Written for Modern European History Submitted April 1979 Copywrite Daniel R. Fruit Stylistically Revised 2005
The Indian Rebellion of 1857-1859 ranks among the most significant events in British imperial history. The conflagration changed the British view on India. The mutiny also became an important symbol both to the British and the Indians. To the Indians it came to symbolize patriotism against British oppression. The British viewed it as a symbol of India's inability to accept change and as a confirmation of the inferiority of the Indian people.
This event would also signal an important change in the direction of British rule. From ruling in a indirect, paternal manner, the British would switch to ruling directly through the Crown. Most directly, this led to the bankruptcy and liquidation of the British East India Company and forcing direct rule. Further, the British people would come to accept that this takeover represented a course not only expedient, but inevitable and just.
British pre-Mutiny views towards India varied between three viewpoints. Some perceived India as a land whose inhabitants and culture time by-passed. Others saw India as a basically viable nation saddled by decadent religions and political customs. A small minority viewed India as a country with a good, though alien, culture. (1) The British general feeling, though, agreed that India would eventually modernize, whether through natural evolution or kindly paternalism. (2)
Idealists looked to India as a golden opportunity for creating a Utopia. They felt that India could acquire an enlightened government, something that nations with great but entrenched traditions, like Great Britain, could never fully acquire. India, a "blank slate," held great opportunities if given an exposure to great ideas while avoiding the impediments of Europeans history. Two movements in particular, worked on creating this new India with a crusading zeal.
The first of these movements was the ecclesiastic. Missionaries came to India in massive number to attempt to wrest India from the "Devil." They pressured the Company's government to try to speed up this "Christianization." They called for legislation to try to eliminate "heathen" practices and rituals. (3) They pushed for Christian laws. They achieved some measure of success in their endeavors. They converted a small percentage of the population, most of whom they or the government employed. Some prominent Indian military and civilian leaders lent support to their efforts. (4) The missionaries' greatest significance lay in their ability to maintain constant pressure on the government for educational and religious change.
Another group that played an important part in India was the Utilitarians. The followers of Mills and Bentham viewed India as a land in dire need of their social and socialistic philosophy. They considered the "taluqdars" and princes as oppressors and the incubus of the peasant farmer. (5) Some government officials such as John Lawrence and John Stuart Mill himself felt that the tenant farmer should rightfully own the land he farmed. (6) They called for annexations of irresponsible governments in Oudh and other provinces. They wished to prepare the masses for eventual democratic rule.
The Utilitarians perceived in India a great potential for reform and responsible government, particularly as the British company governments held a level of power not paralleled in Europe with its various traditions of governmental checks and balances, such as the UK's own crown and Parliament. Thus, these reasoned, the British rulers could enact power change, eliminating gross practices, such as the traditional Hindi practice of having wives throw their themselves unto their husbands' funeral pyres, and eradicating unfair ones such as those which granted no rights to peasants. In their view, though, they generally imposed the concept of Imperial role. (7) The British government, the Utilitarians reasoned, if properly run by enlightened officials, could act as a paternalist father to the Indian nation preparing it for its eventual place among the world's great. Thus, ironically, though these supposed reformers espoused principles in favor of democracy and against foreign conquest, they justified British continued rule in India and even encouraged its extension into parts of the subcontinent ruled, according to their lights, in a manner even more oppressive than the British. (8)
As for the Indians, one can characterize their reaction to the British in two fashions. The more violent, hostile Indian reaction to British rule in Upper India led the Great Indian Mutiny.
Several different categories of causes contributed to the Mutiny. Most directly, the British army's army of Indian soldiers, the sepoys, held a list of grievances that led to their eventual and spontaneous outburst of violence. However, deeper social and economic causes led others, particularly princes and nobles, to come to the forefront and voluntarily lead these troops into battle and to support their program.
Several economic groups held a hatred of British rule. The British followed an annexation policy towards the Indian principalities. Some large provinces such as Oudh fell under the jurisdiction of this policy because of their native governmentsí corruption or inefficiency. Of course, the British contrived to take certain provinces purely for their economic value, generally in the following manner.
A price would borrow a certain amount of money, not budgeting enough to pay the expenses that included those of his British "advisors" and their staff. Upon his default, the British took over his kingdom or principality. (9)
Some of these princes, like the Emperor in Delhi, the British retained as puppet rulers. Others, such as the Nana Sahib in Peshwara, ostensible ruler of the Marathas, the British government put on a pension. A number of these pensioned princes held no natural legal heir, and the British did not allow them or any native prince to name unrelated successors. Upon the death of their native rules, these principalities then came under direct British rules. Many pensioned princes, used to living on immense fortunes, quickly ran themselves heavily into debt. The British then forced them to give up their remaining land, signing away their rights. (10) This created a large group of disgruntled former princes with large followings, gripes against the Company government and a tradition of leading men.
Other groups of Indians proved equally anxious to expel the British. These included: the taluqdars, hereditary landholders; and the zomindars, landholders who didn't hold taluqdar titles. These groups commonly rented out land to tenant farmers and ruled over them much like feudal lords. The peasants retained a certain amount of loyalty to these landlords both for their high birth and superior education. The British, however, and particularly the reformers and missionaries, viewed these classes as non-productive parasitic middlemen preying on the farmers and exerted pressured on the Company to eliminate or reduce the power of these classes.
In Oudh, one of the provinces most effected by the Mutiny, John Lawrence and Coverly Jackson attempted to break the power of these two groups by giving the land directly to the tenant farmers. The taluqdars they either compensated or pensioned. This alienated a number of intelligent leaders with loyal forces already at their disposal. When the sepoys first mutinied, most taluqdars remained loyal. (11) During the course of the rebellion, Governor-General Canning announced he wished to "examine" taluqdary holdings in the Oudh. Feeling that the British betrayed them, many of the taluqdars then joined the rebels. They felt that an Indian, not "John Company," would better advance their interests.
Another factor that caused increased animosity towards the British stemmed from the increased power of the lenders. In the past these lenders allied and did business with the taluqdars. The taluqdars often borrowed money but usually paid it back. (12) The presence of the greater power of the taluqdars, in terms of his armed following and prestige, meant that both could, to some degree, negotiate to a mutually agreeable settlement on repayment terms, the one holding all the money and the other all the weapons.
British law, however, changed this arrangement. By reducing the taluqdarís status, they did not reduced his need to impress his following. The lenders could charge exorbitant interest rates because they knew the taluqdars needed the loans and that the British would ensure their timely repayment. The taluqdars could no longer threaten the debtor into a renegotiation. Quickly, many taluqdars ran heavily in debt, and the British appropriated their holdings. Similarly the now land-owning peasants also fell heavily in debt due to their lack of financial experience. The lenders grew continuously richer and more dependent on British power. The peasants and taluqdars alike viewed the lenders as a common enemy and a British-supported pestilence.
Taxation represented yet another irritant to Anglo-Indian relations. "John Company," the slang term for the British East India Company, remained fundamentally a business and needed to return a profit to its stockholders. (13) The Company spent enormous sums of money to pay both its armies and civil servants. Importing talented British to a country whose climate oppressed them and whose culture they viewed as alien and inferior cost considerable sums of money, and the Company needed to pay generous salaries. To finance these enormous personnel outlays, the Company taxed heavily. Notably, the taxes actually did not burden Indian people as much as they paid under such "native" rulers as the Marathas or the Mughals, (14) but these taxes went to foreign armies and officials who often treated those paying them with contempt and who, in some instances, showed as great a need to flaunt their wealth as the taluqdars. The British, further, as mentioned above, showed no particular tolerance in regard to late payment whether by princes, taluqdars, or peasants.
These policies then led to a general disenfranchisement of the traditional powers of India, the princes and the petty landlords, in favor of the lenders, a class totally dependent upon the British. The Company if anything, encouraged this profligacy as it hastened the process by which more of India came under direct rule and the classes they viewed as backwards irritants and parasites could no longer cause any problems. After all, Bengal, today's Bangladesh, came under British control in just this manner and represented something of a paradigm for other take-overs. Even to most Indians, British rule in Bengal looked superior to that of local rulers in the few principalities not under British influence.
Further, like Indian rulers before them, British agents and military men pocketed away at least some of the money they ostensibly collected for ruling various Indian provinces. At a minimum, many agents traded in goods on the side. A few simply took the traditional ruling agentís "cut" of the tax money going passing through their hands. "John Company" tolerated this practice so long as it did not become too obvious or rob its own coffers, particularly as it meant it could bring in talented, or at any rate ambitious, businessmen at a lower ostensible salary. (15)
Those who amassed the largest fortunes returned to England as "Nawabs," the Indian title for nobility ironically applied to those British returning from India with a fortune. The nawabs walked a fine line between turning their own profit and calling too much attention to themselves. One of John Company's greatest military leaders, Warren Hastings, famously went on trial for just taking too much, but Hastings did not go to jail, in part because he and the other nawabs could buy the best legal defense.
The British also made some blunders in the social realm. They used untouchables as house servants. Sexual liaisons also occurred between the British and untouchables. The British publicly ate the meat of cows, sacred to Hindus, and pigs, unclean to the Moslems. This intolerance, if not ignorance, of native custom made the Indians look upon the British with contempt and underlined the differences between the two peoples. While Indian history does always abound with tolerance, for example, some of the Moghuls in particular essentially tried to force a mass conversion of all Hindus, these intolerant rulers typically did not prosper and, indeed, spent much of their time fighting. Further, successful Indian rulers, whether Moslem, Hindu, or Sikh, understood and allied with at least one particular religious group, even if only a minority, and the best of them, such as Akbar, effectively used members of all religions. British rule and its public support of Christianity left it with no such support, and, in particular, it alienated the Hindus.
British control of government produced one bad side effect for many high-caste Hindu Brahmins and Rajputs. By eliminating the princely courts, the British eliminated an important job market for these groups. (16) Company governments typically employed Europeans, Indian Christians, and a surprisingly large number of Moslems. High caste Hindus also saw their traditional governmental primacy upset by the introduction of competitive testing which paid no attention either to caste or tradition. Thus, the British alienated the most influential Hindu castes.
Perhaps the most important, direct, and certainly the most emotional cause for the Mutiny, stemmed from British attempts to alter Hindu and Muslim religious traditions and practices. The British, especially the missionaries, showed a particular zeal in their determination to change these customs, some of which they considered as the "devil's work." Hindu widows, for example, traditionally threw themselves on their husband's funeral pyre. Christian missionary workers lobbied to pass a law that made this practice, called Sati, illegal. Subsequently, they passed a law that allowed widows to remarry. (17)
Hindus, men and women, saw these laws as a direct attack upon their marital institutions. They de-casted any widow who remarried. To show some indication of how deeply they felt this point, in a country of over 100 million, only fourteen Hindu widows remarried from the passage of the law in 1856 until the Indian Mutiny, and twelve of the fourteen came from the community of Westernized Bengalis, long under British rule and influence and a primarily Muslim region in which widows remarried with no stigma anyway. (18)
Direct conversionary work also offended Indians. They detested Indians who became Christians, and Hindus decasted them. Missionary schooling efforts also came with the eventual, and not necessarily hidden, aim of eventual conversion. The missionaries taught not only Western learning, but also dispensed liberal doses of Christian dogma. Muslims and Hindus alike noted these efforts with alarm. Soldiers in the Benghali army, the first body to revolt, expressed anger at the efforts of some of their own officers to convert them. The fact that conversion made it easier for a Christian to get a government position particularly galled Hindus of high caste who traditionally held these positions.
Several causes of the Mutiny affected primarily the sepoys, the Indian soldiers fighting in the Company's army. The sepoys received Western-style training and a regular income, but they served under British officers who received, in comparison, enormous salaries.
One cause of anger to the sepoys stemmed from an announcement by Dalhousie, the Governor-General, stipulating that further Indian enlistees would join for general service. (20) Previously, Indians enlisted only for service in India. Now the army could ship future Indian recruits overseas. Sepoys felt that leaving India effectively meant outcasting as it would make it impossible for them to live a life acceptably Hindu as they could not follow their own practices regarding diet or worship. Shortly after Dalhousie's announcement, another rumor circulated that the British meant to force them all the sepoys to serve outside India. (19) This particularly angered the sepoys in the long-established Bengal army, many of whom came from high castes. Fathers expected to enlist their sons into the service, allowing them to amass a certain amount of money, before proceeding in their civilian lives.
The sepoys held other reasons for hostility. As the nineteenth century progressed, British army officers gradually became more alienated from their Indian soldiers. At the beginning of the century many young, unmarried officers served in Indian theater. Their youth and single status made them relatively open to the lures of Indian culture, so that, to some degree, sepoys and officers underwent a process of cultural exchange. The relatively desperate battles of the earlier part of the conquest further encouraged this common interchange and feeling of unity as the army fought and died together.
By the time of the Mutiny, a new class of British officers came to India. Now, British officers brought their entire families with them from England with whom they spent the majority of their free time. These men, and particularly their wives, set up the institutions which came to represent the British "Raj" to Indians: officer clubs, polo grounds, and living areas created to simulate living in English. These older officers neither understood sepoy customs nor their languages. They tended to look down at the sepoys in a way that caused resentment. The greater security of the British conquests, in contrast to the earlier era, further meant that these men and officers did not share the same sense of a common purpose in battle. Thus, during the actual rebellion, many sepoys proved quite willing to kill their own commanders.
Due to these religious, social, economic, and political factors, a general bad feeling existed between the British and Indians. The sepoys felt a particular subset of grievances and fear at seethed at perceived British indifference to their concerns. They needed only a small spark to set them off, and events provided one.
The cartridge affair in early 1857 provided the spark the sepoys needed. The British had begun receiving the new Enfield rifle. During its firing sequence, the soldier needed to grease the rounds in the rifle, and that meant holding the cartridge in the soldier's mouth for a brief instant, tearing off its casing, and then tossing it into the rifle. A small amount of grease inevitably ended up in the soldierís mouth. By mistake, the army initially distributed some rounds greased in both cattle and pig fat. Muslims regard pork as unclean, and Hindus consider cows as sacred. (20)
The sepoys somehow heard about this grease and interpreted its distribution as a direct attack on their religion. The British officers tried to explain the source of the mistake and that the new grease would come from candle wax. The sepoys would not believe this and felt the British wanted to trick them.
A sepoy detachment at Meerut refused a direct order from a British officer. The British officers in charge humiliated the refusing soldiers and put them in prison. Sepoy soldiers seethed. The British surrounded their Indian detachments at Meerut and attempted to order them to disarm. The sepoys refused to disarm and shot their way out of Meerut. The following day they overwhelmed the tiny British garrison at Delhi and declared the old King of Delhi, a Mughal descendant, as Emperor of a revived Mughal Empire.
A total recounting of the events of the Mutiny would take many pages due to the confused nature of the events. Instead, this paper will concentrate on the events in Delhi, the symbol of the rebellion if not necessarily its center or its most active front. This should give a "feel" for the Mutiny's dramatic, if often confused, character.
On the morning of the Fifth of May, 1857, the Meerut sepoys arrived at Delhi, a city of 150,000 inhabitants. The old king of Delhi, 82-yr-old Mohammed Bahadur Shah, ostensibly ruled in Delhi. (25) Actual power lay in the hands of several hundred British soldiers and administrators and a large native contingent of the Bengal army which ran the city in his name. At first the King ordered his own troops not to allow the rebel sepoys to enter the city, but the Delhi sepoys paid no attention to him.
The sepoys of Delhi and Meerut ran amok in the city. After proclaiming Bahadur Shah as Emperor of India, the sepoys proceeded to kill every European they could find. Then, with the hearty assistance of the city inhabitants, they proceeded to kill every money-lender and other perceived collaborator.(21)
British troops from the north arrived outside Delhi in June, and the Indian rebel troops expended little effort to stop them. The British encamped on a strong position, called "the Ridge," that over-looked the city. Their small force of 2,900 included British, Europeans, Punjabis, Afghans, Gurkhas, and loyal sepoys. This force could by no means retake the city with literally thousands of sepoys opposing them. Nominally the besiegers, they became the besieged as they waited for reinforcements, and sepoy troops surrounded their position. (27)
Inside the city, sepoys continued to run rampant. With no real leadership, they did what armed troops under such conditions often do, they pillaged. They robbed so many houses that the city's inhabitants buried their valuables. They paid lip-service to the old Emperor while giving him no real authority. They stole much of the royal treasure to buy food for their ever-increasing numbers.
The old Emperor appointed one of the incoming rebel chieftains, Bukht Khan, as commander-in-chief. At the same time, he tried, through his court personnel, to sell out to the enemy. The Emperorís only real power over the sepoys lay in his continued threats of suicide. A better poet than leader, he still realized his symbolic value, and that made his threats worrisome to the sepoys.
Bukht Khan did make a serious attempt to restore order. He told the sepoys that only those who fought would get paid. Thus attacking the Ridge became almost a ceremonial action; twice a day the sepoys would attack. (22) Each newly arrived group would also attack the Ridge. Though half-hearted attacks at best, these attacks did take a toll on the endurance of their opponents.
British conditions on The Ridge, through out the siege, remained appalling. Disease ran rampant. Clothing was scarce. Poor sanitary conditions undoubtedly contributed to disease. Some bright spots, though, shone through the gloom.. An unscrupulous but creative major named Hodson and a crew of criminals ran a creditable espionage service. John Lawrence routed one of the key rebel commanders and a force four times his size en route to reinforcing the Ridge.
John Nicholson arrived on August 7 at the command of 4200 troops. Nicholson had earned a reputation as a half-wild Sikh-fighter in the Punjab. (23) The arrival of Nicholson disheartened the already disillusioned rebel leaders. The city could no longer feed the sizable force, and individual bands starting raiding small nearby villages for plunder, pressing villagers into service as coolies. In response, the villagers started to band together in large groups to ward off the sepoys. The villagers made no secret of their preference for a British victory. The rebel forces in Delhi gradually lost all faith in their commanders and in their cause.
On the 11th of September a British artillery barrage signaled the beginning of the Battle of Delhi. Nicholson drove his more reluctant and less seasoned ostensible commander into taking the offensive. At midnight the actual assault began. Against some forty thousand poorly ordered Indians, the British mustered only some 4,960 men. The British made a break in the city walls and advanced in force. Both sides took heavy losses. (30) The Indian forces lacked coordination and drive. They did succeed in wounding Nicholson whose troops, despite his protests, took him to a field hospital where he eventually died of his wounds. The Indian rebel troops initially fled and then scattered, some to eventual attempts to reconcile with their enemy and others to fight as units in other campaigns.
The British conducted equally important campaigns in Oudh and in Central India, but Delhi represented the major mental rallying point for both sides. After the Battle of Delhi, the considerable Indian forces fought with little coordination, allowing the British to shift their much smaller armies of loyal troops at will and subdue them piecemeal. The British, though almost always outnumbered, managed to rout and scatter the rebel forces one after another. Within another year, the rebel troops scattered, fell prey to the British, or escaped into neighboring Nepal, and the Indian Mutiny ended.
The rebellion of 1857 held some defined characteristics that caused its failures and limited the extent of its successes. First, it only included central areas. The revolt confined itself almost exclusively to the north central provinces. Areas such as desert Rajastan, the Punjab, and long-British Bengal did not participate in the revolt. Instead, the British mobilized Benghalis and Punjabis to aid them in putting down the revolt.
Perhaps as expected, the revolt quickly revealed an almost total lack of cohesion between the Moslems and Hindus. Both these groups proved quite willing to fight together against the British, but once the British appeared beaten, the Moslems and Hindus resumed their age-old conflict. (24) Also, one might identify two revolts of different character and composition going on during the Mutiny. One the one hand, the revolt in Meerut and Delhi centered mostly on military and religious issues and merited the attention of most scholars and military historians then.
However, a true "people's revolt," class warfare in the Marxist sense, occurred in Oudh. There the taluqdars and peasants consciously rose in an attempt to find an alternative to British rule. While the sepoy revolt more concerned itself with overthrowing the British, the Oudh revolt concerned itself more with the aftermath. Only this second revolt really deserves the term "revolution" and fits the more popular perception later ascribed to The Great Mutiny. (25)
A fervent hatred of the British set off the Mutiny. Similarly, the British restoration of order showed a similar hatred and brutality. This led to a series of atrocities on both sides of startling brutality. At Cawnpore a small British community surrendered to a large guerrilla force under the Nana Sahib, Peshwa of the Marathas, who guaranteed them safe passage to a nearby river. With the British forces loaded on boats, the Indians treacherously attacked, killing almost all the Cawnpore men. The rebels held the women and children captive and eventually executed them, many of their bodies being used to completely stuff a large well. (26) This gory massacre, done in reprisal to some rather indiscriminate hangings by British Colonel Neill, triggered brutal British reprisals. Loyal troops killed surrendering rebels or suspects on the slightest evidence. Others they blew from cannons. The London press particularly cried for blood. Neill even had some Indians hung for looking away when his troops entered Allahabad. This was total war of a sort more associated with the following century. (27)∑
In their turn, the sepoys often attempted their own extermination of all pro-British elements. Anyone thought of being pro-British in Delhi the civilians literally tore to pieces. All the hated moneylenders they executed. The troops also looted many shops on the excuse that their owners sympathized with the British.
Finally one curious aspect of the Mutiny deserves attention. The general populace believed in a folk belief that the Companyís rule in India would last a hundred years; a hundred years to the day the Company won the battle that defeated the French and ensured Company domination, the sepoys launched a frontal attack on the Ridge in Delhi. Urged on by the Brahmins, the sepoys came close to beating the British but failed. After this loss, rebels began to lose heart. (28) They did not know that the Company's "raj" In India would indeed end within a year but with the introduction of Crown rule. Ironically, just as the myth led the Indians into attacked, so the myth of the Mutiny, that Indians launched a widespread rebellion against British rule, would inspire Indian revolutionaries a hundred years later.
Several different factors caused the failure of the mutiny. First, the Mutinyís factions did not act together. Each leader enacted his own miniature rebellion against the British. Nana Sahib, for example, who led the rebellion in Marashta could easily have brought his substantial forces from Oudh to help beat the British forces at Delhi. Instead he delayed in Oudh until he his forces endured several defeats, retreated north, and finally surrendered. Nor did the Indian forces make any effort to break communication between John Lawrence's reinforcing army in the Punjab and the forces on the Ridge. (29) This allowed Lawrence to dribble the forces he could spare to the Ridge. These forces eventually enabled the assault on Delhi. The sepoys, in fact, did a lot of fighting in the war, but with so little coordination that they could seldom exploit their often vastly superior numbers.
Second, the mutineers lacked effective military leadership and first-rate equipment. The traditional leaders they turned to, the prince and taluqdars lacked any sort: of military expertise, despite their military traditions. The sepoy officers seldom did any real commanding and certainly of large bodies of troops before the Mutiny. (30) Instead, the British used them more as liaisons and translators between the British officers and soldiers. The sepoy commanders made just about every military error that could possibly have helped the British. The sepoy soldier, with no direction and spirit, tended to give up when he met a more determined and better commanded British soldier. The British also consistently better armed its troops as the new and contentious Enfield rifle gave the British a range advantage in battle. Their failures and the lack of a unitary spirit proved more than enough to offset the numerical odds against the British.
Third, the lack of support outside the afflicted area also weighed against the Mutiny. "The old Emperor of the Moghuls sent several letters to Dostun Mohummod, the Persian king, asking for help in his restoring the Moghul Empire. The Persians recently beaten by the British possessed ample reasons to hate the British, but these overtures failed. The Russians, opponents of the British in the "Great Game" to control Central Asia undoubtedly rejoiced at this apparent setback to the British particularly as the country recovered from its own humiliating defeats in the Crimean War five years earlier but made no move to help the sepoys. The sepoys believed both and the Russians might help them against the British. This help, never materialized. Russia never became involved, and Dost Mohammed stuck to his treaty of 1856. After the British victory, The British paid him for his loyalty, giving back much of the territory lost in that conflict. (31)
The nations and tribes on the border of British India also studiously stayed out of the conflict. Nepal remained neutral in the mutiny, though it did later allow some rebel leaders (including the Nana Sahib) to seek refuge within its borders. The pathan tribes fought on the side of the British as did Sindhia, an important Maratha prince. The Sikhs of the Punjab and Nepalese Gurkhas remained loyal to the British and provided some of the best soldiering of the war at Delhi and Lucknow. (32) The Mutiny not bring about, as its leaders hoped, a general Subcontinental coalition against British imperialism. Rather, it brought about a coalition against the sepoys hated for helping the British against the other British former enemies such as the Sikhs and Afghanis.
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the revolt failed due to its lack of a great political leader. The Indians lacked a Neru or Jinna, let alone a Gandhi who could unite the disparate factions behind the army and a single agenda. The Emperor, hardly the best of a decrepit imperial line, held more talents as a poet and was long past his prime. The Nana Sahib, the most important leader in Oudh and leader of the Marathas, proved a military failure, a particularly telling fault in a people founded on a military tradition, and a mediocre leader.
The Rana of Jansi, almost the lone female leader, ironically proved the most effective and inspiring leader. Forced into the Mutiny by incorrect British suspicions against her relatively (33) late in the Mutiny, she responded with energy and dynamism. Unfortunately for the Mutineers her range of influence did not spread beyond her own province, and she joined the rebellion after its high tide. She died in battle dressed as amen, the only real hero of the Mutiny.
The revolt had a profound effect on both nations. The event led to a change of attitude towards India by the British. In the pre-Mutiny era the British, led by reformers and missionaries, feverently tried to Westernize, Christianize, and modern India. After the Mutiny, the pace of Westernization slowed as the supporters of that policy came under criticism. The Mutiny caused the British to lose some faith in their subjects ability to change, and the government wanted to proceed with more caution than before. (34)
The new British policy based itself on totally different assumptions than the libertarian, Christian, modernizing program of the late-Company era. Before the British wanted to advance decadent India into a modern world. Now, the new government felt, they more understood the "Eastern" mind, one they viewed as more mired in the past, inferior, and impervious to change than previously assumed. Thus their policies offered more compromises with this Indian reality.
The new Indian colonial policy became more concerned with holding power than with reforming a nation. The British helped upper class elements because they felt that would hold India. They fired many of the Moslems from the government because they considered them responsible for the Mutiny (35) even as the increased the Moslem component in the army. They played the upper class against the lower because that would help hold power, and changes occurred to make this happened.
Probably the most obvious change involved the demise of the East Indian Company itself. (36) The British government in India passed from "John Company" to the Crown, but the new government held many of the same faces. These same men, however, lost the zeal and vigor they once possessed. Canning encouraged backing of the taluqdars, and Lawrence, once one of the strongest proponents of land reform, largely gave up on the concept. Like the new government they represented, they lost faith in the Indian peopleís ability to change. The Mutiny, they concluded, determined once and for all, that only an Indian could understand India. Such a view made imposition of Western values and institutions on India worthless and misguided.
British public opinion similarly changed after the Mutiny. Now that the whole country, not a private company, owned India, everyone felt a particular stake in holding it, and the empire became a matter of national pride, an attitude exploited by neo-Imperialists such as Disraeli. The British people began to claim the exploits and conquests of the Company as those of the country. The Mutiny paradoxically increased public taste for Imperialism as the telegraph enabled citizens to follow the course of battle in the daily papers.
Racism, caused in part by the first waves of social Darwinism, also played a role in the British attitude; some viewed the triumph over the Indians as proof of British racial superiority. If the Mutiny proved the Indians themselves racially inferior, the British felt justified in ruling over them. Similarly, if certain classes of Indians, such as the peasants, did not seem able to grasp the benefits British reforms gave them, perhaps this confirm their inferiority.
The missionaries alone wanted to proceed with reform (37). They largely blamed the Mutiny on the Indianís "heathen institutions," and they pushed for legislation that would eliminate them. The British Crown government, however, showed remarkable restraint. They reviewed the law that allowed widows to remarry and amended it so that only Christian widow could remarry. They created laws to prohibit some Hindus practices that Christians found offensive, but they moved only when they secured the firm support of the Bengalis and of other westernized Hindu elements. They allowed religious toleration and showed a toleration of many Indian customs. Despite the missionaries, the government tacitly accepted a conclusion that India would not become totally Christian.
The government tactfully reversed or moderated some of the reforms from the final pre-Mutiny days. They restored the taluqdars as a class and supported their prominence in their communities. The British took a general approach of viewing the taluqdars and zomindars as something resembling their own gentry, a stable component of society and natural leaders of the countryside. More cynically, some concluded that the government simply needed a stronger class than the moneylenders to support British rule. The government intervened to rescue some of those fallen heavily in debt. Though the crown moved to give the tenants farmers some protection from the taluqdars, the government halted its program of dividing up large estates to give to the peasants. The Crown passed a law requiring all taluqdars∑to will their lands solely to their first son, rather then dividing them equally as the talurldars customarily did. Further, taluqdars could no longer sell their lands either. (38)
This new policy created an important class of hereditary taluqdars much like the British gentry. Correspondingly, the taluqdars became very loyal advocates of the Crown. These moves left the tenant farmers were left in a relatively bad position, but the British felt that their loyalty to their taluqdars in the Mutiny had proven them both less loyal and able to reform. If the peasant could not think much better than to follow an oppressive hereditary lord, the British wanted to make sure that lord remained pro-British.
The British also tried to appease the princes. They announced that they would annex no more provinces and stuck to this. They also gave the princes the right to name successors and became far more receptive to their problems. They did not, however, particularly attempt to curb the profligate spending habits of the princes. If they did not annex provinces, this did not mean that the British would not send British "advisors" to effectively control the bankrupt ones. Just as their increasing financial dependence upon the British guaranteed their British loyalty, so did the princesí manifest failures as military leaders in the rebellion. The princes increasingly became princes because the British government wished to maintain them as such.
The Crown also took steps both to appease and neutralize the sepoys. They increased the size of the British components of the Indian army regiments. The new enlistment articles, on the other hand, guaranteed that sepoys would never leave India nor would any future Indian detachment. They also cleared the air and guaranteed that shells for the Enfield would no longer use animal fat. Finally, the British also offered clemency to any sepoy not guilty of murder, such a surprisingly generous offer that Indians started referring to new governor-general Canning as "clemency" Canning.
The Mutiny also left its legacy in the Indians. As noted many times above, it did not really represent a popular revolt, let alone a social revolution, except in the Oudh. If anything, it showed a last gasp of hereditary powers within India to maintain their influence and not the progressive emergence of a new India. It certainly did not constitute a national Civil War.
Oddly enough, though, it came to symbolize something like that for many Indians. Many of the warlike would be rebels of the 1920s would characterize the 1856 Mutiny as, indeed, a revolution, an armed struggle against an overpowering oppression. If not literally true, their recreation had the virtue of possessing symbolic truth. Like all real events, it symbolizes whatever leaders can convince their leaders it symbolizes.
The rebellion, oddly, reinforced and undermined British rule. It reinforced British rule as it showed the military invincibility of the "British troops." Oddly enough, even at the climactic, or anti-climatic, battle of Delhi, the actual British elements numbered no more than a minority. The entire military machine, however, and the British educational and economic underpinnings supporting it, proved the superior. Modern India, despite its long post-Independence espousing of "socialism" would ultimately embrace and absorb many of the elements of this all-conquering British culture. To take the most obvious example, the Indians would adopt a British-style educational system, and send the best and best and brightest of the Independence-achieving generation to the United Kingdom for their schooling. Like the revolutionaries across Asia, they would receive a thoroughly European education and conceive of a modern state on thoroughly European lines, whether democratic in India or Communist in Vietnam.
Finally, however, the rebellion did undermine British rule as well. As the British came to acknowledge their own limitations at reforming India, they defined the limits to which they would try to change Indian culture. This left it to the Indians to try to cope with how to modernize that culture, i.e. what to keep and discard. That discussion goes on to this day.
Little of this really seemed obvious at the time. Immediately after the Mutiny their spokesmen the taluqdars and princes, not the future British-educated but Indian elites of the next generation. They did perceive, however, a fundamental change occurred in both the terms and the attitudes of their rulers. Before the Mutiny, the British had wanted to help the peasant. After the Mutiny largely wanted to help them. As one peasant lamented:
"They told me the Companyís Empire would last only a hundred years. They did not say it would be replaced by another British Empire." (39)
Due to the scanning process, I lost the exact numbers in the text above. Iíll include these merely to give the authorís credit. The numbers above may not quite correspond to the numbering below.(1) Thomas P. Metcalf, The Aftermath of Revolt: India 1870 (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1977), p.18. (2) Ibid, pp. 9-10. (3) Francis O. Hutchins, The Illusion of Permanency: British Imperialism In India (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1967) pp. 17-19. (4) Ibid, pp. 11-12∑ (5) Metcalf, p. 12. (6) Ibid, pp. 77-45∑ (7) Ibid, pp.158-160. (8) Richard Collier, The Great Indian Mutiny (New York, Dalton and Company, 1964), pp. 11-20. (9) Verney Lovett, A History of the Indian Nation (London, Frank Cass and Company, Limited, 1914), pp. 11-12. (10) R. E. Roberts, The History of the British In Indian Nation (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 964. (11) Collier, p. 25. (12) Lovett, p. 13. (13) Collier, pp. 15-16. (14) Ibid, pp. 71-81. (15) For a complete account of the Delhi mutiny in detail and with personal accounts please consult the following pages of Collier: 41-60; 74-90; and 187-204. This source also contains an exhaustive account of the entire mutiny. (16) Lovett, pp. 17-18. (18) R. C. Majunder, General Editor, A History of the Indian People Dhordiya (London 1916), pp. 916-917. (19) Ibid, pp 622-624. (20) Collier, pp. 182-187. (21) Lovett, pp. 14-15. (22) Majunder, p. 640-642. (23) Ibid, p. 641-644. (24) Roberts, p. 770-772∑ (25) Majunder, p. 646-647. (26) Ibid, p. 644-645. (27) Metcalf, p. 92-93. (28) Ibid, p. 25. (29) Ibid, p. 724-325∑ (30) Roberts, p, 384. (31) Theodore de Berg. Sources of Indian Tradition (New York, Columbia University Press, 1958), p. 661. (32) Hutchins, p. 86, (33) A. H. Bashan, ed., A Cultural History of India, Oxford University Press, 1975) p. 74 (34) Hutchins, p. 86. (35) Bashan, A, H. ed. A Cultural History of India, Oxford. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-75∑ (36) Chattejeri, AJ and Forelord, A. H. A Short History of India, London, Langomors, Green, and Co., 1916. (37) Collier, Richard . The Great Indian Mutiny, New York: Dutton and Co., 1954. (38) Barry, Theodore, Columbia University. (39) Oduell, H. ed., Change and Sources of Indian Tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
In scanning, I mayíve lost some of the information below. I apologize to my sources.
Bashan, ed, Bashan, ed. A Cultural History of India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.
Chatteerjee, A.J and Forelord, A H. A Short History of India, London, Langomors, Green, and Co., 1916.
Collier , Richard . The Great Indian Mutiny, New York: Dutton and Co., 1954.
De Berg, Theodore. Sources of Indian Tradition. New York, Columbia University Press: 1958.
Hutchins, Francis. The illusion of Permanency: British Imperialism in India, Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press. 1967,
Lovett, Verney. A History of The Indian National Movement. London, Frank Cass and Co. Limited, 1937.
Majunder, R. C. General Editor A History of the Indian People. London: Dhordiya, 1916.
Metcalf, Thomas P. The Aftermath of Revolt: India 1870. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University, 1977.
Oduell, H. ed., Change and Sources of Indian Tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Roberts, R.E. The History of the British in India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1924.