The First War of Indian Independence
- May 8, 2021
By Srinidhi Murthy and Vijita Mukherjee
The British historians may call it ‘The Sepoy Mutiny’ or ‘The Revolt of 1857’ or by any other name, but the uprising of 1857 will always be the First War of Independence in India. Even though it was unsuccessful, it heralded the struggle for freedom that continued for the next ninety years and ultimately led to the freedom of India.
The first spark
The First War of Indian Independence started as a result of various actions of the ruling East India Company. They recruited Indian soldiers in their army and there were three lakh Indian sepoys in the army to fifty thousand Britishers. The first spark for the rebellion came in the form of the Vellore Mutiny in 1806. Both Hindu and Muslim Sepoys resented the new uniform regulations imposed by the Company, in spite of earlier assurances to the contrary. These regulations prohibited the soldiers from wearing any religious marks on their foreheads and all of them were required to trim their beards and moustaches. Two soldiers who protested were first punished and then discharged from the army. The rebels captured the Vellore Fort and killed two hundred British troops. They were eventually subdued by the cavalry from Arcot. But this voice that was raised against the British rule, echoed through the land and was significant in paving the way for the stronger and more defiant revolt in 1857.
Causes of 1857 war
Even before the introduction of the Enfield rifle, which served as an immediate cause for the revolt, there was tension and discomfort among the Indians towards the British rule. There were many so-called ‘reforms’ introduced by the British in the taxation and revenue system that affected the people adversely. The expansion of the British in India had led to the propagation of many other unjust policies too. Many zamindars who lost their lands and power also joined the rebels and fought against the British. In addition to these political and economic causes, racial discrimination and the interference of the British in the religious matters of Indians were believed to be the other major cause of the war. Indians also feared a forced conversion to Christianity.
The introduction of the Enfield Pattern rifle in 1853 was the proverbial straw that broke the back of Indian restraint. Rumours circulated that the cartridges for the new rifles were greased with beef and pork that was a taboo for both Hindu and Muslim sepoys in the army of the East India Company. The Company was quick to contradict this rumour so that the unrest could be quelled. It issued a notice that the cartridges provided were free from grease and made modifications that the cartridge was to be now torn with the hands and not bitten. This, however, backfired as many sepoys were now conv...