Sepoy Mutiny or Revolt of 1857 : An In-depth Analysis



Revolt of 1857, which led to the removal of British Company Rule in India, is the display of utter hatred and anger in Indians towards the Foreign Rule. It was the most severe outburst of anger and discontentment accumulated in the hearts of the various sections of the Indian society ever since the inception of the British rule. As Jawahar Lal Nehru in his famous book, Discovery of India has written, “The very fact that a country with such a great illustrious past, should be ruled over by a handful of people from a distant island is something that makes me wild” clearly shows the resentment of the people and basically showcased their inner feeling about the entire rule. [highlight]British historians called it a “Sepoy Mutiny” and the Indian historians called it “The First war of Independence”[/highlight].[1] We have seen various debates now and then where people talk about the name that the Revolt of 1857 deserves due to its various features, causes and consequences. There were varied views on whether to call this outburst as a sepoy mutiny, national struggle or a manifestation of feudal reaction.  I feel both the titles for this Revolt of 1857 are apt and can be used so as to describe this revolt.

Some say that the Revolt of 1857 was just a mutiny initiated by the Indian Sepoys and hence the name Sepoy Mutiny .The soldiers were discriminated on the basis of racism and were paid low salary. But this kind of outbreak happened only when the soldiers were given cartridges which had a coating of grease that was made up of Cow and Pig fat. It was against the religious views of both Hindu and Muslim community. They were given false hopes by the company that all of this is rumour but when it came out to be all true, the soldiers lost their temper and resulted in an event where a soldier called Mangal Pandey 9 a soldier in the 34th Infantry stationed at Barrackpore), on March 29, 1857 fired at his commander for forcing the Indian troops to use the controversial rifles. Indians constituted a large part of the British army (almost 95%) and the violence against British quickly spread. Hence leading to the movement being called as SEPOY MUTINY.Discontent and Resentment against the British rule was growing among the Indians and only a spark was needed to set the country ablaze and that spark was provided by as small thing as a rifle cartridge. He was hanged and this incident sparked off a general mutiny among the sepoys of Meerut. Words like Cartridges, Soldiers, British campaigns etc. described the Revolt of 1857, clearly showing the approach of the people. The British and others believed that more this Sepoys were driven by grief more than patriotism for the country. People feel that this revolt was not of national character as there weren’t considerable amount of people who united together to actively fighting against the British. The rulers of the princely kingdoms and the Maharaja’s were more worried about getting their kingdom back and going back to ruling hence there being no unity. Another reason which people give for calling it a mutiny is that this revolt was suppressed by the British armies of different regions which consisted of many Indian Sepoys who were not a part of the revolt. A discordant note was however, struck by R.C. Majumdar. He refused to recognize 1857 as a war of Independence. His view was that “to regard the outbreak of 1857 as either national in character or a war of independence of India betrays a lack of true knowledge of the history of Indian people in the nineteen century.”


Others say that the Revolt of 1857 was a result of discontent which was prevailing inside every Indian for Colonialism. The East India Company ruled India for a period of over 200 years but it was for the first time when someone revolted against this oppression in 1857.The British Expansionist Policies and unjust laws (Heavy taxation, evictions, discriminatory tariff policy against Indian products), Economic Exploitation ( farmers were forced to grow crops like Cotton and Indigo which served as raw materials for European Industries and these farmers were paid excessively low rates for their work) , Military Discrimination between Indian and British soldiers (they were paid low as compared to British counterparts, no rising in position above the rank of Subedar and were racially discriminated) , Social Reforms ( Reforms like Sati, legalization of widow remarriage, extension of western education  to woman were looked upon as examples of interfe[highlight]Others say that the Revolt of 1857 was a result of discontent which was prevailing inside every Indian for Colonialism. [/highlight]rence in the social customs and tradition) and Political Dominations ( Policies like Subsidiary Alliance and Doctrine of Lapse angered the ruling section of the society. Also, Annexation of Awadh on the grounds of misgovernment and further actions led to become the political causes of this revolt where leaders like Nana Sahib and Rani Lakshmi Bai were active participants). Due to such broader array of causes, historians believed that this Revolt should be known as First War of Independence as it included different sections of the society.  In India, the term “First War of Independence” was first popularized by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his 1909 book The History of the War of Indian Independence[2]. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, insisted on using the term “First War of Independence” to refer to the event, and the terminology was adopted by the Government of India.[3]  This revolt was basically the mother of the events which took place in the history leading to the achievement of Independence finally after 90 years of struggle. Due to the anger which was inside the hearts of people because of the steps taken by the East India Company, the revolt saw the participation of a large number of individuals ranging from the Kings and Queens of different states to the peasants and soldiers. Many people said that the outburst should be known as Sepoy Mutiny but this theory was challenged by Benjamin Disraeli, the conservative leader, in July 1857. He said: “The decline and fall of empires are not affairs of greased cartridges. Such results are occasioned by adequate causes and by the accumulation of adequate causes“. Then he enquired: “Is it a military mutiny or is it, a national revolt?”[4] That marked the beginning of the phase where this revolt was looked from a different point of view resulting in this name of India’s first war of Independence. People started looking and examining the entire terminology and came to different conclusions. V.D. Savarkar, in his book, The Indian War of Independence of 1857, gave a nationalist interpretation to the uprising, asserted that the revolt of 1857 was the Indian War of Independence. Savarkar’s views were supported by S.B. Chaudhary, who in his writings demonstrated that 1857 was a “rising of the people.” In fact, the historiographic tradition in India soon accepted this line of argument. [5]

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But taking in consideration both the point of views, I would say that both titles are apt and can be used so as to describe this revolt. Because of the entire act done by one soldier, Mangal Pandey, the soldiers initiated the cause as it was a grave mistake for them to hurt their religious sentiments. So, they took off this fight and ignited this flame which shifted its focus from greased cartridges to oppression of the British. But it acted as a First war of Independence when other people like peasants, kings and queens started taking part in the revolt so as to show their anger and to fight against the suppression. Several Revolts took place like the one at Jhansi (June, 1857), Battle of Badle ki Serai in Delhi (June, 1857), Massacre at Satichaura Ghat, Kanpur (June, 1857), Bibighar Massacre, Kanpur (July, 1857), Battle of Betwa (April, 1858), Battle of Banda( April, 1858) and many more. This revolt witnessed the defeats of many rulers like Tatya Tope, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Bahadur Shah Zafar and many places were captured by British like Jhansi Fort, Gwalior Fort etc. This entire rage which somehow marked the beginning of the struggle for the next 90 years for complete independence is correctly called as The First war of Independence. So basically one set of event which led to the entire revolt cannot escape both the title and justifying one would be somehow unjust according to me. This revolt was the one which resulted in uprooting the rule of East India Company from India and the control of Indian administration was passed on to the British crown by the Government of India Act, 1858. The revolt was feudal in character carrying with it some nationalist elements. The army was carefully reorganized to prevent the recurrence of such an event.  This Revolt played an important role in Anglo-Indian History. The British afterward became cautious and defensive while many Indians remained bitter and didn’t trust the rulers as well as the British again leading to such a struggle which led to the emergence of Indian National Congress. 

So in conclusion, I say that both the labels so awarded to Revolt of 1857 are true and correct in their own sense and I support both of them.




[2]  K. Natwar Singh (2004-08-23). “Marx, Nehru and Savarkar on 1857”. Asian Age.  Retrieved  2008-03-10.

[3] Inder Malhotra. “The First War of Independence”Asian Age.  Retrieved 2008-03-10.



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