The causes for the revolt of 1987 was can categorized under 1. Economic Causes 2. Political Causes 3. Social 4. Religion 5. Military and 6. Immediate causes.
1. Economic Causes:
The most important cause of popular discontent was the British policy of economically exploiting India. This hurt all sections of society. The peasants suffered due to high revenue demands and the strict revenue collection policy. Artisans and craftsmen were ruined by the large-scale influx of cheap British manufactured goods into India which, in turn, made their hand-made goods uneconomical to produce. People who made a living by following religious and cultural pursuits lost their source of livelihood due to the withdrawal of royal patronage caused by the displacement of the old ruling classes. A corrupt and unresponsive administration added to the miseries of the people.
2. Political Causes:
The British policy of territorial annexations led to the displacement of a large number of rulers and chiefs. The vigorous application of the policies of Subsidiary Alliance and Doctrine of Lapse angered the ruling sections of the society. Rani Lakshmi Bai and Nana Sahib became bitter enemies of the British and led to the revolt in their respective territories.
The annexation of Awadh, on grounds of misgovernment, was greatly resented. The Nawabs of Awadh had always been loyal to the British. The annexation was widely seen as a blatant act of back-stabbing by the British. It deeply hurt the sentiments of the Company’s sepoys because most of them came from Awadh. Moreover, even under the new regime, the people of Awadh got no relief from oppression. Peasants had to pay even higher revenue and additional taxes were imposed. The British provided no alternative source of employment to the people who lost their jobs due to the dissolution of the Nawab’s administration.
3. Social Causes:
The social reforms introduced by the British were looked upon with suspicion by the conservative sections of the Indian society. Reforms such as abolition of ‘sati’, legalization of widow remarriage and extension of western education to women were looked upon as examples of interference in the social customs of the country. The social discrimination faced by the Indians due to the British attitude of racial superiority also led to much resentment. Educated Indians were denied promotions and appointments to high office. This turned them against the British.
4. Religious Causes:
A major cause of the outbreak of the revolt was the fear among the people that the British government was determined to destroy their religion and convert Indians to Christianity. The increasing activities of the Christian missionaries and the actual conversions made by them were taken as a proof of this fear. The policy of taxing lands belonging to temples and mosques lent further support to this idea. The belief that their religion was under threat, united all sections of society against a common enemy.
5. Military Causes:
Indian soldiers formed seven-eighth of the total British troops in India. As they were an integral part of the Indian society, they too suffered the consequences of the oppressive British rule. Besides, they had other grievances. The Indian sepoys were looked upon as inferior beings and treated with contempt by their British officers. They were paid much less than the British soldiers. All avenues of the promotion were closed to them as all the higher army posts were reserved for the British.
There were other specific and more immediate causes for the discontent among the sepoys. The annexation of Awadh inflamed their strong feelings against foreign rule. They were also influenced by the general fear that their religion was in danger. The order that forbade the sepoys from wearing caste and sectarian marks hurt their sentiments deeply. So also the Act of 1816 which required the new recruits to travel overseas, if needed. The Hindu sepoys resented this as according to the popular Hindu belief, travel across the sea led to a loss of caste. Another cause of sepoy discontent was the withdrawal of the Foreign Service allowance (‘batta’), which the sepoys were getting for fighting outside the country.
6. Immediate Cause:
Discontent and resentment against British rule had been growing among the Indians for a long time. By AD 1857, the stage was set for a massive revolt. Only a spark was needed to set the country ablaze. That spark was provided by as small a thing as a rifle cartridge.
At this time, the Enfield rifle was introduced in the army. Its cartridges were covered with a greased paper cover. This greased cover had to be bitten off before the cartridge could be loaded into the rifle. The news spread that the grease was made of cow and pig fat. As the Hindus consider the cow sacred and the Muslims do not eat pit’s meat, both these communities were enraged at such a blatant attempt to harm their religion. This incident, popularly known as the Greased Cartridges Incident, became the immediate cause of the revolt.
The first soldier to protest against using the greased cartridges was Mangal Pandey. He belonged to the 34th Infantry stationed at Barrackpore. He refused to use the cartridges and was subsequently hanged. On 24 April 1857, some soldiers stationed at Meerut also refused to use the cartridges. On 9 May 1857, they were severely punished for this. This incident sparked off a general mutiny among the sepoys of Meerut. On 10 May 1857, these rebel soldiers killed their British officers, released their imprisoned comrades and hoisted the flag of revolt. This was the official beginning of the ‘Great Revolt’. The soldiers then set off for Delhi. On 11 May 1857, they reached Delhi. Here, they were joined by the local infantry. The rebels seized Delhi and declared the Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar as the emperor of India.
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