It seemed that the international position of Britain and its colonial power were very strong at the beginning of 1857. The Treaty of Paris confirmed British hegemony in the Middle East. Dalhousie`s activities led to the consolidation of British rule over the whole territory of India. However, a serious political crisis was brewing under the cover of external prosperity. India was the only major state converted into a colony. Using typical Indian weaknesses of administrative and political ties, the British established their rule easily. However, the conquerors met a new problem: how to manage such a huge empire? The policy pursued by the British in India had caused dissatisfaction among the general population that eventually led to a large-scale rebellion against the British government.
The objectives of this term-paper are a detailed analysis of the uprising and definition of the reasons why the Indian Rebellion was seen as a challenge to the existing order of the early 19th century. The objectives of the paper are to investigate the actions of those involved in the rebellion, examine the response of observers of the rebellion to the events, and summarize the results of the great national uprising of 1857-1859.
To analyze the causes of the uprising the general situation in India in the middle of the XIX century should be discussed. As a result of a series of wars and conquests that lasted almost one hundred years, almost the entire Indian subcontinent was under the control of the British East Indian Company. The last Indian Territories annexed by the British state were the Sikhs of Punjab (1849) and the Principality of Oudh (1856). However, the power of the East Indian Company in India by the middle of the XIX century had been significantly limited by the British government. Legislations and Charters in 1784, 1813 and 1833 eliminated the trade monopoly of the company and introduced the so-called system of “dual control”, according to which British possessions in India were ruled by Control Council in London.
The highest official in India was an English governor-general, subordinated to the Control Council, and not the Board of Directors that was focusing mainly on commercial activities. The armed forces of the Company were representatives of the local population. The British occupied officer positions only. William Bentinck, the Governor-General of India, carried out a number of reforms, and one of the main results was the active involvement of local residents who held lower positions in the Anglo-Indian administration.
A kind of a fiscal mechanism was established by British colonial administration based on land tax. Four tax systems had been formed in some parts of India based on different forms of land use: “zamindari”, “temporary zamindari”, “ryotwari” and “mauzavar”. During Dalhousie`s tenure as the Governor-General some economic activities took place (construction of the Ganges irrigation canal, construction of the first railway mail, telegraph and so on). These innovations were needed for the British bourgeoisie to facilitate and reduce the cost of raw materials and to reduce the prices of British goods imported to India.
The trade-in India had undergone significant changes during this period. In the first half of the XIX century, local merchants were actually pushed out of the large trade.
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In 1805 the Madras Bank was created (bringing together several smaller banks) that granted loans and issued banknotes. Capitalist relations in India had been formed very slowly and unevenly. A special role in this process was the development of the textile industry, mainly the production of yarn. In general, the economic policy of the British in India not only disturbed the balance of the traditional ways of life but also destroyed the rudiments of the market economy that had started to shape here before the intervention of the West.
Thus, a set of socio-economic factors had developed by the middle of the XIX century that led to a spontaneous explosion. Local opposition against the colonial authorities took place in India during the first half of the XIX century. In Muslim regions, the leading ideology of the anti-colonial struggle is called Wahhabism.
At first, the rebels made significant progress. The conquerors took “the position of small posts, like some rocks scattered among a sea of “revolution” (Marx, The Indian Revolt). However, during this stage, the failure of the rebels was detected. They had no unified leadership and modern military equipment. The rebels made serious tactical errors.
Indian people of different classes took part in the uprising, but the driving force consisted of the most numerous classes – peasantry and artisans. They wanted to get rid of the tax and usurious exploitation and get back ancestral land rights. Feudal lords, who played a major role in the leadership of the uprising, sought to expel the British only to restore their lost monopoly. All of them pursued their class interests. During the movement, feudal lords started to cooperate with the colonialists. In such circumstances when the British had military and technical superiority over the sepoys, the vast majority of Indian feudal lords rendered effective assistance to the colonialists and the south and Punjab remained passive, the uprising was doomed.
The feudal aristocracy and the clergy divided into two groups: the first one was trying to restore the Muslim Mongol Empire, while the second one – the Hindu monarchy Marat. Disagreements were pulling the masses back to the Middle Ages, with the restoration of feudal forms of exploitation, outdated reactionary orders, fanatical religious ideas, institutions, and customs.
Sepoys, who were accustomed to discipline, did not know military science thus, they were able to solve only tactical, but not strategic objectives. Having mastered such a strong fortress as the Red Fort in Delhi, they began to prepare for the defense instead of spreading rebellion to other areas. It gave the British a chance to recover, to pull loyal troops and to besiege Delhi (Hazewell, 6).
The rebels` army consisted of Hindus and Muslims, but the greatest influence in Delhi had Muslim aristocracy and clergy. Muhammed Bahadur-Shah was proclaimed Emperor. This government was not able to solve the problem of the liberation of India successfully. The restoration of the despotic feudal Muslim dynasty that brutally oppressed the masses and that gave the country away to foreign invaders, interested Indian people least of all. Nevertheless, the revolt of sepoys in Meerut and Delhi was a landmark event. It was the first attempt in the history of British rule in India to unite the struggle of Hindu and Muslim masses against the common enemy, the foreign oppressor. It should be taken into consideration that the military mutiny of sepoys was only the beginning of a broad national liberation movement in India.
“In recent years, Britain adopted a new principle of the destruction of Indian nationality. This principle was implemented through the violent destruction of native princes of power, violation of the established property relations and interference in religious affairs. In 1848, the financial difficulties of the East Indian Company came to the point that it became necessary in some way to increase its incomes. Then, a report by the Council was published; it openly proclaimed that the only way to achieve an increase in revenue is to expand the British territory at the expense of native princes’ possessions” (Indian News).
“This is the first time in history that sepoys attacked their European officers; Muslims and Hindus forgot their mutual dislike and united against their common masters; “the unrest that began among the Indians led to placing on the throne of Delhi Mohammedan Emperor”. The uprising was not limited to a small number of areas and, moreover, the revolt in the Anglo-Indian army coincided with the appearance of the general discontent of great Asian nations with British rule. Moreover, the revolt of the Bengal army is closely connected to Persian and Chinese wars” (Marx, The Indian Revolt).
Firstly, unlike the rebels, British generals and officers had elementary experience in strategy, tactics, and fortification. Moreover, the British Army had a centralized military leadership to coordinate the actions of the troops. Sepoys didn’t have this important prerequisite, which is compulsory for any army.
Secondly, feudal lords and peasants had different objectives when seeking the expulsion of the British. This factor also contributed to the defeat of the uprising. The feudal lords seized leadership of the uprising and ignored the main demands of the peasants. While the peasants wanted to get back their farmlands, the feudal lords sought to restore their monopoly on the exploitation of the peasantry.
Thirdly, the feudal lords started to collaborate with the British after the latter had promised to maintain the landlords’ rights to land and feudal privileges.
Despite the defeat of the uprising, British colonialists were forced to change their policies. On August 2, 1858, the English Parliament passed a law to take over the administration of India from the East Indian Company by the British crown. The British made Indian princes and landlords their allies through a series of laws that perpetuated their feudal rights to land ownership. At the same time, the colonial authorities had to take into account the great discontent of the peasants and to legislate on the lease to limit feudal tyranny.