a proclamation issued on 1 November 1858 in the name of the Queen.
  • The Indian administration was taken over by Queen Victoria, which, in effect, meant the British Parliament.
  • The India office was created to handle the governance and the administration of the country.
  • Religious tolerance: it was promised and due attention was paid to the customs and traditions of India.
  • Administrative change: the Governor General’s office was replaced by that of the Viceroy.
  • The rights of Indian rulers were recognised.
  • The Doctrine of Lapse was abolished.
  • The right to adopt sons as legal heirs was accepted.
  • Military reorganisation: the ratio of British officers to Indian soldiers increased but the armoury remained in the hands of the English. It was arranged to end the dominance of the Bengal army.