Though India won its Independence in 1947, the struggle for freedom evoked much before it. The first war of Independence occurred in 1857 also known as the Great Revolt of 1857 or the Sepoy Mutiny.
The revolt of 1857 was India’s first struggle for Independence from the British rule in India. Although the British establishment in India was a century old by then, the great revolt was the greatest revolt of its time as people from all sections of the society conjoined with the same interests thus making it the most magnificent single event in the history of India.
How the revolt evoked?
In 1857, the officers of the British East India Company decided to have a trial run of the newly acquired cartridges with the 19th battalion at Barrackpur near Kolkata. It was said that the cartridges had the layering of cows’ and pigs’ fat. The cover of these cartridges had to be removed from the mouth by the soldiers which were against the religious beliefs of the Muslims and Hindus sepoys. They believed the Britishers had deliberately done this to hurt the sentiments of the soldiers hence, they refused to use those cartridges and revolted against such an experiment.
Mangal Pandey, a sepoy in the 34th Bengal Native Infantry regiment of the British East India Company, aggravated by the experiment, revolted against the Britishers on 29th March 1857, also inspired the Indian soldiers to fight against the injustice and thus led to the commencement of the great revolt.
On 29 March 1857, the Indian sepoys of Barrackpore revolted under Habildar Mangal Pande’s leadership. On 10 May, the Meerut sepoys of the East India Company revolted. Soon the revolt spread across Delhi, Kanpur, Aligarh, Lucknow, Jhansi, Allahabad, Oudh and other places of north India.
In no time the revolt started by few enraged sepoys became a mutiny against the British government. Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, Tantia Tope, Kunwar Singh of Bihar, Nana Sahib, the Begum of Oudh and Ahmadulla of Faizabad were some of the important leaders of this revolt.
Entire north India from Bihar to Punjab was bloodshed and brawling with the Britishers. The city of Delhi was captured by the rebels after a fierce carnage and Gwalior also was abducted from British rule. The rebels had declared Bahadur Shah the emperor of India.
The major causes of the Great Revolt of 1857 may be studied in the following heads:
Political cause: Major political cause for the outbreak of the Revolt was the aggressive policies followed by Lord Dalhousie. Lord Dalhousie annexed the states of Satara, Jhansi, Sambalpur, Nagpur etc. under his rule, on the grounds of the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ or mis-governance. All these states came under British rule. This aggressive policy led to discontentment among the Indian rulers.In 1856, when he captured Oudh on the plea of misrule, the state became deprived of their livings.His ruthless behaviour towards the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah-II was not accepted by the Muslims. Discontinuation of the pension of the Peshwa Nana Sahib shocked the Marathas. These events slowly became the root causes of the revolt.
Economic cause: The Indian economy crumbled due to poor investment policies of East India Company. Due to feeble trade policies, the Indian handicraft industry collapsed which left Indian artisans unemployed.There was huge unrest among the labourers and peasants who fell prey to the Britishers.
Importance of the The Great Revolt:
Even though the revolt could not bring freedom to the country but the outcome of the revolt holds great importance in Indian history.
The Revolt brought the end of Company’s rule and the British Parliament handed the charge to the British government to rule India. With the escape of Nana Sahib and the death of Bahadur Shah Zafar came the end of Peshwaship and the Mughal Rule. The peasants actively participated in the revolt against the Britishers. New policies in the army were announced to prevent similar revolts in future. One of the most important outcomes of the Revolt was that it gave rise to a national feeling amongst Indians. It gave rise to a feeling of oneness and strengthened their unity. The Revolt, however, damaged the relationship between Hindus and Muslims with the Divide and Rule Policy.
The Great Revolt of 1857 served as a great source of inspiration in the struggle for freedom and laid the foundation of India’s Independence.