India got independence from the British rule on 15th August, 1947, but the fundamental struggle that led to freedom has been a long drawn process. The culmination of traditional opposition to the British rule came with the First War of Independence in 1857, in which millions of peasants, artisans and soldiers participated.
The first hundred years of British rule in India from 1757 to 1857, were marked by the British victories and the rapid expansion of their dominion in India.
Beginning of the Uprising
- In 1856, the British authorities decided to replace the old fashioned musket (called, the ‘Brown Bess’) by the new ‘Enfield Rifle’. The cartridges to be used in the rifle were greased with fat. The loading process of the Enfield rifle involved bringing the cartridge to the mouth and biting off the top greased paper with the mouth.
- A rumor spread out, that the cartridges were greased with the fat of pigs and cows. Soldiers believed that, these cartridges were intentionally greased with animal fat to hurt their religious sentiments.
- The revolt first began at Barrackpore, when most of the Indian soldiers refused to use the greased cartridges. As a result, a Brahmin soldier of the 34th Native Infantry at Barrackpore, named Mangal Pandey led an attack on the adjunct of 34th Native Infantry on 29th March, 1857.
- After the incident, Mangal Pandey was arrested and hanged on 8th April, 1857. Within a month of this incidence, uprisings started in Meerut, Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow, Jhansi and at many other places.
Events at Meerut
The mutiny started at Meerut on 10th May 1857. The occasion was the punishment of some sepoys for their refusal to use the greased cartridges. They broke open jails, murdered Europeans, burnt their houses and marched to Delhi. They seized the city and proclaimed the aged Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II as the Emperor of India.
Events at Delhi
After reaching Delhi, they killed many British soldiers and surrounded the entire city. The loss Delhi, lowered the respect of the British army. So, in order to achieve their respect again, Sir John Nicholson besieged Delhi with the help of loyal Sikh soldiers. In the end, the British surmounted Delhi and the old emperor Bahadur Shah was taken prisoner. As a punishment, he was ordered life imprisonment and deported to Rangoon, where he died in 1862.
Events at Lucknow
Begum Hazrat Mahal, the wife of the Nawab of Awadh let the uprising at Lucknow on 30th May, 1857. The city was recaptured by the British in March 1858. Begum Hazrat Mahal fled towards the Nepal Frontier.
Events at Kanpur
The War of Independence was led by Nana Sahib at Kanpur. He wanted to get his pension from the government, which they were paying to the last Peshwa Baji Rao II. But now the British refused to grant it. Nana Sahib was the adopted son of the last Peshwa Baji Rao II and at that time there was a policy called the Doctrine of Lapse applied by the Governor-General Lord Dalhousie.
Lord Dalhousie annexed few states like – Jhansi, Udaipur, Kanpur, Satara etc , by using this policy. Being a brave and determined General, Nana Sahib opposed this policy. But in the end, on 17th June, 1857 General Havelock captured Kanpur after defeating Nana Sahib.
Causes of the Revolt
The Revolt of 1857 is an important landmark in the history of India, which occurred during the Governor-Generalship of Lord Canning. The Revolt of 1857 was a combination of political, economical, socio-religious, military and many other causes.
Some of the political causes of the revolt are as follows:
- Lord Dalhousie’s Policy of Annexation and the Doctrine of Lapse were the significant causes. As per the Doctrine of Lapse, heirs adopted without the consent of the company, could inherit only the private property of the deceased ruler and not his territory, which would come under the company’s rule. They made the British administration very unpopular and the rulers of the different states as bitter enemies of the British.
- The British refused to grant pension to Nana Sahib, as he was the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II. Avadh was annexed in 1856, on charges of maladministration. Satara, Jhansi, Nagpur and Sambalpur were annexed owing to the Doctrine of Lapse.
- All the Indian states had either been annexed or had entered into alliances with the company in 1856. The British had become the supreme power and the Indian princes were reduced to puppets.
- Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India, annexed many Indian states to the company using the Doctrine of Lapse.
- The rulers of Indian states believed that their states were not annexed by the application of Doctrine of Lapse, but due to ‘lapse of all morals’ on the part of the East India Company.
- In 1849, Lord Dalhousie announced that the successors of Bahadur Shah Zafar would not be permitted to use the Red Fort as their palace. They were required to shift to a place near the Qutab Minar.
- After 7 years, in 1856, Lord Canning announced that after the death of Bahadur Shah Zafar, his successors would not be allowed to use the imperial titles with their names ans would be known as mere princes. This decision of the British hurt the feelings of the Muslims, consequently Bahadhur Shah began plotting against them.
Some of the socio-religious causes of the revolt were as follows:
- The British Government’s attempt to interfere in the social and religious life of the Indians led to widespread fear among the masses.
- The combined effect of British Expansionist Policies, Economic Exploitation and Administrative changes adversely affected the Indian society as a whole.
- British social reforms such as Abolition of Sati (1829), Legalisation of Widow Remarriage, (1856) etc., hurt the sentiments of the orthodox and conservative people.
- The orthodox Indians felt humiliated to note that in the railway compartments brahmins and people from the backward classes were made to sit side by side.
The most important reason for the popular discontent was the economic exploitation by the British. The economic exploitation took the following forms:
- The East India Company made huge profits at the expenses of the people of India. The company purchased textiles, indigo, foodgrains and spices from India and sold them abroad at exorbitant prices.
- By buying and exporting Indian goods, the company encouraged their production in India. But gradually, the Indian textiles began to compete with the textiles manufactured in England. The British put pressure on the East India Company to forbid the sale of Indian textiles in England. The British Government then put restrictions on the import of Indian textiles besides imposing heavy import duties on such goods.
- People moved to cities to find employment, which was very difficult to get. Peasants were forced to pay tax in cash, which pushed them into the hands of the moneylenders, as tax was collected even during the famines.
- Indigo, tea, jute , cotton and opium were crops, which the British wanted the Indians to grow. If the peasants planted anything else, their crops were destroyed and cattle were carried off as punishment.
- The British Economic Policies also affected the upper and the middle classes of the society. The Inam Commission, appointed in 1852 in Bombay, confiscated as many as 20000 estates. This drove the landed aristocracy to poverty without benefitting the peasantry, which suffered due to the exorbitant land revenue. It was claimed by the merchants, moneylenders and the new owners of these estates.
Military causes that led to the revolt were as follows:
- Several factors contributed to a change in the attitude of the Indian soldiers towards the company. The distribution with Indian soldiers was one of the causes of the revolution.
- The Indian and British soldiers were not treated equally. The salary of the Indian soldiers was too meager to support their families, while the duties of both the British and the Indian soldiers were more or less similar.
- The British Parliament passes the General Service Enlistment Act in 1856, which decreed that the Indian soldiers could be sent overseas on duty. This act did not take into account the sentiment of the Indian soldiers. Indian soldiers dreaded sea voyage and considered it against their customs.
- Indians were of the belief that, the British were invincible, but the British were beaten in the First Afghan War (1838-42). This convinced the Indian soldiers that the British could also be defeated. This gave courage to the Indian soldiers to wage a war against the British rule.
Consequences of the Revolt
Queen Victoria’s Proclamation
The first significant result of the Revolt was the end of the rule of the East India Company in India. The Queen’s proclamation incorporating the transfer of governance from East Indian Company to the British crown was made public at Allahabad, on 1st November, 1858, by Lord Canning, the first Viceroy of India. The proclamation declared that the British would not interfere in their internal matters except in the case of ‘misconduct’ and ‘anarchy’. After the proclamation of the queen, the policy of ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ was abolished.
Relations with Princely States
There was a change in the policy of the new Government towards the Indian Princes, in order to make them loyal to the British. It assured them that all the treaties entered with the company would be honoured. Their territories would not be annexed to the British crown. They were given the right to adopt sons and successors.
End of Peshwaship and the Mughal Rule
The war also ended the Peshwaship and the Mughal rule. As Nana Sahib, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II, who had taken part in the war could not be traced, the office of the Peshwa was abolished. Similarly, the title of Mughal Emperor was also abolished with the death of Bahadur Shah II in 1862.
Policy of Divide and Rule
After 1858, the British continued their policy of ‘Divide and Rule’ by giving special protections and concessions to the Princely States, encouraging hatred and ill-feelings among the Hindus and the Muslims, so that the people of India could never challenge the British authority.
Changes in the Army
The Indian Army had been mainly responsible for the crisis of 1857. After the revolt, it was thoroughly reorganised and built up on the policy of ‘division and counterpoise.’ The strength of the European troops in India was increased from 45,000 to 65,000 and the number of Indian troops was reduced from 2,38,000 to 1,40,000. All big troops and artillery departments were reserved for the Europeans. Discrimination on the basis of caste, region and religion was practised in the recruitment to the army. Newspaper, journals and nationalist publications were prevented from reaching the Indian army to keep them separated from the rest of the population.
The Revolt of 1857 ended an era and sowed the seeds of a new era i.e., the era of Territorial Expansion gave place to the ear of Economic Exploitation. Indian became a typical colony of the British, by exporting raw materials and importing British goods. Peasants, rural artisans etc. were impoverished under the British rule.
Causes of Failure of the Revolt of 1857
The Revolt of 1857 was an unsuccessful but heroic effort to eliminate foreign rule. The main causes were disunity of the Indians, lack of complete nationalism etc. which actively helped the British. Lack of coordination between the sepoys, peasants, zamindars and other classes, was also a reason. Also each of the classes had their own motives for participating in the revolt.
Significance of Revolt
The important element of the revolt lay in Hindu-Muslim unity. People exhibited patriotic sentiments without any touch of communal feelings. No doubt, it began as a mutiny of soldiers, but soon turned into a revolt against the British rule in general.
Growth of Nationalism
The origination of nationalism is one of the most distinguishing features of the second half of the 19th century. It originated from the concepts of nationalism and right of self-determination initiated by the French revolution, the socio-religious reform movements in India, as an off shook of modernization introduced by the British in India, and as a reaction of the Indians to the British colonial policies.
Factors Promoting the Growth of Nationalism
Economic exploitation, repressive colonial policies, socio-religious reform movements, rediscovery of India’s past, influence of Western education, role of press, modern means of transport and communication etc., are responsible for the growth of nationalism in India.
The Economic Factors Responsible for Growth of Nationalism
- Agricultural India was made an economic colony to serve the interests of Industrial England.
- India was made to accept readymade British goods either duty free or at nominal duty rates, while Indian products were subjected to high import duties in England.
- The British capital invested in Indian markets especially in railway, shipping, oil exploration, tea and coffee plantations etc, was used to get huge profits and were sent to England.
- The export of raw materials and foodgrains deprived the country of her agricultural surplus and raised the prices of raw materials.
- The salaries and allowances of the English, who served in the administration and the army were paid out from Indian resources.
- The drain included the salaries, incomes and savings of the Englishmen and the British expenditure in India on the purchase of military goods, office establishment, interest on debts, unnecessary expenditure on the army, etc.
Growth of Political Association
- Raja Rammohan Roy was the pioneer of political movements in India. He was the first Indian to focus the attention of the Englishmen on the grievances of the Indian and to ask for remedial measures.
- The first political association to be started in India was the ‘Land Holder’s Society’ in Kolkata in 1838. Many public association like the Bengal British India Society, British Indian Association, East India Association, London Indian Society and Indian Association were started in different parts of India.
- In 1877, a Grand Delhi Durbar was organized by Lord Lytton, which proclaimed Queen Victoria as the Empress of India. Lord Lytton introduced the Vernacular Press Act (1878) and Indian Arms Act (1879), which were protested against by Surendranath Banerjee.
Rediscovery of India
Sir William Jones founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal to encourage oriental studies. The Asiatic Society got many Indian classics translated into English and these translations introduced the Ancient Indian culture to the Western world.
Influence of Western Education
- The British introduced Western education in India through the medium of English to serve their own representatives. They wanted to train Indian people as clerks so as to run their own administration.
- The British wanted to rear their culture and conquer the goodwill of the educated Indians. But it produced results, which were against their expectations.
- Western education, through the study of European history, political thought and economic ideas, gave the educated Indians a rational , secular, democratic and national outlook. The slogan – ‘Equality, Liberty and Fraternity’ of the American and the French revolutions, impressed all the educated Indians.
- English language played a leading part in this process. It was through this language that the Indians from different parts of the country could meet and exchange ideas. English gave them a linguistic unity.
- Through Western education, social and national consciousness of Indians was awakened by the revolutionary ideas of the liberal thinkers like Rousseau, Mazzini, and Thomas Paine.
Role of the Press
A large number of newspapers were started in the later half of the 18the century. Some of the prominent newspapers were The Amrit Bazar Patrika, The Bengali, The Tribune, The Pioneer, The Times of India, The Hindu and The Statesman in English. The press played an enormous role in fostering national unity and creating consciousness among the Indians.
Modern Means of Transport and Communication
The first railway line connecting Mumbai with Thane was laid down in 1853. By 1869, more than 6000 kms of railways had been built, extending to nearly 45,000 km by 1905. Besides encouraging trade and commerce, the railways facilitated the growth of nationalism.
The Vernacular Press Act
The Vernacular Press Act forbade the vernacular papers to publish any material against the British Government. This act was not applicable to English newspapers. In 1881, this was repealed by Lord Ripon.
Contributions of Raja Rammohan Roy and Jyotiba Phule
- Raja Rammohan Roy was the greatest social and religious reformer of the 19th century, who established the Bramho Sabha in 1828, which was later renamed as Bramho Samaj. Raja Rammohan Roy is also called as the ‘Father of Modern India.’ The Brahmo Samaj believed in ‘Monotheism’ or ‘Worship of One God.’
- Jyotiba Phule was an urban-educated member of a so-called low caste. In 1854, he established a school for untouchables and stared a private orphanage for the widows. He founded the Satya Shodhak Samaj in 1873, with the aim of securing social justice for the weaker sections of the society.
The Indian National Association and the East India Association
- In 1883, Surendranath Banerjee convened the All India National Conference at Kolkata. It was a provincial organization. It offered a model to the Indian National Congress, which was formed two years later.
- The East India Association was founded in London in 1866 by Dadabhai Naoroji. The association provided information on all the Indian subjects to the British citizens and the Members of Parliament. The association had its branches in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.
Indian National Congress
The Indian National Congress was formed by Allan Octavian Hume (AO Hume), an Englishman and a retired civil servant, in association with various national leaders, who called for a conference in Pune in December, 1885.
The First Congress Session
It was held at Gokuldas Tejpal Sanskrit College, Mumbai from 28th December to 31st December, 1885 under the presidentship of Womesh Chunder Bonnerjee. It was attended by 72 delegates. The Viceroy Lord Dufferin, favoured the formation of the Congress because he wanted it to act as a safety-valve for popular discontent, thereby, safeguarding the British interests in India.
The prime objectives of Indian National Congress (INC) as per Womesh Chunder (WC) Bonnerjee were to promote friendly relations between nationalist political workers from various parts of country and to develop the feeling of national unity.
The Second Congress Session
It was held at Kolkata in 1886 under the presidentship of Dadabhai Naoroji, some of the delegates were also received by Lord Dufferin as distinguished visitors to the capital.
The Surat Session (23rd Session)
- It was held in 1907 under the presidentship of Rashbihari Ghosh. There was a dispute between the Early Nationalists and the Assertive Nationalists of the Congress regarding the methods of agitation in Bengal after its partition.
- The Assertive Group was excluded from the Congress nearly for a decade. It was only in 1916, that the two wings of the Congress were united at the Lucknow Session.
Aims and Objectives of the Indian National Congress
The aims and objectives of Indian National Congress were as follows:
- Promotion of close relations of nationalistic workers in different parts of the country.
- Evolution and consolidation of a feeling of national unity, irrespective of caste, religions etc.
- Presentation of popular demands before the government.
- Training and organisation of public opinion in the country.