What are the essential causes of the Revolt of 1857 ?



Many causes led to the outbreak of Revolt 1857. From the battle of Palessay in 1757, to the revolt 1857, it was a full century. During that period, the British Empire saw its rise and completion. The rulers of India fell one by one before the might of the Western arms. The British considered themselves invincible and their empire unassailable. But beneath their imperial sway there was growing serious discontent, which the rulers could not know. At last, the discontent culminated in a revolt.

There were political, economic, social, religious and military causes of the Revolt. A brief account of those causes given below:

The Political Cause

Since the Battle of Plassey, the English conquered territory after territory to extend their Empire. From Siraj-ud-Daulah, who became their first victim, they defeated ruler after ruler and annexed their kingdoms. Those of the rulers who, out of fear, accepted the subsidiary Alliance, escaped destruction, but lost independence and remained as the dependent chiefs. At last, Dalhousie wanted to finish them, too. His doctrine of Lapse was a calculated step to annihilate as many native rulers as possible. By bringing other charges also he wanted to destroy several other rulers. Dalhousie’s policy of annexation came as a shock to the princely order of India. They felt nervous. Their future appeared uncertain.

These of the adopted sons of the dead rulers who lost their thrones or pensions became the sworn enemies of British. Their discontent took serious proportions. Rani Lakhsmi Bai, the heroic queen of Jhansi, could not keep the kingdom of her dead husband of her adopted son. She became restless with a spirit of vengeance. Nana Saheb, the adopted son of the dead Peshawa, lost his pension and privileges and become a relentless foe of the British. The loyal subjects of the deposed Nawab of Oudh became rebellious against their new rulers. Dalhousie had even desire to drive out the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II from Delhi in order to extinguish the Mughal dynasty. He did not proceed, but his intention was known. His aggressive attitude towards the old and famous royal houses led to serious political discontent among the princes and the people alike.

Therefore, some of the royal houses, both Hindu and Muslim, got involved in anti-British activities. Some notable persons of those houses worked secretly against the foreigners. Nana Saheb, his nephew Rao Saheb, Nana’s support.Tatya Tope, Rani of Jhansi Lakshmi Bai, the Rajput leader Kunwar Singh, the Mughal Emperor’s follower Feroz Shah, and Oudh Nawab’s disciple Ahamadullah, and several others began to prepare for a struggle. They were ready to avail of any opportunity against the English.

Thus, the territorial greed of the British and the reaction of the Indian princes against that aggression was the political cause of the Revolt of 1857.

The Economic Cause

When the British conquered a kingdom, the ministers, courtiers, officers and soldiers of that state lost their jobs. From power and position, they fell to ordinary condition. They were unemployed. Their economic misfortune made them the enemies of the new rulers. They spread discontent against the British among the common people.

The British Government abolished the rights of the landlords at many places in northern India. During the administration of Dalhousie, nearly 20 thousand lands–holders of the Deccan lost their lands. The rich Taluqdars of Oudh lost their Taluqs and became poor and unprivileged. When influential people lost privileges, their economic discontent grew considerably. The poor peasants also did not gain any economic benefit from the British rule. At many places, the British revenue system proved very hard for the common people. Land settlements did not satisfy them. The poverty of the people gradually increased.

The policy of the British Government was to exploit the wealth of India. More was the exploitation, greater became the poverty. The commercial policy of the British was directed towards maximum profit. They purchased Indian products and the raw materials at chipest rate and sold the British goods at dearest price. As a result of all such things the economic discontent of the people increased. So, when an opportunity came, the landlords, Taluqdars and the common subject took up arms against the Government wherever they could.

The Social Cause

The British conquest of India was followed by Western influences on the Indian society. Many changes began to appear thereby. The Western culture spread in many ways. In some respects, the impact of the West was useful no doubt, but the conservative society could not appreciate many of the new idea, which came. The time of the Lord William Bentinck saw several society reformers. To the orthodox people, those reforms were unwanted. The abolition of the Sati system led some people to complain that the Government had no right to interfere with the Hindu social customs. The talk of widow remarriage qt the time of Dalhousie shocked the orthodox people greatly.

In the mean time, the Western education began to spread. The English educated young people came under modern influences and began to criticize the superstitions in their own society. They wanted changes and reforms. Their manner and behavior greatly displeased the orthodox people. Thus, there was going only a silent mental hostility between the conservatives and the progressives in the Indian society. The orthodox thought that by the rapid spread of English education, the fabrics of the traditional Indian society should break. Ultimately, there should raise of artificial western society only the Indian soil. That fear made them unhappy. They regarded the British Government as the enemies of the Indian people. A social discontent began to grow.

John William Kaye, the historian of the Sepoy War, regarded Dalhousie’s encouragement of female education as one of the causes of the Mutiny.

According to him: “Most alarming of all were the endeavors made, during Dalhousie’s administration, to penetrate the Zenana with our new learning and our new customs. The English at the large Presidency towns began to systematic their efforts for the emancipations of the female from the utter ignorance, which had been its birthright, and the wives and the daughters of the white men began to aid in the work, cheered and encouraged by the symphathesis of their sisters at home. For the first time the education of the Hindoo and the Mohammedan females, took during the administration of Dalhousie, a substantial recognized shape.”

To John William Kaye, the introduction of the railways and telegraph was also a vital cause of the Mutiny. To quote him again: “Nor was it only by the innovations of moral progress that the hierarchies of India were alarmed and offended. The inroads and encroachments of physical science were equally distasteful and disquieting. It was no more verbal demonstration; the arrogant self-assertion of the white man, which the Hindoo Priesthood could contradict or explaining away the railway cars, which travelled without horses or bullocks, at the rate thirty miles an hour, or the electric wires, which in few minutes carried a message across the breadth of a whole province ”.

Only the whole, the Western ways and modes of life to some extent distributed the mind of the orthodox. That in a sense became the social cause of the revolt.

The Religious Cause:

Almost from the beginning of the British rule, the Christian missionaries tried to preach Christianity among the people. Gradually, their activities began to increase. The Government permitted the missionaries to come for England without any restriction. Their number, thus; grew considerably. With the extension of the British Empire, they got opportunity to move all over the country. They established schools at many places. Through preaching and education began to draw the Indian towards to Christianity as best as they could. At places, they criticized other religions in order to establish the greatness of their own to the orthodox people, the missionary activities appeared very dangerous. In times of femine and other calamities, the missionaries helped the helpless with the food or shelters. Such works also shocked the Indian conservatism.

Those Hindus who embraced Christianity was not allowed to inherit their paternal property. But at the time of Dalhousie, the converts were given that right by law. That was too much for the Hindu conservatives to tolerate. A fear spread that the Government would convert India into a Christian country in course of time. Those were the days when people believed in all types of rumors. The enemies of the English spread rumors that in order to destroy religion of the Hindus the British mixed the powder of the animal bones in the salt. It was also circulated that the flesh of pigs and cows was thrown into wells. The religious sentiments of Muslims and Hindus were greatly hurt by such stories. They became fearful regarding their religions. The orthodox and pious Brahmins could not like the rule of the British only religious grounds. In the right time, they came forward to create discontent in the minds of their countrymen.

Thus, there developed a religious grievance against the British rule. It became one of the causes of the revolt.

The Military Cause

While discontent against the British rule was growing among the different section of the populations, the Indian sepoys in the British army were getting restless. The sepoys were the defenders of the Empire. They knew that they were the backbone of the imperial strength. In fact, the Empire rested only their loyalty. But, for several reasons the sepoys become disloyal and angry.

Firstly, the British Generals and army officers did not know to behave well with the sepoys. They maintained a feeling of superiority. Their arrogant and insolent manners, rough languages and contempous behavior displeased the sepoys. As the British maintained a racial hatred towards the Indian soldiers, the latter also developed the same kind of hatred towards their officers.

Secondly, the sepoys were sent to fight in distant places such as Burma. In those days the higher caste Hindus believed that to cross the sea was to lose religion. Many higher caste sepoys, therefore did not want to go only sea voyages or outside their country. But the Government made it compulsory for all to go to any place outside India, when necessary. That alarmed the Hindu sepoys in general, and the Jats and Rajputs sepoys in particularity were afraid that they would lose their caste while their families in remote villages would suffer social boycott.

Thirdly, the sepoys were paid very small amounts as their pay. They paid for some allowances while going to distant places to fight, but their prayers was never granted. Brave sepoys were never rewarded for courage or meritorious performances in battles. There was no promotion for them to higher ranks. Those small officers among the sepoys, who became popular with their man, were suspected by the British army officers and removed from services. That kind of suspicion made the Indian army officers extremely unhappy. In general, the sepoys and their officers were dissatisfied with their pay, promotions or future prospects.

Fourthly, the British Government interfered with the religious beliefs of the sepoys. The sepoys belonging to higher castes used to put Tilok on their foreheads as their religious marks. They were ordered not to do so. Some higher caste sepoys used to put only their heads the headdresses of their respective areas. They were ordered not to do so, but to use the military caps instead. The military caps contained leather strip, which the orthodox sepoys did not like. The Christians missionaries also became active among the sepoys. Rumors spread that they might compelled in some form or other to embrace Christianity. It is said that some of the English army officers publicly preached Christianity among their subordinate sepoys. That led to much discontent.

Fifthly, the sepoys become bold enough to think of a revolt because their numerical strength. When Dalhousie left in 1856, there were only 45 thousands English soldiers in India. The number of the Indian sepoys in that year was 2, 33,000. That is to say, for each English soldier, there were five Indians sepoys. In view of that proportion, the sepoys lost fear of the British soldiers. Besides that, very few English soldiers were stationed at many vital places like Delhi or Allahabad. In those very places, the sepoys were placed in large number. That kind of arrangement encouraged the sepoys to feel powerful as well as disloyal. The sepoys also came to believe that in no way was an English soldier superior to an Indian sepoy in fighting qualities. When the British army could not show meritorious performance in the Crimean War, the Indian sepoys lost regard for them as good fighters. In brief the sepoys lost their respect and fear for the British army.

Sixthly, from some unknown source, there spread belief among the Indian sepoys that the British rule was coming in close. In 1857, there fell a centenary of the Battle of Plassey, fought in 1757. The rumor spread that the British rule were destined to last for a hundred years only , and as such , it should end in 1857. That blind belief made the sepoys defiant and disloyal.

Finally, there occurred an incident, which sparked of the revolt. It was the introduction of the Enfield rifle with the Greased Cartridges. For the first time, the English brought to India a new type of rifle known as the Enfield rifle. The cartridge for that gun contained some animal fat only it. To loads that cartridge in the gun, the soldier was required to use his teeth to tear of one end of the cartridge. At once, a rumor spread among the sepoys that the cartridge contained the fat of cows and pigs. To use it by mouth was to taste the objectionable fat. It meant the loss of religion by the Hindus and Muslims alike. The sepoys discovered a meaning behind the whole affair. The British wanted to destroy their religions through the greased cartridge.

It made the sepoys furious. The British authorities could feel the sentiment of the sepoys, but did not care for it. They forced the sepoys to use the cartridge. They denied the use of the fat of caws or pigs only cartridge. However, they could not prove it. In fact, suspicion of the sepoys was true. Since the greased cartridge contained the animal fat, as the name suggested, the fat came from all types of animals, cows and pigs included. By denying that truth, the British added fuel to the fire. The sepoys saw a deep conspiracy to destroy their religious faiths.

By that time, the secret agents of Rani Lakshmi Bai and Nana Saheb were busy among the angry sepoys to foment trouble. The incident of the Enfield rifle signaled for a military revolt. It became the immediate cause of the great uprising. To put it in the words of one of the English officers named Edwards who wrote from the one of the centers of Mutiny: “I must solemnly declare may be belief that with the mass of our soldiers the dread of these cartridge was the immediate and the most powerful cause of the revolt.”

As the sepoy army raised the banner of revolt, the princes and the people joined their hands with them. The mysterious bread and the lotus moved from hand to hand as the symbol of revolution, carrying with them a call to rise.

The rising of 1857 began. The discontent arising out of political, economic, social, religious and military factors at last culminated in the most memorable bloodbath in Modern Indian History.

Vivekananda taught many things to his countrymen. The following were some of his notable ideas:

Firstly, he wanted to bring spiritually to the mind and the heart of the mass of people. The great messages of religion lay hidden in scriptures. Higher philosophies were the monopoly of the learned. To the common man, the principles of the Bhagvat Gita or any such great work remained ever unknown. That was the tragedy in India’s religious life. Vivekananda wanted to break that system. From secluded and higher sphere, he wanted to bring spiritual doctrines to the day-to- day life of the ordinary man. Because, as he believed, every man wanted some spiritual spark to conduct his own activities. Otherwise, there could be no good work in life.

Secondly, through a spiritual awakening he wanted to raise the individual from the abyss of degeneration. Man had divinity in him. By teaching him his worth Vivekananda established him as a nobler individual. In India of his time, the individuals were oppressed and down-trodden. They had no self respect. They lived a miserable existence. By reminding them of their spiritual values, Vivekananda created in them a self confidence. The spiritual consciousness which he created in man, indirectly paved path for a democratic consciousness. Because, democracy rested only self-respect and individuality of every man.

Thirdly, by reminding Indians of their great spiritual heritage, he created a feeling of national pride. Those were the days of foreign domination. Indians as a nation suffered from inferiority complex. Vivekananda tried to remove that feeling. The spiritual vitality of India, according to him, was too strong to overcome all temporary set-backs. Side by side, he preached the message of a spiritual unity. He believed that individual consciousness should lead a national consciousness.

Fourthly, Vivekananda preached spirituality in the light of modern enlightenment. His approach was radical. To him, religion should not mean blind faith or absurd practices. It should be rational, reasonable, necessary and practical. He wanted to make the Hindu modern. To the orthodox, he condemned in strong terms. “Our religion is in the Kitchen. Our God is the cooking –pot, our religion is: do not touch me, I am holy,” said Vivekananda while criticizing the Hindus. He knew that superstitions had destroyed much of Hindu spiritually. Therefore he proclaimed: “I would rather see every one of you rank atheists than superstitious fools: for the atheist is alive, and you can make something of him. But if superstition enters, the brain is gone, the brain is softening, and degradation has been seized upon the life”. Vivekananda wanted to see Hinduism in its real form.

Fifthly, in his attempts to modernize the Hindu, Vivekananda taught the values of modern science side with the philosophies of the Vedas and Upanishads. Spiritual realities and worldly life should be considered separately. They should be viewed together. The physical and the metaphysical, the secular and the religious, were all parts of the same nature. That being so, man should concern himself with living and livelihood as much as with the realization of divinity.

Sixthly, Vivekananda reminded the Hindus to develop an attitude tolerance towards each other. “Were reject none, neither theist, nor pantheist, monist, polytheist, agnostic, nor atheist, the only condition of being a disciple in modeling a character at once the broadcast and the most intense”, he declared. Further more, he preached in favour of cosmopolitanism and Catholicism. He said: “I shall go to the Mosque of a Mohammedian; I shall enter the Christian’s Church and kneel before the Crucifix; I shall enter the Buddhistic temple, where I shall take refuge in Buddha and his law. I shall go into the forest and sit down in the meditation with the Hindu, who is trying to see the light which enlightens the heart of the every one. Not only shall I do these, but I shall keep may be heart open for all that may come in the future”. Thus he advocated the value of a wider understanding of different religions.

Finally, Vivekananda drew the attention of Indian people towards the values of Western ways of life. He wanted to open the Indian mind to external things. He also believed that religion was not the only thing to engage the mind. His view of culture was both spiritual and material. The West appeared to him as the home of a material civilization. The spirit of that civilization was considered essential for progress. Therefore, he declared: “ from the great dynamo of Europe, the electrical flow of that tremendous power, vivifying the whole world…were want that energy, that love of independence, that spirit of self-reliance, that immovable fortitude, that dexterity in action, that bond of unity of purpose, that thirst for improvement.” His vision embraced a European society with India’s religion.

Such were, in essence the contents of Vivekananda’s message. In 1897, he founded the Ramakrishna Mission with three main objectives, namely, the mission should preach the Vedantic spiritualism among the people at large, it should aim at establishing harmony among the various cults, creeds and faiths; and it should be devote itself to the service of mankind as service to God. The Belur Math near Calcutta became the center of the Ramakrishna Mission.

Vivekananda visited the West again in 1899. In the United States, he established the Vedanta centers. In 1900, he attended the Congress of the History of religions at Paris. In a number of European countries, he propounded the greatness of Hindu civilization.

In 1902, at the age of 39, Vivekananda died. But his message remained to inspire the future. To the generations to follow, he remained a symbol of India’s spiritual greatness, and a source of national inspiration.