Home THE REVOLT OF 1857 – India’s First War of Independence

THE REVOLT OF 1857 – India’s First War of Independence

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A powerful and popular revolt broke out in Northern and Central India in 1857.

It began with a mutiny of sepoys (who were the Indian soldiers of the Company’s army). But soon it became widespread and involved the masses. Thus, the revolt was a result of the accumulated grievances of the people against the policies of the British and their hatred for the foreign rule. Some causes of this revolt are listed below:


The most important cause of the discontent was the economic exploitation of the country by the British. The peasants, artisans and craftsmen suffered poor economic conditions under the British. The peasants were burdened by heavy land revenue, last their lands to landlords and moneylenders. The middle and upper classes of India were badly affected due to loss of employment. Zamindars lost their zamindari rights because they could not fulfill the high land revenue demand o the British. Thus, different sections of the Indian society suffered hard under the British rule and became strong enemies of the British.


The British policy of annexation created deep insecurity among the Indian rulers. The policies like Subsidiary Alliance and Doctrine of Lapse made the Indians lose faith in the British. Annexation of Jhansi, Satara and Nagpur under the doctrine created great restlessness and distrust especially among the ruling homilies and their dependents. The annexation of the friendly state of Awadh by Lord Dalhousie in 1856 was also widely represented by the people at Awadh. Similarly, Rani Laxmi Bai wanted her adopted son to succeed the throne, but the British refused. The Indian rulers now turned against the British.


Many Indians feared that their religion was coming under threat. The Christian missionaries tried to convert the people to Christianity. Some o the social legislation passed by the British like Widow Remarriage act based on sati, made many conservative Indians very uncomfortable. They felt that the British had no right to interfere in their religion and customs. Religious sentiments were also hurt by the British policy of taxing lands belonging to temples and mosques.


The Revolt of 1857 was started by the company’s sepoys. They too had a number of grievances. Often the British officers treated the sepoys rudely. The sepoys were paid much less than the British soldiers and were also given inferior food and accommodation. Moreover, there was no scope of promotion and made to serve overseas. No Indian could move higher than a subedar. Naturally, the sepoys were full of anger and frustration.


In 1856, the British introduced the Enfield rifle in the army. The soldiers had to bite off the greased cartridge before loading it in the gun. At the same time, a rumor spread that the grease used in the cartridge was made from the fat of cow and the lard of the pig. This hurt the religious sentiments o both Hindu and Muslim soldiers. This time to rebel had come as this was beyond their patience and submission.


On 24th April, 1857 the Indian sepoys of the Meerut cantonment refused to accept the greased cartridges. On 9th May, eighty five of them were dismissed and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. The very next day, all the angry Indian soldiers of Meerut cantonment released their comrades, killed the British officers, and declared mass revolt. The first Indian martyr of the revolt of 1857 at Barrackpore, Bengal was Mangal Pandey. Then all soldiers marched to Delhi and declared the powerless Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar as the Emperor of India and the official leader off the revolt.


Large part of North and Central India and Bihar joined the revolt. The important centres of the revolt were Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow, Bareilly, Jhansi, and Arrah in Bihar. In Delhi, the aged emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was the symbolic leader but the real command was with a group of soldiers headed by General Bakht Khan at Kanpur. The revolt in Lucknow was led by Begum Hazarat Mahal; the revolt in Jhansi was lead by Rani Laxmi Bai. Kunwar Singh, a zamindar of Jagdishpur near Arrah, was the chief organizer of the revolt in Bihar.


The British decided to suppress this powerful revolt with great severity. Delhi was recaptured in September 1857. Bahadur Shah Zafar was sentenced to life imprisonment. He and his wife were sent to prison in Rangoon (Burma). Rani Laxmi Bai was defeated and killed in June 1858. Tantiya Tope escaped to the jungles of Central India and continued to fight the guerilla war until captured and killed.


  • Limited to central India.
  • Unsympathetic attitude of native rulers.
  • No common plan of action and leadership among the rebels.
  • Rebels were poorly organized on primitive lives.
  • Strong British army equipped with latest weapons of the time.
  • Moreover, the rebel groups did not have a common plan of action or centralized leadership.


However, the revolt was the first great struggle of the Indians for freedom from the British domination. The heroic and patriotic struggle of 1857 continued to inspire the Indians in the later years of the freedom struggle.

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