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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The 1857 Sepoy Mutiny was not a " War of Independence"

The Battles in North India

The year 1857 was a watershed in Indian History. This was the year a concerted bid was made by the rulers of the Princely states along with sepoys of the East India Army to overthrow the rule of the East India Company. The insurrection was certainly successful to the extant that the rule of East India company ended and was replaced by the crown of England. Queen Victoria in a proclamation assured the Princes that their kingdoms and privileges would be respected.
The Insurrection
Though 150 years have elapsed the 1857 insurrection still rouses passions.Many Indian Historians with not a little egging from the Government have tried to dub this event as India's 'First Great War of Independence'. At this stage when more than a century and half has elapsed we can dispassionately asses the real intent and purpose of the 1857 battles in India.
A local conflict
The first thing that is glaringly obvious is that the revolt was confined only to North India and the Southern part of India had nothing to do with this insurrection. Thus the fact that it was a localized conflict puts paid to the theory that it was a national uprising against the British rulers. 
In North India also the Sikhs who had just fought the British a decade back during the Anglo Sikh wars not only did not join the mutiny, but in fact actively sided with them.Their role in the siege and reduction of Delhi cannot be underestimated.
Battle against "doctrine of lapse"
A second great fallacy is that rulers were wanting a free and united India. The facts as clearly brought out by many writers and historians is, that the Prices fighting the British had no pan India plan and their sole aim was to regain control of their states.Their rebellion was against the 'Doctrine of Lapse' which stated that in case the ruler of a princely state did not have a natural son as heir, the state would be taken over by the British. Thus the Rani of Jhansi or for that matter other rulers were in effect fighting only for the restoration of their Raj in their state.
Sepoy revolt
Lastly the events which triggered the the insurrection was the disaffection among the Sepoy's of the Bengal Army. This was a genuine mutiny and the soldiers both Hindu and Mosley united to fight the British.The immediate cause of the rebellion was the rumor that the newly introduced cartridges for enfield guns were laced with the fat of cows and pigs.This went against the grain of the Hindus and Moslem's who regarded this as a defilement of their religion.

One can write reams and reams on the mutiny, but one thing that cannot be denied is that the 1857 episode was only a mutiny and some localized battles in some parts of India.To label it a 'national War of Independence' would be a travesty of facts and history.