The freedom Struggle of Indian Soldiers during 1857

The British officers at the Meerut cantonment in north India were preparing to attend church on sunday May 10 1857, while many other British soldiers were off duty. The Indian troops in the cantonment, already waiting for an opportunity to revolt against their foreign masters, seized the day. Almost 50 British soldiers, and other men, women and children were killed by the sepoys and the crowds who soon joined the Indian soldiers.

The Revolt of 1857 was no sudden occurrence and was the culmination of a century-long resistance to British rule. The famous episode of greased cartridges provided the spark for the Indian sepoys. The Enfield rifle that the British wanted their soldiers to use, had cartridges which had to be bitten off before it was loaded into the rifle. The grease was in some instances composed of beef and pig fat. This enraged both the Hindu as well as the Muslim sepoys. They believed that the British were deliberately trying to destroy their religion. The time to rebel had come.

Meerut is almost 60 kilometers from Delhi. Next day, on 11 May, the first parties of the 3rd Cavalry reached Delhi. The Mughal empire, though powerless with its authority mostly limited to the Red Fort, was considered by the mutineers as the unifying factor of the revolt. The old Mughal king, Bahadur Shah Zafar, agreed to head the mutiny. The revolt gathered force rapidly and cut across north India like a sword. It soon embraced a vast area from the Punjab in the North and the Narmada in the South to Bihar in the East and Rajputana (modern Rajasthan) in the West.

The tremendous sweep and breadth of the Revolt was matched by its depth. Everywhere in northern and central India, the mutiny was followed by popular revolts of the civilian population. It is the wide participation in the Revolt by the peasantry and the artisans which gave it real strength as well as the character of a popular revolt.

The revolt of 1857 is significant for various reasons. Most of its protagonists – Mangal Pandey, Rani Laxmibai, Kunwar Singh and many others – became the national heroes. It also came to be known as India’s first war of independence. The revolt created a sense of nationhood among the Indians by uniting them politically, culturally and socially against a foreign rule. It also became the basis of the more popular and widespread struggle for independence at the beginning of the 20th century.

The rebellion was an event of great importance in the front of history of modern India. The Parliament of the United Kingdom withdrew the right of the British East India Company to rule India in November 1858. The United Kingdom started ruling India directly through its representative called the Governor General. It made India a part of the British Empire. It promised “the Princes, Chiefs, and People of India,” equal treatment under the British law. In 1877, Queen Victoria took the title of Empress of India and the Viceroy of India ruled India for her.

The British sent Bahadur Shah II, the last Mughal Emperor, out of India, and kept him in Yangon (then called Rangoon), Burma where he died in 1862. The Mughal dynasty, which had ruled India for about four hundred years, ended with his death.

The British also took many steps to employ members of Indian higher castes and rulers in the government. They started employing Indians in the civil services but at lower levels. They stopped taking that lands of the remaining princes and rulers of India. They stopped interference in religious matters. They increased the number of British soldiers, and allowed only British soldiers to handle artillery.