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The Revolt of 1857

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1098
  • Category: India

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The Revolt of 1857 took place one hundred years after the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The Battle of Plassey was an important stepping stone for the British rule in India as the British had overcome the French in India, and the state of Bengal had effectively passed into the hands of the British. The Revolt has been referred to by some Indian historians as the ‘First War of Indian Independence’, and has also been termed by European historians as the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’.

India and its people had been subject to unfair and unjust treatment by the British. From the annexation of Awadh due to alleged corruption in the administration to the oppression of the peasants under the zamindari system of collection of land revenue, a number of political, economic, social and military causes had built up disapprobation and resentment in the Indians and this caused them to stand up to the British.

“Sometimes we have to lose something precious not necessarily to gain something priceless; sometimes, just losing is priceless”- is a quote by Shahid Hussain Raja in the context of the Revolt of 1857, and he expresses that although the Indians seemingly lost in the Revolt of 1857, they had gained a lot in the process. This research will analyze the plethora of reasons for why some historians believe that the Revolt of 1857 was a failure and what factors led others to think that it was actually a success for the Indians in the long run.

The Revolt of 1857 failed to achieve its primary objective- the complete independence of India as a whole. Although the English East India Company no longer ruled over India, the country was still under British governance. The territories that had been captured by the sepoys during the period of the Revolt were all recaptured by the British after a short period of time, for example, in Lucknow, the forces of Begum Hazrat Mahal had trapped the British soldiers in the Lucknow Residency for a few month during the Revolt, and the city of Lucknow was in the hands of the Indians.

However, the reinforcements in Britain travelled to India and recaptured the city of Lucknow. The rebels taken prisoner by the British were prosecuted. Another example where the British recaptured a major city where the Indians had gained power was in Delhi. Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was one of the major leaders of Revolt had assumed control in Delhi after the sepoys revolted against their superiors. After approximately four months, the British forces who had been stationed in Punjab recaptured Delhi.

Consequent to this, the British showered their wrath upon Delhi, mass-murdering and hanging hundreds of innocent people just because they were Indian. This leads to another reason to why people believe that the Revolt of 1857 was a failure- an approximated 66% of the casualties of the Revolt were civilians. These civilians had practically died in vain as the territories that the British had unfairly annexed such as Jhansi by the Doctrine of Lapse or other methods were not returned to the Indians after the Revolt.

Although the Revolt had pragmatically forced Queen Victoria to issue a proclamation which would mollify the anger of the Indians, according to which the British would protect the interests of the Indians and give them posts in the administration, there was still racial discrimination towards the Indians. For example, Indians who were elected to attend Legislative councils were not given any actual authority. Seeing that the number of sepoys in the British army vastly surpassed the British soldiers, the British increased the number of Anglo-Indian and British soldiers in their army, and the artillery was placed executively under their command.

As a result of this, the British’s military hold over India tightened. Historians believe that the Revolt was a failure due to the fact that the various rebellions by the sepoys were scattered and uncoordinated. There was a lack of planning in the actions of the sepoys and many historians view it as a reckless act of disobedience by the sepoys. In addition, the different parties involved in the Revolt had their own reasons and choices for taking part in the Revolt, for example, Nana Saheb wanted to restore the glory of the Peshwa and Bahadur Shah Zafar wanted to bring back the glory of the Mughals.

Many states of India did not even participate in the Revolt of 1857. One of the most important aspects of the Revolt of 1857 was that it created a sense of unity in all the people who were once segregated into various classes and princely states for the reason that they now had a common enemy to fight against, which was, the British. Never before had the states united on such a large-scale, and this was probably the first time in history where the people of India fought as one ‘Hindustan’. Secondly, the peasants began to revolt, and they began to find and discover a voice for themselves.

They had been treated pathetically under the British system of land revenue collection, especially by the zamindars and the moneylenders. They began to rebel, and they had a notable effect in the revolt at Lucknow, and this was unprecedented as the peasants had never performed such an act. The seeds of nationalism began to be sown during the Revolt of 1857. Dr. K. M. Pannikar has described in his writings that the sepoys were performing a service for their country by fighting against the British. This again stresses upon the development of a national feeling.

Even the Hindus and Muslims put aside their differences, and fought side to side. Thirdly, the people united in their hatred and distaste for the British rule, and this was the spark for future freedom fighters to emerge. Heroes of the revolt such as Rani Laxmibai and Tantya Tope were revered and became myths to the common public. They provided a source of encouragement and paved the way, again, for future nationalists and freedom fighters. Lastly, the proclamation of Queen Victoria did benefit the Indians in a few ways.

The British would not tamper with the social and educational customs and traditions of the Indians, and they would henceforth adhere to the treaties negotiated with the Indians. The Revolt of 1857 was India’s first large scale expression for a desire to be free from the rule of the British, but it came at a heavy cost to the Indians and to the British. Thus, in conclusion, the Revolt of 1857 was a failure in the regard that it failed to achieve its main objective, but it was a success in the long run.

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