A revolt which began with the mutiny of sepoys initiated a chain of events which led to the freedom of India from the exploitative British rule. But is it righteous to call it
“The First War of Independence”
Several Historians have different views regarding this. One set of historians believes that 1857 was just an impulse of hatred that had developed over the years due to the corrupt and exploitative East India Company. Although a lot of people from various backgrounds participated in the revolt but all of them had personal reasons. There was no feeling of nationalism. What united them was the hatred towards the foreigners.
There were several reasons behind the revolt. The major cause of the popular discontent was the destruction of the traditional economic fabric of the country. The exploitative nature of the East India Company impoverished the poor farmers, handicraftsmen and artisans. The racial discrimination was present and it is clear from the fact that Indians were excluded from the higher posts in the administration.
Unlike Mughals, they didn’t come to India to make it their home. Their ultimate motive was to fill their bags and return to England with riches. Indians never accepted them. This hatred grew more and more over the years. After seeing the British couldn’t outshine in First Afghan War and Crimean War, Indians realized that British are after all not invincible. The other major revolutions happening worldwide inspired the educated youth. However, the educated Indians didn’t participate in revolt because they believed that The British Rule will help them to modernize the India and wipe out all the social evils prevalent in Indian society.
The hatred towards the British was justified and Indians wanted freedom from the Foreign Rule. But still it can be argued that India was not ready for freedom. Some British Historians believe that it was mere a sepoy mutiny and nothing more than that.
One of the fact that support their support their claim is that no more than 1% of the chiefs joined the revolt. A large group of people including moneylenders and zamindars didn’t join this massive uprisal. They were motivated by their ulterior selfish motives. Most of the people have their personal motives. Every group had their different vision of future and had different political perspective. Kings wanted their kingdoms, Peasants wanted freedom from exorbitant taxes, sepoys wanted better treatment and promotions. There was no feeling of national identity. Thus, it can be said that India was yet not ready for freedom.
Was it mere a mutiny of sepoys?
It was a not just a mutiny of sepoys but a lot more than that. The greased cartridges issue was just a spark. The sepoys that mutinied over the cartridges used the same rifles to fight the British during The Great Revolt. The Hindus and Muslims were united and declared the Bahadur Shah as the Emperor of India. Even though Shah was a Muslim, Hindus had no problem with him being emperor. The British sensed the threat and passed the power from EIC to the British Crown. They also started to discriminate Muslims as they were the major participants in the Revolt. Thus, it would be unjust to call it mere a mutiny of sepoys.
It was The First War of Independence, the beginning the Freedom struggle which started with the mutiny of sepoys. Although, India was not yet ready for freedom, lacking a national identity and a vision of future but it learned a lot. These realizations led to the formation of INC and various other developments. The revolt gave birth to the great struggle which continued for over a century.