The year 1857 marked the completion of 100 years of British rule. Lord Dalhousie’s regime (1849-56) marked the high watermark of the expansion of British domination in India when he implemented the Doctrine of Lapse which postulated that Indian states having no natural heir would be annexed to the Empire.
Doctrine of Lapse is also known as Law of Escheat. The states annexed to the empire by the application of this doctrine were Satara (1848), Sambalpur (1850), Jhansi (1853), Jaipur (1849), Bengal (1850) and Awadh (1856). Nana Sahib’s pension was discontinued and the adopted son of the Rani of Jhansi was deprived of his right to rule in violation of the recognised Hindu Laws.
The Rani had tried everything to reverse the decision. She even offered to keep Jhansi safe for the British if they would grant her wishes. Not only that, Dalhousie further proposed to abolish the title of Mughal emperor.
So far as the military causes of Indian National Movement are concerned—there was great inequality in the treatment between the Indian sepoys and their British counterparts in terms of salary and benefits.
Indian soldiers were considered inferior and higher posts were exclusively reserved for Britishers. What hurt Indian soldiers most was the ban to ware caste and religious mark while on service which amounted to interference in their personal affairs.
The British suffered defeats in first Afghan war (1838-1842) and in Punjab war (1845-1849). These defeats shattered the belief that the Britishers are invincible. As for economic reasons of Indian National Movement, under the British rule India was converted into colonial economy to serve the British capitalists interests. Our traditional handicrafts industry was ruined. Many people were rendered jobless.
As a result there was overcrowding in agricultural sector. Beside a large number of Zamindars were dispossessed of their lands and estates due to British revenue settlement. Both peasants and Zamindars were forced to produce more to appropriate maximum revenue.
The socio-religious causes responsible for the revolt were many and different. The British looked down upon the Indians as inferior race and discriminated against them racially. Abolition of Sati Pratha in 1829 by William Bantick and introduction of Widow Remarriage act in 1856 created suspicion in the minds of conservative Hindus that the British were trying to anglicise them. The policy to tax religious schools further anguished both Hindus.
Apart from these factors, there were immediate causes of 1857 revolt. The introduction of greased cartridges enraged both Hindus and Muslims. The cartridges had to be bitten off before loading and the grease was reportedly made of beef and Pig fat.
On March 29, 1857, the Indian soldiers of Barrackpur refused to use the greased cartridges. A young sepoy of 34th Native infantry, Mangle Pander killed the Sergeant Major of his regiment.
On May 10,1857, the sepoys of third cavalry of Meerut also refused to use the greased cartridges and broke out in open rebellion. These sepoys were immediately joined by the men of 11th and 20th Native Infantries.
At Delhi the command of revolt was in the hands of Bakhtkhan at Kanpur, revolt was led by Nan Sahib, the adopted son of the last Peshwa Baji Rao II. He was assisted by Tantya Tope and Azimullah Khan in the revolt. At Lucknow, the revolt was led by Hazrat Mahal, the Begum of Awadh. Harry Laurance the British resident was killed at Lucknow and Hazrat Mahal proclaimed her son Brijis Kadir as Nawab of Awadh.
After being defeated at Jhansi Rani Laxmi Bai fought to guard the fort of Gwalior. She was killed by General Hugh Rose. At Barailly, Khan Bahadur Khan raised the banner of revolt and proclaimed himself Nawab. Kunwar Singh, a discontented Zamindar of Arrah was a leader of the revolt in Bihar. The rebels who revolted in Banaras were crushed by Colonel Neills. Maulvi Ahmadullah inspired the revolt in Faizabad.
Finally Delhi fell on 20 September 1857. Bahadur Shah was captured, tried and deported to Burma where he died in 1862. With his death the back of the revolt was broken. The Rani of Jhansi died fighting on 17 June 1857. Nana Saheb refused to give in and escaped to Nepal. Kunwar Singh who fought British army led by William Taylor died in 1858. Tantya Tope was captured by British general Havelock and Sir Campbell and put to death. He fought guerilla war against the British. Sir Campbell defeated Begum Hazrat Mahal in Lucknow.
The failures of this revolt were various. Although the rebels received the sympathy of the people, the country as a whole was not behind them. The merchants, intelligentsia and Indian rulers not only kept aloof but actively supported the British.
The revolt was poorly organised and there was no unity among the leaders. For more than a year the rebels carried out their struggle against heavy odds. They had no quick system at their command hence no coordination was possible. There was no impact of the rebellion beyond Narmada.
Even in north India, Rajasthan, Punjab, Sindh and Gujrat remained quite. Almost half the Indian soldiers not only kept aloof from participating in the revolt but also fought against their own countrymen. The Indian prince such as Sindhia of Gwalior, Nizam of Hyderabad and princes of Rajasthan remained loyal to the British.
The rebel leaders lacked in experience, organizing ability and their operations were not concerted. Even after its failure the revolt of 1857 served a grand purpose. It was a source of inspiration for the national liberation movement. It was not a pure historical tragedy.
The immediate fall out of this revolt was that East India Company was abolished. Administration was transferred from East India Company to the crown of Britain. Beginning was made by Indian Council Act 1861 to associate Indians legislative matters. The Civil Service Act was passed which provided for competitive examination of 1861 transferred the European troops of the company to the crown.