Revolt of 1857 not only challenged the British rule in India but also ushered a new phase of British administration and attitude in India. Discuss.
The Revolt of 1857 began with a mutiny of the sepoys or the Indian soldiers of the East India Company’s army and soon engulfed wide regions and people. Within a month of capture of Delhi, the Revolt spread to different parts of the country: Kanpur, Lucknow, Benares, Allahabad, Bareilly, Jagdishpur and Jhansi. The rebel activity was marked by intense anti-British feelings and the administration was invariably toppled. In the absence of any leaders from their own ranks, the insurgents turned to the traditional leaders of Indian society — the territorial aristocrats and feudal chiefs who had suffered at the hands of the British. Thus, came from Kanpur Nana Sahib, from Bareilly Khan Bahadur, from Bihar Kunwar Singh, from Jhansi Lakshmi bai to name among few. The Revolt was not confined to these major centres. It had embraced almost every cantonment in the Bengal and a few in Bombay.
The tremendous sweep and breadth of the Revolt was matched by its depth. Everywhere in Northern and Central India, the mutiny of the sepoys was followed by popular revolts of the civilian population. After the sepoys had destroyed British authority, the common people rose up in arms.
What differentiated the revolt of 1857 from earlier uprisings was that unlike the preceding mutinies and revolts which were limited to small areas within a town or at most few districts the revolt of 1857 escalated to an unprecedented degree and participation was wider. With this the British were made to realise that all was not under their control in British India. Unexpected as it was it managed to shake the British.
However British control was re-established with new phase of British administration and attitude in India. Following points list them
- The Indian army was thoroughly reorganized. It had a higher proportion of Europeans in it and they were to be responsible for manning the artillery and the field.
- The importance of having Native States as allies was realised during the revolt. Had more Native States allied with the rebels then the British suzerainty would have faced a real threat. Under the November Declaration, proclamation of the earlier treaties of the English East India Company with the Princes were affirmed. Reorganisation of the relations between the Crown and the Native Princes, served to widen the gulf between the people or British India and those of the Princely States which ensured that people of princely states remained aloof in their participation in Freedom movement.
- Revolt of 1857 also led to a permanent rift between the British and the Indians. It made the British wary of Indians and led to entrenchment of a belief among the ‘colonial masters’ that Indians could never be trusted. White racism became the dominant credo of British rule in India. In contrast to the promise or Indian participation in administration of India made in the Proclamation of 1858, Indians continued to be discriminated. The glaring racism was brought to the fore during the Ilbert Bill controversy of 1883.
- The post-revolt period saw the British actively pursuing the policy of ‘divide and rule’ towards the general populace. Two opposite policies were at work. While on one hand, India was being brought under a unified system of administration and governance, on the other hand, for political necessity, India’s diversity was being highlighted in order to depict the claims and needs of different sections as divergent. The British believed that the Revolt was instigated primarily by the Muslims when the sepoys hailed the Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II as the Emperor of Hindustan.
- Moreover, the English were the direct successors of the Mughal rule, which lent credence to the belief of the Muslim instigated revolt. Consequently, the British adopted a conservative attitude towards the Muslims for almost a decade after the revolt. It was only under the Governor-General ship of Lord Mayo with the publication of Sir William Hunter’s book The Indian Musalmans which addressed the grievance of the Muslims of Bengal and their backward status in comparison to the Hindus, that the British Government undertook some measures to alleviate the conditions of the Muslims.
- The book presented the loss of Muslims as the gain of the Hindus. Later his work and belief led to the growth of Muslim separatism and widened the fault lines between the two communities. Hereafter the concept of divide et impera (divide and rule) became the hallmark of British policy towards India. The British adopted the policy of encouraging one group over another according to their administrative needs. This pitting of one group against another was not confined to religious communities, but also included regional and caste differences.
- The British Raj from 1858 onwards maintained almost despotic control over its Indian territories through the steel frame of its bureaucratic organization.
- The Government of India had actively encouraged modern education after 1833. But this favourable official attitude towards the educated Indian soon changed been use some of them had begun to use the recently acquired modern knowledge to analyse the imperialistic character of British rule and to put forward demands for Indian participation in administration.
- As a part of the policy of alliance with the conservative classes, the British abandoned their previous policy of helping the social reformers. They believed that their measures of social reform, such as the abolition of the custom of Sati and permission to widows to remarry, had been a major cause of the Revolt of 1857. They therefore gradually began to side with orthodox. opinion and stopped their support to the reformers.