The Great Indian Rebellion of 1857 (The Sipahi Vidroh)

This day (10th May 1857), the great Indian Rebellion #SipahiVidroh begun by Indian troops in service of the East India Co. The soldiers were shackled & imprisoned, but they kept fighting ferociously, shot British officers, and marched on to Delhi, but eventually ended in defeat.

The Company controlled much of India through many native sepoys, mostly from lower caste (Hindus & Muslims). Sepoys took great pride in their military prowess and exhibited enormous loyalty to their British officers.

The 1857 rebellion was fed by diverse resentments.

1] An increasing number of missionaries began arriving in India, their presence gave credence, and a large no. of Indians began to suspect that the Britishers intended to convert the Indian population to Christianity. English officers started losing touch with Indian troops.

2] The Co’s force had 3 presidency armies: Bombay, Madras, and Bengal. The Bengal Army recruited higher castes – Brahmins, Rajputs and Bhumihar, mostly from Awadh & Bihar, and restricted enlistment of lower castes in 1855. Madras & Bombay were localized, caste-neutral armies.

Domination of higher castes in the Bengal Army was first blamed in part by British, for initial mutinies that led to the rebellion. A major cause of resentment was asking new recruits to Bengal Army to accept commitment for overseas services, to which they were earlier exempted.

3] Matters came to a head following the introduction of the Pattern Enfield Rifle. Rumours spread that the cartridges for the new rifle were greased with pig and cow fat. This made both Muslims and Hindus offensive and added weight to existing concerns about forced conversion.

Enfield Pattern 1853 Percussion Rifle cartridges, 1857

Mangal Pandey fired the first shot of the uprising of 1857 on the parade ground at Barrackpore. His unit in Bengal Army that had refused to use new rifle cartridges was to be disarmed and punished. Pandey rebelled shooting a British sergeant-major James Hewson and a lieutenant.

When Gen John Hearsey came to parade ground, he ordered an Indian commander Jamadar ISHWARI PRASAD to arrest Pandey. Jamadar refused in presence of entire quarter guard and sepoys. Only exception was a soldier called SHEIKH PALTU, who restrained PANDEY from continuing his attack.

Failing to incite his comrades into an open rebellion, Pandey trying to kill himself, managed only a wound. Was hanged after 2 days. Jemadar Ishwari Prasad was also hanged. The regiment was disbanded.

Shaikh Paltu was promoted as havildar in Bengal Army, but was murdered shortly.

The Mutiny proper began at Meerut on 10 May 1857. 85 soldiers of Bengal Light Cavalry, who were jailed for refusing to use cartridges, were broken out of prison by their comrades. They ransacked the nearby military station and killed any Britisher they could find.

Though the sepoy units in the south remained loyal, many more units of North India mutinied against the British and the uprising became extremely violent. The cities of Meerut, Delhi, Kanpur, and Lucknow erupted in revolt. Many Britishers managed to flee, many were slaughtered.

The ruins of General Wheeler’s entrenchment at Cawnpore, 1858

Rulers join the uprising:

Local rulers were angered by the Company’s annexation of native states. Most notorious was the 1856 deposition of the Nawab of Oudh on the grounds that he was unfit to rule. Equally unpopular was the policy of lapse, which said that the lands of any ruler who died without a male heir would be forfeit to the Company. Princes and maharajahs, along with their courtiers and soldiers, found themselves unemployed and humiliated.

These marginalized rulers were a natural focal point for mutineers. Although many may have preferred to deal differently with British, the arrival of rebel sepoys at their gates often forced them to take up the cause. Others felt that more could be gained supporting the British.

The violent fighting in some places continued well into 1858, but the British were ultimately able to establish control. As mutineers were captured, they were often killed on the spot. On many occasions, the cruel methods employed by the British were so harsh that the whole world was offended. A common punishment was to tie mutineers to the mouth of a cannon and then fire the cannon, completely obliterating the victim.

The SIPAHI VIDROH of 1857 was a violent and very bloody uprising that shook the British rule in India. It also brought the End of the East India Company. The British Government dissolved the Co. and took direct control of India, ruled by a viceroy.

Britain would rule India well into 20th century. When the independence movement gained momentum in early 20th century, the Revolt of 1857 was viewed as having been the first battle for independence, and individuals such as Mangal Pandey were hailed as early national heroes.

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