The 1857 war of independence against cruel british rule was fought for the greater than life principles. The fear of greased cartridges and the annexation of Oudh were only temporary and accidental causes. These great principles for which the war was fought were Swadharma and Swaraj. In the thundering roar of Swarajya, which rose to protect religion, when there were evident signs of a cunning, dangerous, and destructive attack on religion dearer than life, and in the terrific blows dealt at the chain of slavery with the holy desire of acquiring Swaraj, when it was evident that chains of political slavery had been put round them and their God-given liberty wrested away by subtle tricks- in these two, lies the root-principle of the Revolutionary War. [ref]
The main cause for the rebellion was the mutiny of the soldiers in the Bengal Regiment in the British Indian Army. The soldiers' religious sentiments were hurt by the officers when they were forced to use rifles powered by gunpowder consisting pig and cow fat. They were also forced to travel across the ocean and no Hindu did so because of the superstition that they would loose their caste. The movement grew so much that it ignited the feeling of Swaraj among the people and was the first unified movement to finish the British rule in India. The movement was unsucessful but it gave rise to the feeling of Swatantra and Swaraj and gave rise more movements to ultimately end British rule in India.
Colonel George Bruce Malleson, an English officer in India says:
In this lesser sense, then, and in this only, did the cartridges produce the mutiny. They were instruments used by the conspirators, and those conspirators were successful in their use of the instruments only because, in the manner I have endeavoured to point out, the mind of the Sepoys and of certain sections of the population had been prepared to believe every act testifying bad faith on the part of their foreign masters.
Politically, many princes of India had retired into seclusion after their final defeat in 1818. But the wars against the Afghans and the Sikhs and then the annexations of Dalhousie alarmed and outraged them. The Muslims had lost the large state of Avadh; the Marathas had lost Nagpur, Satara, and Jhansi. Further, the British were becoming increasingly hostile toward traditional survivals and contemptuous of most things Indian. There was therefore both resentment and unease among the old governing class, fanned in Delhi by the British decision to end the Mughal imperial title on Bahādur Shah’s death.
Economically and socially, there had been much dislocation in the landholding class all over northern and western India as a result of British land-revenue settlements, setting group against group. There was thus a suppressed tension in the countryside, ready to break out whenever governmental pressure might be reduced.
There were the widespread activity of Christian missionaries. Government was ostentatiously neutral, but Hindu society was inclined to regard the missionaries as eroding Hindu society without openly interfering. In sum, this combination of factors produced, besides the normal tensions endemic in India, an uneasy, fearful, suspicious, and resentful frame of mind and a wind of unrest ready to fan the flame of any actual physical outbreak. [ref]
Centres of Revolt
In 1824 sepoy (Indian) troops stationed in Barrackpore refused to participate in a mission during the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–26). In response, most of them were imprisoned or killed by the British military, an incident that became known as the Barrackpore Mutiny. It was also in Barrackpore that the mutinous actions of Mangal Pandey, a sepoy private, in March 1857 came to be regarded as the first event in a growing series of violent acts that culminated two months later in the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny at Meerut (now in Uttar Pradesh).
With the capture of power by the British, Meerut became a major military centre. The aggrieved Indian soldiers of the British Army began their fight against the imperial powers in this soil on 10th May, 1857. They captured the control of the city in one day and marched to Red Fort in Delhi, which was considered to be the symbol of control over the whole of India. On their way, they were joined by the common people who shouted patriotic war cries. By the next morning, Red Fort had fallen into the hand of the freedom fighters.
The spark that began in Meerut soon spread all over India and acquired the form of a nationalistic struggle for independence. It took one year for the British to put down the freedom struggle. Nevertheless, the First War of Indian Independence that began in Meerut continued to inspire the patriots all over the country. It paved the way for the organised national movement in later 19th century.[ref]
In the early hours of May 11, the king was jarred from his rest when news flashed through the court that the 3rd Native Cavalry from the nearby Meerut cantonment had dashed to Delhi and entered the city by the bridge over the Jumna River. Indeed, Bahadur could hear a cacophony rising from the grounds below his quarters, where the troopers had gathered, demanding an audience. The old king asked Captain Douglas to investigate the disturbance.
The 3rd Native Cavalry had left a trail of blood when its troopers broke with the British in a mutinous incident at Meerut and then declared their intention to fight the foreign Raj under the flag of their ‘king.’ Admitted to the palace by sympathizers, the soldiers rampaged through the grounds, killing every Englishman they could find. That attack was only a curtain raiser. Massacres, including the killing of women and children, erupted throughout Delhi.
Bahadur Shah was hesitant to accept titular leadership of the uprising. It would mean exchanging a peaceful life that permitted him to write poetry in his luxurious palace for a life promising only risk and turmoil. But he had no choice — he was, in effect, a prisoner of the mutineers. The 3rd Cavalry, now running wild in Delhi, would inevitably be joined by all native units in northern India, he was told.
For the moment the native regiments in Delhi — the 38th, 54th and 74th, plus a battery of native artillery — continued to take orders from their British officers, realizing perhaps that British reinforcements were on the way and the rebellion would soon fail. The 38th had been entrusted to guard the critical Kashmir Gate to the city. But the spectacle of the 3rd Cavalry from Meerut rampaging through the streets and killing Englishmen incited the 38th to open the gates and join their brothers in revolt. Some 150 troops from the 74th Native Infantry joined men of the 54th, who were taking the brunt of the attack, and tried to restore discipline at the Kashmir Gate. By afternoon, however, the gate had become untenable.
The sepoy siege of Delhi lasted for four months until the British launched an attack. [ref]
On July 17, an anonymous communication is received at the city Judge’s office saying a mutiny will take place and Kunwar Singh, an 80-year-old, local zamindar would be involved. “And singularly, all the information contained in it afterwards proved to be correct,” Halls writes in his memoirs titled Two months in Arrah.
In the coming days, the remaining European residents along with 50 Sikh members of the Bengal Military Police Battalion fortified themselves at the two-storey residence of Richard Vicars Boy, a District Engineer with East Indian Railway Company.
On the morning of July 27, as expected, the rebel sepoys, joined by Kunwar Singh and his forces, arrive in Arrah. They released the prisoners from the city, loot the treasury and head towards the fortified. But as they reach near it, the men inside opened fire, killing 18 instantly and forcing the others to take shelter behind the trees.
For the next eight days, the besieged party was subject to constant fire from the rebel forces that had now taken over the city. When they ran out of the water, Hall writes: “The Sikhs stealthily stole out at night and brought in the mining tools, conceived the idea of digging a well inside the house. This well, eighteen feet deep, was completed in twelve hours; plenty of water was obtained”.
Two rescue attempts were made to save the residents of the house and take back control of the city. First, a party from Dinapore was sent, which collided with the resistance outside the city, suffered heavy losses and retreated.
However, it was the second party led-by one Major Vincent Eyre, stationed in Buxar, who defeated the rebel sepoys and forced Kunwar Singh along with his men to retreat and leave Aarah.[ref]
Notable Bravehearts of 1857
Mangal Pandey is widely remembered as the first of the sepoy who was rebelled against the forces of imperialism and british raj. He was born in Faizabad in eastern United Provinces. Later he was admitted as a sepoy to the 6th Company of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry, which included a large number of Brahmans.
Pandey’s career ambitions, however, came into conflict with his religious beliefs. While he was posted at the garrison in Barrackpore in the mid-1850s, a new Enfield rifle was introduced into India that required a soldier to bite off the ends of greased cartridges in order to load the weapon. A rumour spread that the lubricant used was either cow or pig lard, which was repugnant to Hindus or Muslims, respectively. The belief arose among the sepoys that the British had deliberately used the lard on the cartridges.
There have been various accounts of the events of March 29, 1857. However, the general agreement is that Pandey attempted to incite his fellow sepoys to rise up against their British officers, attacked two of those officers, attempted to shoot himself after having been restrained, and eventually was overpowered and arrested.[ref]
Begum Hazrat Mahal
Begum Hazrat Mahal was one of the few women who challenged the British authority during the revolt of 1857. She was the wife of Wajid Ali Shah , the Nawab of Awadh who was unethically dethroned and sent to an exile in Calcutta. Hazrat Mahal decided to stay back in Lucknow along with her son Birjis Qadir. After the unlawful annexation of Awadh, a rebellion broke out at Meerut and the banner of revolt was raised in Lucknow which spread rapidly to other towns of Awadh. People were angered by this act of East India Company and joined the Mutiny of 1857 to oust the britsihers.
Hazrat Mahal was one of the primary figures in bringing about this uprising. ‘‘She has excited all Oudh,” says Russell. Her closest allies were Nana Saheb and Maulvi Ahmad ullah Shah. Begum Hazrat Mahal often called meetings to encourage soldiers, asking them to be brave and fight for the cause. She wrote letters of instruction for the movement and is reported to have appeared on the battlefield on February 25, 1858, mounted on an elephant. Alum Bagh was attacked by a force sometimes led by Maulvi Ahmad ullah Shah and at other times by the Begum in person but the British succeeded in defeating the rebel force.
Begum faced the enemy in a fierce fight but her position grew weaker. In spite of the resistance put up by the Begum, the English Commander was able to escort the besieged garrison out of the residency to Alum Bagh during which a few British officers were killed and wounded. Under adverse circumstances, Begum with her followers, her son Birjis Qadir and Nana Saheb escaped to Nepal.
After the outbreak was quelled, the Queen of England issued a proclamation to appease the people of British India. As a response to this, Begum Hazrat Mahal issued a counter-proclamation and warned the people not to have faith in these promises “for it is the unvarying custom of the English never to forgive a fault be it great or small.’’[ref]
Kunwar Singh was a leader during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Singh led the Indian Rebellion of 1857 in Bihar. He was nearly eighty and in failing health when he was called upon to take up arms. He was assisted by both his brother, Babu Amar Singh and his commander-in-chief, Hare Krishna Singh. Some argue that the latter was the real reason behind Kunwar Singh's initial military success. He gave a good fight and harried British forces for nearly a year and remained invincible until the end. He was an expert in the art of guerilla warfare. His tactics left the British puzzled. [ref]
Soon after the sudden death of Rani Laxmibai's husband in 1853, the English annexed Jhansi. But Jhansi was not a state which could be annexed by mere word or letter. Her adopted son could not inherit the throne as the british wanted to gain control of Jhansi. However, she took control of the kingdom and fought the British to keep Jhansi a pricely state. She felt that the British were cowards, however did not wish to rebel against them unti mid 1857 when the Soldiers mutinied against the British. Until then, she was a staunch critic of the British government. In response to the attack, the Allies of the British government attacked Jhansi with the motive to divide Jhansi amongst themselves. She appealed to the Governor-General, but was to no avail. She defended the pride of Jhansi as an independant kingdom
Rani Laxmibai refused annexation! From her proud heart, seeing this low and heartless cunning of the English, pealed forth the thunders born of injured pride and a sense of honour, and through these the lightning of Jhansi declared -
"Give up my Jhansi? I shall not! Let him try to take who dares! Mai Meri Jhansi doongi nahin!" [ref]
She directly fought the British in three wars. She had adequate support from her people in the fight against British rule. In all the battles the British had superior weapons and more manpower. This did not frighten the Rani. She was a braveheart and her fighting actually scared the British. She faced a lot of loss in the war against the british. She lost her newborn daughter and her manpower had significantly reduced. Yet, she fought on. She was a very ethical soldier unlike her enemies. At the last battle,in Gwalior, the British killed her horse with the use of guns. The Rani had only limited artillery. They were merciless towards the end and the rani was killed in action. She did not surrender and like her promise, Jhansi was hers until her dying breath. She fought valiantly.
Shrimant Nana Saheb Peshwa
Shrimant Nana Saheb Peshwa II of Kanpur played a key role in designing the war of independence. For months, for years indeed, he had been spreading their network of intrigues all over the country. From one native court to another, from one extremity to another of the great continent of India, the agents of the Nana Sahib had passed with overtures and invitations discreetly, perhaps mysteriously, worded to princes and chief of different races and religions, but most hopefully of all to the Mahrattas. [ref]
Ramachandra Pandurang Tope, also known as Tantia Tope, Tatya Tope or Tantia Topi, was one of the most notable Indian freedom fighters and a general in the Rebellion of 1857.
He was born in 1814 in Nashik, Maharashtra and was an intimate friend and the right hand of Nana Sahib, the adopted son of Peshwa. In May 1857, Tantia Tope was the Indian Leader of the Rebellion and won the battle over the Indian troops of the East India Company at Kanpur. He was known for his guerilla tactics, which scared the British. He collaborated with Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi to seize Gwalior and forced General Windham to retreat from the city of Gwalior. He fought 150 battles against the British during his life span and demolished 10,000 British soldiers. Tantia Tope was defeated by Sir Colin Campbell (later Baron Clyde) on December 6, 1857 and was hanged on April 18, 1859, in General Meade's camp at Shivpuri. [ref]
Failure of the War of Independence
A Non-Unified Movement
The movement failed because the local monarchs wanted to regain control of their kingdoms after the British left. Due to this, there was no unified attack against the British. Different people wanted different rulers. There were many princely states that actually supported the British and threw the mutineers under the bus. The ones that supported the rebels did it out of sheer self-interest. They wanted to regain control of the land taken by the British. The rebellion was poorly organised and there was no clear leader. Within the Bengal Regiment, there were many sepoys who did not participate in the mutiny and were indifferent towards the issues at hand. Within the Army, there were many supporters as well as non-supporters of the rebellion. Many supporters were just active in propoganda and didn't actively mutiny. Some were silent. There were many clashes between the two parties. The sepoys who did participate did not get the support from the citizens. They had been criticized by many people and they were ostracized from their communities. Some were insulted.
A big reason as to why there was no support was because the atrocities commited by the British were virtually unknown to those who could make a difference and the people were frightgened to participate in the rebellion citing the reason that, if failed, they would be seriously penalised by the British.
Limited Artillery and Poor Execution
The rebels were mainly the sepoys. They had access to the weapons assigned to them by the British Army. These were the same Enfield rifles that sparked the rebellion. Many of them refused to pick up these weapons and used less effecient guns. This resulted in a major loss. To wager war against the British, meant having the resources and the funding to have a chance at winning. The rebels did not have the resources because of the limited support they had from the princely states. The rebels also had limited training to use the weapons and many supporters and fighters did not have modern weapons and used swords and cannons to fight.
The British Army had a lot of weapons and heavy weaponry which the rebels could not even compete with. The British Army was extremely organised and had a lot of training which the rebels did not have. There was a lot of conflict within the rebels on how tom execute their plans. Their planning was also not very good and had lost half the battle.
Legacy of the Revolt