The Indian Uprising of 1857 Essay

Madeleine Godchaux Anth. 4002 10/9/12 Bose & Jalal Chapter 9 Presentation Neither military mutiny nor civil revolts were uncommon in colonial India. However, as Bose and Jalal describe in chapter 9, the revolt of 1857 was unique in character due to the convergence of multiple strands of resistance, the expansion of scale, and the new level of intensity. The company’s army was mercenary in nature and its members were becoming more and more unhappy with the British, suffering from a deep sense of social and economic unease.

The catalyst of the sepoys’ disaffection occurred when they refused to load rifles containing cartridges greased in pig and cow fat (repulsive to Hindus and Muslims alike). The soldiers who refused were sentenced to imprisonment. In direct response to this, mutineers based in Meerut marched to Delhi where they installed Mughal emperor Bhadur Shah Zafr as the symbolic head of the revolt. The focus points of the rebellion were located to the North in Delhi, to the East in Awadh, and in central India. But by and large, the 1857 revolt was confined to the northern Indian Gangetic plain and central India.

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The uprising, in its aristocratic, religious and agrarian aspects, was underpinned by feelings of regional patriotism, a vague sense of nationalism and the shared objective of putting an end to colonial rule. The aspiration for freedom among the rulers and aristocrats was expressed at the indigenous courts in the context of a legitimist reaction to British deceit. These aristocratic leaders were offering those who were prepared to follow them into rebellion the legitimacy of a resurrected 18th century state system under the highest sovereignty of the Mughal emperor.

However, this proved to be a source of weakness due to the fact that inter-state rivalries of the 18th century were mirrored in 1857. Hindus and Muslims shared the common threat of British oppression as well as a common loss of country sentiment. Muslim religious millenarianism figured into the revolt and was a doubtless theme that informed the events of 1857. A great debate on the appropriateness of issuing a call to jihad arose, but most had doubts about interpreting this temporal war as one. Agrarian protest was the other important strand of the revolt.

Peasant recruits supplied the link between the military mutiny and the rural uprising. The motivation to revolt came from economic factors due to their loss of landed rights to the bania (trader-moneylender) as well as a sense of political deprivation due to the decline of political clout and honor in relation to other neighboring clans and communities. Agrarian revolts were multi-class in character including Taluqdar magnates, village zamindars, tenant farmers, peasant proprietors as well as tribal communities. The participation and initiative of the subordinate classes reveals a collage of complex revolt in which local rebel

The rebellion of 1857 only served to harden the lines of racial hostility and left the crown raj 50 million more pounds in debt to London causing the taxation system to be revamped and income tax to be imposed on wealthier urban groups. Obviously immense changes were made in the structure of the army. As Queen Victoria took India under the crown in 1858, she promised that future treaties would be respected and that colonial subjects would be promised a relatively benevolent government. Despite her peace-making gestures, the mood in northern and central India remained grave.