Reasons for the revolt: the new revenue policy impoverished the peasants were
impoverished; the English policies of trade and commerce ruined the Indian Industries.
Hence a strong resentment developed among the artisans such as the weavers,
blacksmiths and carpenters. The English interfered with the customs and traditions of the
people by enacting laws such as prohibitions of sati, permitting widow marriages etc.
They upheld the right of inheritance of those who had forsaken their religion and had
embraced Christianity. Such laws led the orthodox people to believe that the alien
government is out to destroy the very foundations of their way of life. Hence, they too
resented the English rule.
From 1848 to 1856 Lord Dalhousie had annexed many Indian states such as Satara,
Jhansi, Nagpur and some other states by refusing to recognize the right of inheritance of
the adopted sons of those rulers. Pensions of the heirs of some deposed rulers were
discontinued. They, too, developed a strong resentment against the tyrannical British rule.
Discontent among the Indian soldiers: the majority of the Indian soldiers in the
Company’s army came from peasant families. They were deeply hurt to see their family
groaning under the insufferable burden of poverty. These soldiers were treated
contemptuously by their English Officers. Their allowances also were gradually reduced.
Because of all these reasons, acute discontent prevailed among the Indian soldiers.
Against such a background came to the fore the episode of the greased cartridges. In
1856, new long range Enfield rifles with greased cartridges was given to the soldiers.
While loading the rifles, the greased covering of the cartridges had to be bitten off. The
news that this grease contained the fat of cows and pigs infuriated the soldiers beyond
The outbreak of the uprising: The first explosion of the uprising took place on the 29th
of March 1857 in the cantonment at Barrackpore. As the military parade began, a soldier
name Mangal Pande refused to use the new cartridges and exhorted other soldiers also
not to do so. When the English Officer of the battalion tried to force the soldiers to use
the cartridges, Mangal Pande fired at him. Mangal Pande was arrested and hanged. This
news spread likes wildfire in the other military cantonments. On the 24th of April 1857,
Indian soldiers of the cavalry unit at Meerut flatly refused to use the new cartridges. They
were all thrown into prison. Because of this, the whole battalion of Indian soldiers at
Meerut rose in revolt on the 10th of May 1857. They advanced to Delhi, which was
barely 64 kilometers away. On the way, thousands of common people joined them. As
they reached Delhi, the Indian soldiers in Delhi cantonment made common cause with the
rebels. All these soldiers appealed to the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zaafar to lead
the revolt. They proclaimed Bahadur Shah the Emperor of India.
The scope of the revolt: within no time the revolt spread to all parts of North India.
From Bihar to Rajputana, all the India soldiers in the Company’s army contonments
raised a standard of rebellion. Lakhs of common people joined them. Within a period of
four months all the territories of East Punjab, areas around Delhi, Rohilkhand,
Bundelkhand, Allahabad, Avadh, Western Bihar were engulfed by the fire of rebellion.
The British power collapsed in those areas. However, territories south of the river
Narmada were not affected by the revolt to great extent, though in Nagpur, Satara,
Kolhapur and some other aces, there were some sporadic incidents of revolt. Local like
the uprising of the Bhils in Khandesh under the leadership of Kharjasingh and the one in
the Satpuda area under Shankarshah were nipped in the bud by the English.
Leadership of the revolt: Bahadur shah, the aged Mughal Emperor, was the leader of
the revolt were Peshwa Nanasaheb, Tatya Tope, Rani Laxmibai, Begum Hazrat Mahal,
Maulavi Ahmedulla, Kunwarsingh and the Mughal general Bakht Khan. The revolt
assumed serious proportions especially in Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow, Jhansi, and the
western parts of Bihar.
In September 1857 British captured Delhi. They arrested Bahadur Shah and killed his
sons. In the region around Kanpur, Nanasaheb Peshwa and Tatya Tope revolt led the
revolt. In West Bihar the Zamindar of Jagdishpur, Kunwarsingh, along with his sons gave
a determined fight to the English while in Rohilkhand, Maulavi Ahmedulla inspired the
people to rise against them.
The revolt is crushed: The rebels and their leaders fought the English bravely but within
a short time, the English recovered from the first shock of the unexpected revolt. Within
six months the picture began to change. The English recaptured all-important places that
they had lost to the rebels. By the end of 1858,leaders like Rani Laxmibai Kunwarsingh;
Ahmedulla fell fighting against them. Bahadur Shah was deported to Rangoon.
Nanasaheb and Begum Hazrat Mahal took refuge in Nepal. Tatya Tope, however,
continued his struggle against the English for ten long months, but ultimately he was
betrayed. The English hanged him. The end of 1858 mercilessly crushed the revolt by the
Why did the revolt fail? : The revolt of 1857 was an event of great magnitude. But it
didn’t end the English power in India. On the side of the rebels, there was no centralized
leadership and hence there was no co-ordination of planning and action. The rebels didn’t
have sufficient arms. Moreover, the educated Indians and rulers of majority of the States
kept themselves aloof from the struggle. The revolt didn’t spread to South India. The
English had with them centralized leadership, a trained and disciplined army, modern
weapons and experienced commanders. They also controlled the means of transport.
Therefore, the Indians couldn’t resist them successfully.
The effects of the revolt: The revolt of 1857 had far reaching effects. It made the rulers
of Britain realize the intense disaffection of Indians against the English rule. They were
convinced that the power of the British in India wasn’t safe in the hands of the Company.
Hence, the British parliament made a law in 1858 dissolving the East India Company and
taking over the administration of India directly into their hands.