The Revolt of 1857: First War of Independence Against British

By Sudheer Kumar K|Updated : May 26th, 2022

The Revolt of 1857, Indian Mutiny of 1857, or the First War of Independence was a major uprising against the British regime. Though it was unsuccessful, the rebellion was widespread. The British East India Company in India functioned as a sovereign power on behalf of the British crown. The Revolt of 1857 was a stepping stone regarding the primary outburst of resentment and anger arising due to the prevailing discontent against the Britishers.

The rebellion began on 10 May, 1857 in the form of a mutiny of sepoys of the Company's army in the garrison town of Meerut. The Revolt of 1857 is considered the first expression of organized resistance against the British East India Company. The revolt though started as a sepoy mutiny, gathered the support of the Indian masses incredibly. Peasants, artisans, and people from different communities, and religions joined the revolt. The soldiers who worked for the East India Company sacrificed their lives for the sake of others. Everyone came together and fought united for one cause in this revolt.

Table of Content

What is Revolt of 1857?

The revolt that was started by the soldiers was later spread across the country. It was V.D. Savarkar called the Revolt of 1857 the First War of Indian Independence. Dr. S.N. Sen describes the revolt as "having begun as a fight for religion but ended as a war of independence."

Dr. R.C. Majumdar, the famous historian considers it as neither the first, nor national, nor a war of independence. The Britishers, consider the 1857 Revolt just a peasant sepoy mutiny.

Causes of Revolt of 1857

The Revolt of 1857 was pan-Indian, but it was majorly concentrated in parts of Central and North India. 

There were instances of continued exploitation of local land and imposition of Britisher’s faith on Indians. Many times, it was forceful, which led to resentment. People had severe discontent over this as they felt threatened to lose their faith and religious sentiments. This led to building up a sympathetic chord among the masses and collectively they rose to the common cause against the discontent with British rule.

The administrative innovations, economic exploitations, and expansionist policies of the East India Company and Britishers over the years also added fuel to the fire.

Political Causes of Revolt of 1857

  • The main Political Cause of Revolt of 1857 was the British policy of direct annexation and expansion through the Doctrine of Lapse, introduced by Lord Dalhousie. The Governor-General of India was Lord Dalhousie between 1848-1856, and under his supervision, the British added numerous territories to the British Empire in India. 
  • The Doctrine of Lapse enraged the Indian rulers against the British government immensely. The titles and pensions of some of the Indian princes were also confiscated. 
  • The pension of Nana Sahib was discontinued after the death of Baji Rao ll and Rani of Jhansi was deprived of her right to rule. She was deprived because of the violation of the Hindu law that Britishers had enacted.
  • In the span of eight years, The Governor-General annexed Satara (1848), Sambalpur (1850), Jhansi (1853), Nagpur (1853), Jaipur (1849), and Bhagat (1850).
  • The Religious Disabilities Act, 1850 enabled a convert from Hinduism to other religions to inherit the property of his ancestors. The Hindu regarded this as an incentive to give up one's religious faith.
  • Lord Dalhousie annexed Awadh on the pretext of maladministration, which left thousands of officials, retainers, nobles, and soldiers jobless. This step of Lord Dalhousie converted Awadh into a hotbed of discontent against the British.
  • Following the death of Bahadur Shah II, Dalhousie suggested eliminating the title of Mughal emperor.

Economic Causes of Revolt of 1857

  • The British strategy of economically exploiting India was the source of public resentment. Due to heavy tax expectations and a stringent revenue collection program, the masses suffered.
  • The British took advantage of India's economic resources, turning it into a colonial economy that served British capitalist interests.
  • Following the Industrial Revolution in England, India experienced destitution as indigenous handicrafts and industries were destroyed by the entry of British manufactured products.
  • British colonists in India monopolized plantation businesses in indigo, jute, tea, and coffee.
  • Under the new Revenue System of the British, the peasants and the British government got into touch with one another. The system removed the middlemen from the scene and as a result, talukdars and zamindars, who used to collect land tax lost both their income and their position.
  • Lord Dalhousie in 1852 ordered the Inam Commission to investigate the landlords' title papers. Those who failed to present documentary proof of their property rights were stripped of their rights.

Socio-Economic Causes of Revolt of 1857

  • The Britishers looked down on Indians as inferior and discriminated against them racially at every step. They were not allowed at many places such as parks, hotels, and first-class railway compartments, as these were specially reserved for the Englishmen. 
  • Indians were hurt by the racial arrogance they were facing from the Britishers and this led to Indians regarding the Englishmen as their worst enemies. 
  • The legislation legalizing widow remarriage, and the abolition of practices like sati and female infanticide, were considered a social threat. This was seen as a blow to the social structure Indians were accustomed to.
  • The introduction of English education along with the propagation of the Christian missionaries and the changing of the Hindu law of property alarmed the orthodox Indians.

Military Causes of Revolt of 1857

  • There was great inequality in treatment between the Indian and the British troops in terms of salary and other benefits. The Indian soldiers were considered inferior and were ill-treated by high officers.
  • The high ranks in the army were exclusively reserved for the Englishmen.
  • Indian soldiers were prohibited to wear caste and religious marks while serving in the army. It amounted to the Indian troops, interference in their personal and religious affairs by the British.
  • The General Services Enlistment Act required sepoys to serve even on British land across the sea. The majority of the Indian soldiers were sent to Crimea, China, and Iran to fight wars for the English. In Indian traditions, crossing the Sea at that time was considered a loss of religion. This piled up anger against the Britishers.

What was the Immediate Cause of the Revolt Of 1857?

  • The Immediate Cause of the Revolt Of 1857 was the introduction of the new Enfield greased cartridge rifle. Before loading the rifle, the sepoy had to bite off its top and then load. It was believed that the grease was made out of the fats of cows and pigs. 
  • This was objectionable to the Hindus and Muslims alike. For Hindus, cows are sacred and Muslims prohibit eating pork (pig meat). The rumor of the greased cartridge being made of cow and pig's flesh and meat sparked off the fire of discontent against the British in the form of a revolt. 
  • The first sign of unrest appeared in 1857 at Barrackpore in Bengal. A sepoy, Mangal Pandey on 29th March, 1857, killed senior officers on parade and started the revolt.

Leaders of the Revolt of 1857

Many leaders from different regions of the country came together against the EIC and the Britishers. The famous leaders and their regions are listed below, in which they led the revolt:

Places of Revolt

Leaders Associated

Delhi

Bahadur Shah II

Lucknow

Begum Hazrat Mahal

Kanpur

Nana Saheb

Jhansi & Gwalior

Lakshmi Bai & Tantia Tope

Bareilly

Khan Bahadur Khan

Allahabad and Banaras

Maulvi Liyakat Ali

Bihar

Kunwar Singh

Suppression of Revolt of 1857

The Britishers considered this revolt as a serious threat to their regime and considerably changed their policies to overcome this rebellion, and they could succeed also.

Places of Revolt

Leaders Associated

Suppressing Officials

Delhi

Bahadur Shah II

John Nicholson

Lucknow

Begum Hazrat Mahal

Henry Lawrence

Kanpur

Nana Saheb

Sir Colin Campbell

Jhansi & Gwalior

Lakshmi Bai & Tantia Tope

General Hugh Rose

Bareilly

Khan Bahadur Khan

Sir Colin Campbell

Allahabad and Banaras

Maulvi Liyakat Ali

Colonel Oncell

Bihar

Kunwar Singh

William Taylor

Causes of Failure of Revolt of 1857

  • Bahadur Shah has gone old and weak, so was unable to lead the revolt. The revolt was poorly organized with no central leadership or coordination.
  • There was a limited territorial spread of the revolt. Most parts of India remained more or less unaffected. The large princely states, Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore, and Kashmir, as well as the smaller ones of Rajputana, did not join the rebellion.
  • Many zamindars, rich merchants, and traders supported the Britishers.
  • Modern educated Indians viewed the revolt as backward-looking.
  • The Indian soldiers were poorly equipped materially.
  • The revolt lacked a clear understanding of British rule and was poorly prepared.

Effects of the Revolt of 1857

  • The revolt marked the end of the East India Company’s rule in India. India now came under the direct rule of the British Crown.
  • The Office of the Governor-General was replaced by that of the Viceroy. The rights of Indian rulers were recognized and the Doctrine of Lapse was abolished.
  • The restructuring was done in the army but the armory remained in the hands of the English only.

Revolt Of 1857 UPSC PDF

The Revolt of 1857 is important in the history of Indian independence because it was the revolt that bought people from different sections of society to fight against a single cause. The major impact of the Revolt of 1857 was the introduction of the Government of India Act, 1858 which abolished the rule of the British East India Company in India and marked the beginning of the rule of the British government through its representatives in India, directly.

For complete knowledge of the Revolt of 1857 for the UPSC 2022 Exam, refer to the PDF below.

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Revolt of 1857 FAQs

  • Sepoy Mangal Pandey of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry, on March 29, 1857 at Barrackpore, attacked his officers over the use of greased Enfield cartridge. His comrades joined him in the revolt. 

  • The administrative innovations, economic exploitations, and expansionist policies of the East India Company and Britishers over the years led to the Revolt of 1857.

    The Revolt of 1857 marked the end of the East India Company’s rule in India. India now came under the direct rule of the British Crown and the Office of the Governor-General was replaced by that of the Viceroy. At the Royal Durbar of Allahabad, in 1858, Lord Canning through the royal proclamation announced that the Queen had assumed the Government of India. 

  • The Sepoy Imperialism or the Sepoy Rebellion, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny, was one of the most important events in the history of British imperialism in India. The Sepoy Mutiny was a major turning point for the Britishers in India, which resulted in the change of power structure of the country.

  • ‘Inqlaab Zindabad’ (Long live the revolution) became one of the rallying cries of the First War of Independence and motivated the youth of India to participate in the freedom struggle.

  • Bakht Khan was the Commander-in-Chief of the rebel forces in the early stages of the Revolt of 1857–58. 

  • Mangal Pandey, the sepoy from the 34th Bengal Native Infantry is considered the Hero of the 1857 War. It was him who, at Barrackpore attacked his officers over the use of greased Enfield cartridge.

  • The Revolt of 1857 is also called the First War of Independence because it was the first war that got entire undivided India, irrespective of the caste, creed, race, and religion together to stage an armed protest against the Britishers to gain independence from their colonial rule.

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