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While left leaning historians termed “Revolt of 1857” a mere “Sepoy Mutiny” wasn’t it the “First War of Independence?”


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Meerut is a holy place, where seeds of the First War Of Independence or First Freedom Movement was planted in 1857, then it spread rapidly to large part of northern and central India into mass rebellion,which is taught to us as Sepoy Mutiny.

Was “Revolt of 1857” a mere ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ or National Uprising with a goal to exit the Britishers from India?

It is said that Indian sepoys (Indian troops in service of British East India Company) revolted against Britishers after they were given cartridges laced with cow and pig fat. Hindus were offended that it was unholy to chew cow fat and Muslims were upset that chewing pig fat was Haram.

On 10 May 1857 in Meerut, an agitated crowd of sepoys started destroying Government buildings targeting the jail, record room, court, telegraph offices. The frenzied horde of sepoys continued to aim homes and bungalows of white men (Britishers) indiscriminately. Oppressed peasants and daily wage labourers also found out this as an outlet to vent out their frustration. Hence, they participated in destruction in huge number.

When violences and killings of white population of Meerut was over, the mob rushed to Delhi, where they arrived in the morning of 11 May. In Delhi, the rebels declared old and powerless Bahadur Shah their leader, who miserably failed to lead. Army of sepoy from Meerut galvanised their counterparts in Delhi, where they, together rampaged government properties killing white officials. On 12 May 1857 Delhi was free from British control.

As the news of Delhi being free from British control reached far northern and central part of India, British Army camps had been jolted and rattled by revolts after revolts till the beginning of June. In every British Army Camp sepoys revolted, destructed government properties, killed Britishers. The rebel sepoys were supported by villagers in Meerut style. Besides Punjab and Bengal, British Rule in North and Central India had disappeared.

To quell the rebellion, Britishers took unparalleled measures. They passed Law which gave them power to judge and take the life of Indians without due process of law. Then, it began holocaust one where incalculable humans disappeared. According to historian, Amaresh Misra, it was an “untold holocaust” which caused the deaths of almost 10 million people over 10 years beginning in 1857. Villages after villages were burnt, which caused cultivation impossible. Famine followed next.

Laxmibai Photocredit: history collection.com

According to Scottish historian and writer, William Dalrymple, the retaliation attack by the British forces was the worst massacre in the history of Indian colonial history from 15 September to 20 September 1857. “Jallianwala Bagh massacre was a picnic in comparison to September 1857 bloodbath,” says 55 years old historian William Dalrymple.

Photo Credit: open naukari.com

Regarding “Rebellion of 1857” as mere “Sepoy Mutiny” is to do commit injustice to the sacrifices of Indian soldiers, who were in service of British East India company and martyrs like Mangal Pandey from Bengal, Rani Laxmibai Jhansi, Nana Sahib and Tatya Tope from Kanpur, Kunwar Singh, Amar Singh from Bihar.

Photo Credit: Hindujagruti.com

There are several reasons for national uprising: British usurped control of the Hindu princely states, Indian aristocracy was replaced by British officials, a Hindu ruler was prohibited to succeed his throne without his natural heir etc. Poor terms of service with pensions, bad pay, no scope of promotion, and cultural as well as racial insensitivity from British officers all these factors contributed First War of Independence. The reason of cartridges laced with cow and pig fat being given to troops was over hyped.

National Uprising of 1857 failed because rulers like Scidia of Gwalior, the Holkar of Indore, the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Raja of Jodhpur, the Nawab of Bhopal, the rulers of Patiala, Sindh and Kashmir and the Rana of Nepal provided active support to the British. Also, Arms of Britishers were of far superior quality comparing to rebels’ weapons.

If a national leader with mass appeal would have emerged to unite Indians even standing last in the queue, outcome of “Revolt of 1857” would have been entirely different. However, National Uprising in 1857 was miserably unsuccessful, it certainly planted seeds of “First War of Independence.”


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