Why did the mutinous sepoys in many places turn to erstwhile rulers to provide leadership to the revolt?
The rebels needed leadership and organisation to face the British. So they turned towards
those who had been leaders before the arrival of the British.
(i) First of all, the rebels sought the blessings of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor. They appealed to him to accept the leadership of the revolt. Initially, Bahadur Shah was hesitant. But at last he agreed to be the nominal leader of the rebellion. It motivated the sepoys and legitimised the rebellion as it was in the name of the Mughal Emperor.
(ii) In Kanpur, the sepoys and the people of the town implored on Nana Sahib, the successor of Peshwa Baji Rao II, to join the revolt and lead it.
(iii) There was also a great pressure on Rani of Jhansi to assume the leadership of the uprising. She was unable to resist the demand of the people of Jhansi who had a great regard for her. Later on poet Subhadra Kumari Chauhan wrote about Rani Jhansi’s role: ‘‘Khoob Lari Mardani Woh To Jhansi Wali Rani Thi’’. In other words, she fought against the British rule with strong determination.
(iv) Similarly the people approached Kunwar Singh, a Zamindar in Arrah in Bihar and requested him to guide and lead them.
(v) The people of Awadh were not happy with the displacement of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, who was very popular. So when the news about the fall of the British rule reached, they hailed Birjis Qadr, the young son of the Nawab and appointed him as their leader.
Discuss the evidence that indicates planning and coordination on the part of the rebels.
‘‘The Pattern of Mutinies by the sepoys in 1857 suggest some sort of planning and cooridnation.’’ Explain the above statement with examples.
TThe Revolt of 1857 was well-planned and well-coordinated. It is evident from the following
(i) There was coordination and harmony between sepoys and the ordinary people. Both wanted to target white people and their allies.
(ii) The revolt got a tinge of legitimacy as it was carried forward under the leadership of Bahadur Shah, the last Mughal Emperor in India.
(iii) The Hindus and the Muslims united and rose together against the white people.
(iv) There was continuous communication between the sepoy lines of various cantonments.
(v) Another example of good planning and organisation can be cited from Awadh where Captain Hearsey of Awadh Military Police was provided protection by his Indian subordinates during the mutiny. The 41st Native Infantry, which had killed all its white officers, insisted that the military police would either kill Captain Hearsey or hand over him as prisoner. But the military police refused to kill Captain Hearsey. At last they decided to settle the issue in a panchayat having native officers drawn from each regiment. In other words, many decisions during the rebellion were taken collectively.
Discuss the extent to which religious beliefs shaped the events of 1857.
Discuss the religious causes for the Revolt of 1857.
(i) The Christian missionaries were assuring material benefits to Indians to convert them to
Christianity. So many people of India became antagonistic towards the British.
(ii) Lord William Bentinck, the Governor-General of India, initiated reforms in the Indian society. He abolished customs like Sati and permitted remarriage of the Hindu widows. Many Hindus viewed these steps against the ideology of Hinduism.
(iii) The British introduced western education, western ideas and western institutions in India. They set up English-medium educational institutions but many Hindus considered these steps as attempts to encourage religious conversion.
(iv) Many people felt that the British were destroying their sacred ideals that they had long cherished.
(v) Many Hindus were enraged when the Christian missionaries criticised their scriptures or religious books.
(vi) In accordance with the law passed in 1856, Hindus could be sent across the sea to fight a war. During those days, Hindus considered it a sin to cross the sea.
(vii) The sepoys were given cartridges coated with the fat of cows and pigs. At this, the Indian soldiers lost patience and revolted against the British.
What were the measures taken to ensure unity among the rebels?
How did the rebels in 1857 try to materialise their vision of unity? Explain briefly.
Highlight the measures taken to ensure unity among the rebels of 1857.
Examine why were the religious divisions between Hindus and Muslims hardly noticable during the uprising of 1857.
The following measures were taken to ensure unity among the rebels :
(i) In all their proclamations, the rebels repeatedly appealed to all sections of society. They did not take caste or creed into consideration.
(ii) Many proclamations were made by the Muslim princes. A few others were issued in their names. But all such proclamations took into consideration the sentiments of the Hindus.
(iii) The rebellion had an equal participation of both the Hindus and the Muslims. They had equally to lose or gain.
(iv) Many pamphlets were issued which glorified the co-existence of different communities under the Mughal Empire. Bahadur Shah Zafar appealed to all the Muslims to fight in the name of Muhammad. He also exhorted the Hindus to rise against the white people in the name of Mahavir. There was a complete unity between the Hindus and the Muslims.
What steps did the British take to quell the uprising?
Why did the British not have an easy time in putting down the rebellion of 1857 ? Give reasons.
Examine the repressive measures adopted by the British to subdue the rebel of 1857.
It was not easy for the British to control and crush the Revolt of 1857. Even then, they took
several steps to quell it. These can be studied as follows:
(i) Martial Law and Death Sentence : The British passed a series of laws to quell the insurgency in India. By the laws passed in May and June, 1857, the whole of North India was put under martial law. The military officers were also empowered to try and punish the rebel Indians. They ignored ordinary processes of the law and trail. They gave only one punishment to all the rebels and that was death. In other words, the British tried to suppress the revolt by all means. (ii) Two-Pronged Military Action : The British knew the symbolic value of Delhi. Thus, they initiated a two-pronged attack. One force moved from Calcutta into North India. The other force started from Punjab to reconquer Delhi. At last the British captured Delhi in September, 1857. Similarly, the British forces went ahead village by village in the Gangetic plain. They recaptured the lost ground step by step. In fact, the British knew that they were not merely dealing with a mutiny and rather were facing an uprising that had a popular mass support. According to Forsyth, a British official, about 75% adult male population in Awadh was in rebellion. (iii) Counter-Insurgency Operations : The British took up various anti-insurgency operations to suppress the rebellion. They followed protracted fighting. They did not care for the heavy losses that they faced to snatch Delhi from the rebels. (iv) Diplomacy : The British were worried where the big landlords and peasants had offered united resistance. So they tried to break up this unity by adopting diplomatic means. They promised to return the estates of the landlords. They dispossessed the rebel landholders and rewarded the loyal landholders. Few of these landlords either died while fighting with Britishers or ran away to Nepal where they died due to starvation or illness.
Why was the revolt particularly widespread in Awadh ? What prompted the peasants, taluqdars and Zamindars to join the revolt?
A chain of grievances in Awadh linked the prince, Taluqdar, Peasants and sepoys to join hands in the revolt of 1857 against the British. Examine the statement.
Criticaly examine the policies adopted by the British for the annexation of Awadh in 1857.
There was a widespread discontentment among the people of various regions and princely states because of the policies of Lord Dalhousie. The disgust and anger that prevailed in Awadh was no where to be seen in the whole of India. Here, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was removed on the charges of misgovernance and was sent to Calcutta. In 1851, Governor General Lord Dalhousie had described the kingdom of Awadh as ‘‘a cherry that will drop into our mouth one day.’’ In fact, the British had concluded that Wajid Ali Shah was not very popular among the people. But the reality was that he was the beloved of the local people. When the Nawab was leaving Awadh, a large number of people were weeping. They followed him till Kanpur. When the Nawab was removed, it brought an end to court and its culture. This emotional upheaval was aggravated by immediate material losses. It rendered many musicians, dancers, poets, artisans, cooks and administrative officials jobless. All the people lost their means of livelihood because the Nawab, who patronised them, was dethroned. As a historian said at the loss of Awadh: ‘‘The life was gone out of the body and the body of this town had been left lifeless.’’
The Role of Peasants, Taluqdar and Zamindar : The Revolt of 1857 was an
expression of popular resistance of foreign rule. All the peasants, taluqdars and Zamindars
participated in it. It is evident from the following points:
(i) The annexation of Awadh to the British Empire not only displaced Nawab Wajid Ali Shah
but also dispossessed the taluqdars of the region. Earlier, the taluqdars controlled land,
forts and power in the countryside. They also enjoyed autonomy as long as they accepted the
suzerainty of the Nawab and paid the due revenue. The big taluqdar had about twelve thousand
foot soldiers but the small taluqdars had about two hundred foot-soldiers. The British
disarmed the taluqdars and destroyed their forts. They undermined their position and
authority by adopting a new land revenue policy which was unfavourable to the taluqdars. For
example, before the annexation of Awadh, the taluqdars held 67% villages of Awadh under
their control. But after the introduction of the British Policy of Summary Settlement, this
number had come down to 38%.
(ii) Most of the peasants were not happy as most of them were over-assessed. At some places, the increase in revenue was from 30 to 70%. It resulted in the breakdown of the entire social system.
(iii) Before the arrival of the British, the taluqdars were oppressors. They got a variety of dues from the peasants but they also posed themselves as if they were fatherly-figures. They seemed considerate in times of need. But under the British rule, the peasants were over-assessed regarding the payment of dues. They also had to follow inflexible methods of collection. As all the taluqdars and peasants were loyal to the Nawab, they fought against the British. So there was an intense and long-lasting revolt against the British in Awadh.
(iv) The grievances of the peasants also had an effect on the role of sepoys as most of the sepoys were from rural areas. They got very low salaries and faced difficulty in getting leaves. So they were also discontent and dissatisfied. This aggravated the already tense situation in Awadh.
(v) Whole of the social order was broken down with the dispossession of the taluqdars. The ties of patronage and loyalty were disrupted that had bound the peasants to the taluqdars. Before the Britishers, these taluqdars were oppressors but some of them were seemed to be generous fatherly figures. They extracted a number of dues from the peasants but they also helped them during their bad times. Now, during the British rule, the peasants were directly exposed to over-assessment of revenue and non-flexible methods of revenue collection. Now there was no guarantee that the revenue demand of the state would be reduced or collection postponed in case of crop failure or in the times of hardship. Peasants also had no guarantee that they would get the loan and support in times of festivities which the taluqdars had earlier provided.
(vi) The resistance was intense and long lasting in the areas like Awadh during the revolt of 1857. Here the fighting was carried on for long by taluqdars and their peasants. Some of these taluqdars were loyal to the Nawab. That is why they joined the wife of the Nawab, Begum Hazrat Mahal. Few of them remained with her even in defeat.
What did the rebels want? To what extent did the vision of different social groups differ?
Who were the Rebels? According to the British officials, the rebels were a group of ungrateful and barbaric people. But in fact, they were patriots who loved their motherland and wanted that the alien rulers should be ousted. They included sepoys and ordinary people. They were not very educated and therefore propagated their ideas and programmes through ishtahars (notifications). They persuaded the people to join revolt against the foreign rulers.
What the Rebels Wanted? From the official record of the British Government, it is not clear what the rebels wanted, but every Indian knows that the rebels wanted freedom from the foreign rule. They were against the tyranny and oppression of the infidel and treacherous English people. They thought of the well-being of the common people.
Vision of Different Social Groups : All the rebels of the 1857 uprising came
from different social groups. They were queens, kings, nawabs, taluqdars, Zamindars,
peasants, sepoys and other ordinary people. Therefore, their methods may have been different
but the goal of all was the same, that is, the freedom from the alien rule. It is evident
from the following points :
(i) The ordinary people joined hands with the sepoys and attacked the white people. They ransacked their bungalows and burnt their property. They also destroyed and plundered all government buildings like the jail, court, treasury, post office and record office.
(ii) They attacked, looted and killed a large number of Europeans.
(iii) They legitimised their rebellion by seeking the blessings of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor. They also declared him as the king of India.
(iv) The rebellion was extensive and targeted everything and everybody connected with the white men. They even burnt all government records. There was a general defiance of all kinds of authority and hierarchy.
(v) The Hindus and the Muslims united to exterminate the firangis, a derogatory term used to designate foreigners.
(vi) The ordinary people also joined the revolt. They attacked the rich moneylenders as they were seen as the local oppressors and the allies of the British.
(vii) The sepoys decided their own strategy. They were the makers of their own rebellion.
(viii) In Meerut, a faqir rode an elephant and conveyed messages to the sepoys who visited him frequently. Similarly in Lucknow, there were a few religious leaders and self styled prophets who preached the destruction of British rule.
(ix) At many places, the local leaders urged peasants, Zamindars and tribals to revolt against the British rule. For example, Shah Mal mobilised the villagers of Barout pargana in Uttar Pradesh. Similarly Gonoo, a tribal cultivator in Chotanagpur, became a rebel leader of the Kol tribals.
What do visual representations tell us about the Revolt of 1857 ? How do historians analyse these representations ?
Examine the visual representation of the Revolt of 1857 that provobed a range of differefnt emotions and reactions.
One of the important record of the mutiny of 1857 is the pictorial images prepared by the British and Indians. Paintings, pencil drawings, posters, etchings, cartoons, bazaar prints, etc., about this revolt are available. The available information in these pictures and their description given by historians is given below :
I. Pictorials prepared by the British : British pictures offer a number of
images which were prepared to provoke different emotions and reactions.
1. In some of the pictures made by the British, the British heroes were commemorate who saved the English and repressed the rebels. One of the painting ‘‘Relief of Lucknow’’ was painted by Thomas Jones Barker in 1859, is an example of this type. When the Lucknow was besieged by the rebel forces, the commissioner of Lucknow, Henry Lawrence, collected whole of the Christian population and took shelter in the heavily fortified residency. Later on, Lawrence was killed but the residency remained protected under the command of Colonal Inglis. On September 25, Henry Havelock and James Outram reached over there and cut through the rebel forces. They even reinforced the British troops. After 20 days, a new commander of British forces in India, Colin Campbell, came over there with his forces and saved the besieged British forces.
The British historians described the siege of Lucknow and their survival as the ultimate victory of the British power. The painting of Barker shows the moment of Campbell’s entry. It created a sense that the troubled times and the rebellion was over. The British emerged victorious.
2. Joseph Noel Paton painted a picture ‘‘In Memorium’’ two years after the mutiny. In this picture, English women and children huddled in a circle. They are looking helpless and innocent, seemingly waiting for the inevitable-violence, dishonour and death. This painting stirs up the imagination of spectators. It also tries to provoke anger and fury. This painting also represents the rebels as violent and brutish.
3. In few other paintings and sketches, women are shown in a different light. Women in these pictures appear heroic, defending themselves against the attack of rebels. In a picture, Miss Wheeler stands firmly in the centre and is shown defending her honour, single handedly killing the attacking rebels. In all the British pictures, the rebels are represented as demons.
4. With the waves of shock and anger spread in England, demands of retribution grew very strongly. Pictures and news about the revolt created an atmosphere in which vengeance and violent repression was seen as necessary and just. It was as if demand of justice was a challenge to the British honour and power to meet ruthlessly. An allegorical female figure of justice is shown with a sword in one of her hand and a shield in the other hand. Her face expresses rage and her desire to take the revenge. Under her feet, she is trampling sepoys which a crowd of Indian women and children watch with fear.
Except these there were numerous pictures and cartoons in the British press which were giving stress on the need of brutal repression and violent revenge.
II. Indian Pictures : Indian artists presented the rebel leaders as those heroes who were leading the country into the battle. These leaders were rousing the people to righteous indignation against the imperialist rule. Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi was represented, in a picture, as a masculine figure chasing the enemy, killing the soldiers and valiantly fighting till her last. Children in different parts of country grow up reading the lines of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, ‘‘Khoob Lari Mardani Woh to Jhansi Wali Rani Thi.’’ In popular prints, Rani Lakshmi Bai is generally shown in battle armour. She is also shown with a sword in one of her hands and riding a horse with the other, a symbol of the determination to resist injustice and foreign rule.