NATURE OF REVOLT OF 1857

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The revolt of 1857 was one the most unprecedented occasion throughout the entire existence of India. Since the time it emitted, all historians have been occupied with defining the Uprising of 1857 with some enlightening word or other-like insurrection, revolt, mutiny, revolution, and so on. It basically began as a sepoy rebellion and soon was joined by the regular people from various classes viz. laborers, Zamindars, nearby rulers, and so on.  There are various perspectives and feelings among the idea of the revolt. To numerous British antiquarians, it was only a sepoy insurrection. Then again, numerous other historians trust it to be a mainstream revolt and an uprising contrary to the harsh British principle. Vir Savarkar went to a degree to call it the primary conflict of Indian autonomy or First War of Independence. The British historians, Sir John Lawrence and Seeley considered it nothing more than a sepoy mutiny. According to Seeley, the Revolt of 1857 was a wholly unpatriotic and selfish sepoys mutiny with no native leadership and no popular support. He further maintains that it was a rebellion of the Indian sepoys. [1]Some states, which had grievances against their annexation, also joined the rebellion. However, the British government succeeded in suppressing the revolt. This interpretation is not correct. Though the greased cartridges triggered the rebellion, it was only an immediate cause. As part of the Indian society, the sepoys had many other grievances than their service conditions. The Revolt of 1857 cannot be termed as a mutiny in the ordinary sense of


[1] Unknown, Nature of the Revolt of 1857: Analysis, November 13, 2016, < https://www.gktoday.in/gk/nature-of-the-revolt-of-1857-analysis/#:~:text=According%20to%20Seeley%2C%20the%20Revolt,annexation%2C%20also%20joined%20the%20rebellion> 16 May 2021

the term. In many areas, the sepoys were joined by other elements of the society including Zamindars and orthodox sections of the Hindus and the Muslims, peasant, dispossessed princes, and many other people. Colonial historiography of the Great War of 1857 was governed by the agenda of minimising the challenge that it constituted to the omnipotent British power. As it had shaken its foundations, the British began camouflaging the formidable war of 1857 by propagating it as a mutiny.[1]

Sir James Outram described the Revolt of 1857 as the result of the Hindu- Muslim conspiracy. Malleson held the view that Maulvi Ahmadulla of Faizabad, Nana Sahib, and the Rani of Jhansi had entered negotiations before the uprising of 1857. The wide circulation of chapatis, regarded an important evidence in favour of the organized conspiracy. However, there is no reliable evidence to prove that there was a genuine Hindu-Muslims conspiracy against the British rule.

The Indian historians like V.D. Savarkar, in his book The Indian War of Independence and Ashok Mehta in his book, 1857 The Great Rebellion describe the Revolt of 1857 as a planned war of national independence. [2] The sepoys were the chief players in the rebellion. Many Indians participated in this struggle of independence from an alien rule. Several national leaders further elaborated the perfect accord and harmony between the Hindus and the Muslims for freedom from the British domination. Those who helped the British in suppressing the revolt had to face social ostracism, and those, who could not join the Great rebellion, did not cooperate with the British. The decisive evidence showing the national character of the rebellion is the communal harmony it struck in both the Hindus and the Muslims of the time. Even the British


[1] Unknown, Nature of the Revolt – 1857 Revolt, 2014, https://neostencil.com/upsc-modern-history-nature-of-the-revolt 16 May 2021

[2] Ibid.


Government found it very difficult to separate the two communities from each other. Thus, both Vir Savarkar and Ashok Mehta have tried to portray the Great rebellion as the “First Indian National War of Independence”. In the words of Dr. S. B.  Choudhury, “the leaders of the rebellion of 1857 looked beyond their own immediate circle and showed a combination of wide vision and patriotic solidarity”. Even a contemporary Conservative leader in England, described the Revolt of 1857 as a ‘national uprising’. We should not forget that there was an absence of unity of purpose and cohesion among the different sections and local character of the uprising does not fully qualify the Revolt of 1857 as the first war of Indian Independence.

Dr. Mujumdar and Dr. Sen agree that, in the middle of the nineteenth century, nationalism in India was yet in its infancy. There was no feeling of nationalism, as we know it today. In 1857, the Bengalis, the Punjabis, the Marathas the Madrasis, and Rajput never felt even for a movement that they all belonged to one and the same nation. Dr. Sen, in fact went to the extent of saying: “India in the first half of the nineteenth century was a geographical expression”. When the defeat of the British seemed imminent, the conflicting regional and class loyalties of the rebel leaders and the masses reappeared on the surface, which weakened the anti-British front. Moreover, the greater part of India and most of the people remained apathetic and neutral, (the south Indian parts of India). It is abundantly clear that the Great Rebellion was not wholly a war of Indian National Independence. Dr. Sen, however, has pointed out that national revolutions are mostly the work of a minority, with or without the active support of the masses. Such was the case with the French Revolution.  From that point of view, the Great rebellion can claim a national character.

S.N. Sen and Dr. R.C. Mujumdar have given an objective and balanced view that the sepoy mutiny assumed the character of a revolt and assumed a political dimension when the mutineers of Meerut after proceeding to Delhi declared the restoration of the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II, and the landed aristocracy and civil population declared their loyalty in his favour. [1]What began as a right for religion ended in a war of independence, for there is not the slightest doubt that the rebels wanted to get rid of the alien government and restore the old order of which the Mughal emperor was the rightful representative. Prof. Bipin Chandra is of the view that the revolt of the sepoys was accompanied by a rebellion of the civil population particularly in the North-western Provinces and Oudh, the two regions from which the sepoys of the Bengal army were recruited.[2] The civil rebellion had a broad social base embracing all sections of the society and the revolt of the sepoys thus, resulted in a popular uprising in spite of the limitations and weaknesses in the effort of the sepoys to liberate the country from foreign rule was a patriotic act.

 

 To conclude, All the British historians, Sir John Lawrance and Seeley are of the view that it was a sepoy mutiny as the sepoys refused to use the greased cartridges of the Enfield rifles and opposed the move. [3]An anxious conscious attempt on the part of the


[1] Unknown, Nature of the Revolt – 1857 Revolt, 2014, https://neostencil.com/upsc-modern-history-nature-of-the-revolt 16 May 2021

[2] Unknown, Nature of the Revolt of 1857: Analysis, November 13, 2016, < https://www.gktoday.in/gk/nature-of-the-revolt-of-1857-analysis/#:~:text=According%20to%20Seeley%2C%20the%20Revolt,annexation%2C%20also%20joined%20the%20rebellion> 16 May 2021

[3] Ibid.


British to minimize the grievances of Indians and to restrict it only to a section of army’s revolt.

Further, the British tried to portray civil disturbances as the actions of selfish vested interests of the landholders and the princes. Their attempt was to prove that the colonial rule, if not welcomed, was not detested, as many Indian historians argue. L.E.R. Reese viewed it as a religious war against Christianity. J.R. Holmes expressed the opinion that it was a conflict between civilization and barbarism. Sir James Outram, W. Taylor and others are of the view that it was a conspiracy hatched by the Hindus and the Muslims against the British. Contesting the British interpretation as that of sepoy mutiny only, the nationalist historians and V.D. Savarkar in his banned book, The Indian War of Independence of 1857, published anonymously in 1912 argues that it was the first war of Indian independence inspired by the lofty ideal of self-rule by Indians through nationalist upsurge.[1] So, to sum it all up, the nature of the revolt of 1857 was more than a mere mutiny and less than a full-fledged War of independence.


[1] Vikram Rana, Revolt of 1857 in India: Nature and Results, 2018,

<https://www.historydiscussion.net/essay/revolt-of-1857-in-india-nature-and-results/2085> 16 May 2021

 

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