The mutiny itself must be defined before any discussion of its reasons can begin. While revolts and mutinies were common in India during this period, they were often uncoordinated. But the 1857 Mutiny was a different story. The mutiny of 1857 was different. It saw a convergence and expansion of the resistance. I want to find out why.
The XI native cavalry began the Mutiny on May 10th 1857 in Meerut. The problem was immediately the greased bullets of the rifle being used by the Indian army. Soldiers had to bite off one end of a cartridge in order for the powder to be released to prime their rifle. Colonel Tucker warned the Sepoys in 1853 about the possibility that this new grease would be offensive to their religious beliefs, but his warnings were ignored. This was typical British attitude, which constantly undervalued Indian religion. It was a mistake that had devastating consequences. This incident was widely reported. It was against the Hindu and Muslim religions to touch these meats. Therefore, using these rifles would have been an embarrassment. Sepoys, however, did not fear contamination of their bodies, but rather, social rejection. They feared being excommunicated by the people they knew. Sepoys were also frightened by the incident, as they suspected that the British intended to turn them into outcasts in order to convert them. As skepticism remained high, Carmichael Smith instructed his regiment of Indians at Meerut on April 24, 1857 to practice firing. The Colonel was well aware of the tension, but he was given new instructions on how to open cartridges. The men did not want to use practice cartridges that were old, despite the fact they were still the same type.
The men had their parades disgraced and were sentenced to prison. The punishment was administered on 9th May. The next day, a bizarre broke out and spread quickly to the infantry and cavalry. The angry Sepoys released their fellow soldiers and then massacred British residents. British officers did not react quickly enough and fifty Europeans including children and women, were killed the next morning. Indian shopkeepers suffered looting and attacks while mutineers made their way to Delhi, where they planned to offer their service to Bahadur Shah.
The only troops present in Delhi were the police. All Christians and Europeans, however, were targeted and killed. After a few abortive incidents, the real trouble began on the 21st of May in the provinces of North West and Oudh. On 15th Jul, British women, children and infants were brutally killed in Allahabad. Colonel Neill then ordered the execution of the culprits after they had cleaned the room that the murders took. Indians felt insulted that they had to be so close to the blood.
The last remnants from the Mutiny were burned in 1859. The mutiny intensified anti-British sentiment in India, and in order to prevent a repeat of this event the British government took over the East India Company’s territory. We could go into much greater detail about the events that led to the mutiny, but for now we will focus on the deeper motives.
It was the first time that a country’s national feelings and actions against British rule were expressed. This view was shared by Indian commentators in the early 20th century. Marx, for instance, portrays mutinys as national risings, but one must also consider the circumstances of his conclusion. Marx was writing a column for the New York Times. It is possible to see that Marx’s interpretation of colonialism perpetuates the American national sentiment. Marx wanted to gain sympathy for Indians who were being exploited economically by British rule. America was also escaping from this harsh rule. If Marx had expressed sympathies towards the British colonists then the American public wouldn’t have viewed him in the same light. It is possible that his personal circumstances influenced him greatly.
Marx might have anticipated the Indian view today that describes the mutiny to be part of a national evolution. Indian nationalists are also inclined to stress the patriotic struggle of their forefathers. Viewing it as the war of Independence is only possible in hindsight. Or when examining what it has achieved over time. E Stokes suggested the mutiny was a momentary revelation of the rural Indian culture, and not a turning point in British India’s history.
The mutiny might have had a better outcome if the British had perceived a more widespread national war for independence. The mutiny, as it happened, was only limited geographically. Not all 70,000 Sepoys participated in the rebellion. Some joined but others did not.
The mutiny’s uprising has been called a nationalist one. Bose’s and Jalal’s description of the Mutiny is that it was infused with patriotism. Indian nationalism was later infused with legends about bravery and mass murder. In 1905-10 the Ramillila festival in northern Indian towns featured images of Rhani Jhansi, despite the fact that the first Indian congress denounced it as reactionary.
Those who claim that the mutiny was nationalistic are ignoring the immense diversity in Indian society, including castes, religions, and geography. Chamberlain also states that the national consciousness was not above social or religious issues.
Marx and Imperialism claims that only Hindustan and the Hindu speaking areas along the Gangetic Valley wanted India. This was a big, diverse country with memories more of its time as part of the empire than any uprisings. Marx has been criticized for overestimating nationalism and underestimating religion. Many have accused the mutiny of being too much a revolt of soldiers and not enough of a nation. India is too ignorant about its own nation to classify the mutiny in this way.
Thirdly, the mutiny can be described as a post-pacification rebellion. This is a simple description: a revolt that occurs after the conquest and pacification. It means that once a country has been defeated by a victorious power in a conflict in which the defeated nation resisted for a time, colonial rules will follow. This period is marked by uprisings or revolts caused by colonial policies that have disrupted long-term indigenous social construction. This would negate the need to have a national unity.
E. stokes offers an economic analysis of the rebellion, while also making concessions for caste analysis. Stokes believes it was the British colonial government’s changes in land ownership that caused some to suffer. In 1856, the British changed inheritance laws to allow them to gain more territory. This included banning adopted children from inheriting land. This rule affected the Nawab Awadh, the province where the mutiny occurred, as he was unable pass land on to his adopted child on death. The land would then have passed to the British. Stokes insists that he did not believe that this uprising was nationalistic.
E Stokes wrote when post-pacification was the term used to describe agrarian unrest. Revolt was then attributed to entire classes such as rich peasants. Stokes modified the categories over time and began to see castes as appropriate units for analysis. Stokes noted a distrust of and hatred for the British due to their denigration of religion. The British also levied high rents and taxes on the landowners, which in turn often reduced their status and honor in their districts compared to other clans. The British disrupted natural social balance.
But clashes weren’t always anti-British. Conflicts between Afgans who had recently moved to India and the older Rajput lords were a result. They erupted into local conflicts over succession. Afghans, who were seen as the most dangerous threat to British control and often moved before others, were called rebels. Brodkin argues that British exaggerated the extent of the mutiny by labeling certain groups as loyal or rebels without any proof. In addition, caste gropes appeared on both sides and the majority of groups were multicaste. Stokes claims that the British intervened in order to cause relative material poverty, which is what he believes led to the revolt.
The debate continues to rage over the causes and nature of the mutiny. The terminology from that time is hard to escape. Because the British wanted to punish or reward their friends and enemies, the terms loyal and rebellion have been firmly embedded. However, this simple classification can lead people astray because the line between the two can be obscure. In the past, the British believed the problems could be blamed on Muslim instigation and viewed Hindus loyal. Traditional rivalry, however, was seen in a distorted light.
As the uprising progressed, it was evident that there were many factors at play. Whether religious unrest, economic concerns, or other causes, it is difficult to isolate a cause. One could argue that, while it wasn’t part of any conspiracy, the events were not entirely spontaneous or unforeseen. They may have been the outcome of a limited conspiracy. One could argue that there was a conspiracy in the army. The mutiny may have originated in the British military, who were the main instrument used by the British to keep control.
It is difficult to describe the mutiny in an adequate way. There were many mutinies, which occurred at different times and for various reasons. It is true that the mutiny began as a minor incident, but it has continued to be a manifestation of discontent in India. However, there are no clear goals involved. The fact that the mutiny was not followed by a move away from Westernism also dispels any notion of an uprising or war of Independence. The mutiny, if it is to have any kind of characterisation, which was shown to be difficult, and even undesirable, would be a type of post-pacification revolt.