Beginning and Spread of The Revolt of 1857
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Beginning and Spread of The Revolt of 1857

The revolt of 1857, often termed as India s first war of independence was one of the most significant events in colonial India. The reason for this mass upsurge has to be sought in the nature of British rule which adversely affected the interest of almost all sections of the society. Once started, the revolt spread like wildfire and soon engulfed large parts of North India. Beginning and Spread of The Revolt of 1857

Beginning and Spread of 1857 Revolt

The spark

Strong resentment was rising among the Indians against the British Raj and they were waiting only for an occasion to revolt. The stage was all set. Only a spark was needed to set it on fire. Introduction of the greased cartridge in 1856 provided that fire.

The loading process of the Enfield rifle involved bringing the cartridge to the mouth and biting off the top. There was a rumour among the Sepoys in January 1857 that the greased cartridge contained the fat of cow and pig. The cow is sacred to the Hindus and the pig is forbidden to the Muslims.

There was another rumour that the British government had hatched a gigantic conspiracy to destroy the caste and religion of Hindus and Muslims. To this end, the rumours said, the British had mixed the bone dust of cows and pigs into the flour that was sold in the market.

The reports about the mixing of bone dust in flour and the introduction of the Enfield rifle enhanced the sepoy s growing disaffection with the Government.

Start of the revolt

On 26th February 1857, the 19th Native Infantry stationed at Berhampur refused to receive their percussion caps for the parade. Both the 34th and the 19th Native infantry were disbanded.

Martyrdom of Mangal Pandey

A sepoy called Mangal Pandey was the first soldier who openly disobeyed orders. He killed two English officers at Barrackpore near Calcutta on 29 March 1857. He was arrested, tried and executed. The regiments of Barrackpore were disbanded. The 7th Awadh Regiment which defied the orders of its officer met with a similar fate. The news of Mangal Pandey very soon reached other parts of the country and resulted in open revolts.

Meerut incident– Beginning and Spread of The Revolt of 1857

The most decisive uprising occurred at Meerut where 85 sepoys of the cavalry regiment were sentenced to 2-10 years imprisonment for refusing to use greased cartridges. The very next day, on 10th May 1857, three regiments broke into open mutiny. They killed British officers and broke open the prison to release their comrades.

Delhi March

After the incident of Merrut, the rebellious sepoys began to march towards Delhi, where they were joined by the local infantry and the common people. The rebels captured Delhi and killed many British officers. They declared the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah as the emperor of India.

The revolt was marked by intense anti- British feeling and the administration was invariably toppled everywhere Mutiny took place.

Beginning and Spread of The Revolt of 1857

Immediately after the capture of Delhi, a letter was addressed to the rulers of all neighbouring states soliciting their support and inviting them to participate in the revolt. In Delhi, a court of administration was set up which consisted of ten members, six from the army and four from the civil departments. It was responsible for all matters of the state. It decided the affairs of the state in the name of the emperor.

The revolt at Meerut and the capture of Delhi was a precursor to a widespread mutiny by the sepoys and rebellions all over North India as well as Western and Central India. South India remained peaceful and Punjab and Bengal had an only marginal effect.

Beginning and Spread of The Revolt of 1857

Proclamation of Bahadur Shah Zafar as Symbolic head

Delhi soon became the centre of the Great rebellion, and Bahadur Shah Zafar was proclaimed as the symbolic head of the revolt. The rebels persuaded if not coerced Bhahdur Shah Zafar to become their leader and was proclaimed the Shahenshah-e-Hindustan.

The rebel administration, set up in Delhi decided the affairs of the state in the name of the emperor. In other centres too, attempts were made to bring about an organisation Bahadurshah was recognised as an emperor by all the rebel leaders. Coins were struck and all orders issued in his name.

The choice of Bahadur Shah Zafar as the head of the revolt had a hidden symbolism as the long reign of Mughal dynasty had become a symbol of political unity of India.

The spread of the revolt

The news of Mutiny of Sepoys at Meerut followed by the capture of Delhi, created a sensation all over India. Soon similar mutinies broke out across the whole of North India. In general, these mutinies followed the pattern set at Meerut. The sepoys killed the Officers and other Europeans on whom they could lay their hands on, in many cases sparing neither women nor children.

The first to rise was a detachment of sepoys at Aligarh on May 20, 1857. This was followed by series of mutinies in the Punjab, Naushera (May 21) and Hoti Mardan. Far more serious were the series of Mutinies in Avadh and North-Western provinces at Etah and Mainpuri (May 23), Roorkee (May 25), Hodal, Mathura and Lucknow (May 30), Bareily and Shahjahanpur (May 31), Moradabad and Badaon (June 1), Azamgarh and Sitapur (June 3), Malaon, Mohamoli, Varanasi and Kanpur (June 4), Jhuani and Allahabad(June 6), Faizabad (June 7), Dariabad, Hathras (July 1) and several other localities.

Civilian uprising

The revolt was started by the sepoys but was joined in large numbers by the civilian population. The civilian population had taken an active part in the uprising. The revolutionary outbreaks of the Civil population took place over an extensive area in the region now known as Uttar Pradesh.

The participation of peasants and artisans made the revolt a widespread and popular event. In some areas, the common people revolted even before the sepoys. All this shows that it was clearly a popular revolt. The mutiny merged itself into a general rising of the civil population for all types and classes.

Beginning and Spread of The Revolt of 1857

Conclusion– Beginning and Spread of The Revolt of 1857

The revolt of 1857 which started essentially as a sepoy mutiny was soon joined by civilian population making it an uprising against the British. It brought together people having different ethnic, religious and class background against the British rule. However, in terms of area and population covered, the extent of the rebellion was very limited. It had only limited territorial spread. The eastern, western and southern parts of India remained more or less unaffected.


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