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Nature of the 1857 Revolt

The Great revolt of 1857 is often remarked as Indias first war of Independence.
The nature of the revolt is discussed below:

The revolt of 1857 evokes passionate reactions. Was it a mutiny of the sepoys,
pure and simple? Or was it a national revolt? For far too long opinions oscillated
between these two extremes. To the contemporary British annalists it was a
mutiny of a section of misguided sepoys. Charles Ball, John Kaye or Colonel
Malleson has all harped on the familiar theme of mutiny fomented by
conspiratorial aristocrats. On the other hand Indian nationalists have regarded its
nature to be the early footprints of freedom struggle. V.D. Savarkar called it
Indias first war of independence.

This binary portrayal of the nature of the 1857 revolt continued even after
independence. Dr. R.C. Mazumder found no trace of nationalist spirit in it.

Sharply contradicting Mazumders views, Dr. S.B. Chaudhuri thinks the revolt had
a national character. The active participation of different cross-sections of Indian
society, all impelled by hatred for the British, and entitles it to be called a national

More recently, historians have focused on the revolt in its local and especially
agrarian settings. They suggest that the participation of peasants provides the link
between the military mutiny and the rural uprisings.

Peasants participated in it for many different reasons in many different regions.

Sometimes, as in Awadh, they made common cause with the talukdars against the
common enemy. Hence they followed the lead given by the talukdars.

But there are many instances where the peasants in revolt chose their leaders
from the ranks of ordinary people. Thus the civil rebellions in the countryside
were more than simply a feudal reaction.
In areas where grievances of disgruntled aristocracy coincided with the outbursts
of peasants and artisans, there were broad based insurgencies.

Nationalism in its developed form might not have motivated the rebels. The time
was not appropriate for that. But patriotism in the sense of a shared antipathy
against the British was not altogether absent in 1857. It is this vague patriotism
that underlay many acts of individual bravery and collective defiance. And it is this
that invests the Revolt with a new meaning. In the words of Eric Stokes, To India
1857 bequeathed a more living and enduring presence.

My views

Let us consider the word revolt. It means to take violent action against an
established government or ruler. This firmly establishes the imperialist belief that
the Indians were indeed inferior to the British. I am using the word anyway
because it is easier to comprehend the incidents that way.

The genesis of the rebellion lay in the British policy of conquest and expansion in
India. Commercial relations had existed between India and Britain for a good 250
years at the time of the outbreak of the revolt. The relations had become political
as well and religious issues arose by the first half of the 19th century. These links
tended to create conflict and tension which were difficult and even impossible to
reconcile. The very existence of the empire became endangered. It is, thus, no
wonder that corresponding echoes of the Revolt were heard in strife-torn India as
well as in crisis-ridden Britain.

The revolt was a complex phenomenon which attracted several theories. To

many, it was merely a mutiny of pampered sepoys; to a still larger number
the restoration of native authority.

There had been no conspicuous unified movement of Hindus and Muslims against
British rule. It was in 1857 that we find a wonderful unified campaign of these
communities for the ouster of East India Company from India.

The British Raj altered the social, political and economic structure of India in a
very drastic manner. The army was the main tool for the British to deal with
internal and external threats, to establish British supremacy in the subcontinent
and in the world. Railways, roads and other infrastructure were built mainly to
facilitate movement of troops and the bureaucracy established to collect the
revenue which would enable the maintenance of a large army.

An in-depth study of events that seem solely military in nature will always reveal
socio-economic and political ramifications with long lasting consequences
consequences whose impact is far more extensive than the military occurrence in