The year 1857 is an important date in Indian history. This year an attempt was made by the Princes of North India to overthrow the yoke of British rule In effect it was a mutiny against the East India company and their policies.. The insurrection was certainly successful to the extant that the rule of East India company ended and was replaced by the crown of England. Queen Victoria in a proclamation assured the Princes that their kingdoms and privileges would be respected. Thus the famous Raj was ushered in.
Though more than 150 years have elapsed the 1857 insurrection still rouses passions. Many Indian Historians with not with a little egging from Political leaders and vested interests have tried to dub this event as India’s ‘First Great War of Independence‘. But was this the case ? We can now examine the mutiny in totality and form an opinion as to its real intent and purpose.
Not a Pan India Revolt
The first thing that is glaringly obvious is that the revolt was confined only to North India and the Southern part of India had nothing to do with this insurrection. Thus the fact that it was a localized conflict puts paid to the theory that it was a national uprising against the British rulers. In North India also the Sikhs who had just fought the British a decade back during the Anglo Sikh wars not only did not join the mutiny, but in fact actively sided with them. They fought whole heartedly with the British and made a decisive effect in the final result.
Princes Fought for Their own Raj
A second great fallacy is that rulers were wanting a free and united India. Historians point out that all the Princes had accepted the Mughal Emperor as the head of the Mutiny. True, but he was only a titular head and the facts as clearly brought out by many writers and historians is, that the Prices fighting the British had no pan India plan and their sole aim was to regain control and rule their states. Their rebellion was against the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ which stated that in case the ruler of a princely state did not have a natural heir as a son, the state would be taken over by the British. Thus the Rani of Jhansi or for that matter other rulers were in effect fighting only for the restoration of their Raj in their state, as by a quirk of fate many rulers at that time did not have sons as natural heirs. Even the Rani of Jhansi had no natural son and wanted the British to recognize an adopted boy as the heir.
Lastly the events which triggered the insurrection was the disaffection among the Sepoy’s of the Bengal Army. This was a genuine mutiny and the soldiers both Hindu and Moslem united to fight the British. The immediate cause of the rebellion was the rumor that the newly introduced cartridges for Enfield guns were laced with the fat of cows and pigs. This went against the grain of the Hindus and Moslem’s who regarded this as a defilement of their religion.
One can write reams and reams on the mutiny, but one thing that cannot be denied is that the 1857 episode was only a mutiny and some localized battles in some parts of India. To label it a ‘national War of Independence’ would be a travesty of fact and history.