Sepoy Mutiny

In order to understand why 1857 Rebellion or Sepoy Mutiny occurred in India we have to understand political and socio-economic conditions of India at that time. India was hailed as a fabulous land since the ancient times. And India was revered as the land of Piety. And was a great seat of learning. Indian lands were fertile. And Indians have the craftmanship to produce world’s most fine cloth and were experts in diamond polishing. Naturally people from all over the world flocked into India via land and sea. Sakas, Pahlavas, Kushans, Greeks, Chinese, Arabs, Turks, Mongolians (Moghuls), Burmese, Sinhalas, Parsis and so many peoples came to India at different ages and made India their home. However, some would have also come to plunder and loot India’s riches. No race or people went back to their country of origin once they arrived into India except the Europeans. The British, Portuguese and the French could not get integrated into Indian society for various reasons. They remained foreign traders during all their existence in India. Naturally Indians would have to fight this kind of people to get rid of them.

Difference between other immigrants and the Europeans is that Europeans exploited the natural and human resources of India and carried away with them the riches of India even though some gains were there for Indians also as they exported their manufactured goods from India. Whereas others like Sakas, Parsis, Turks and Mongols (Moghuls), etc., have settled in India and became part and parcel of the Society and contributed to the cultural and material riches of India. This must be the reason why Indians had to fight against the British and drive them out.


It is important to note that till 1885, since their arrival in 1600, the British pretended to be the Champions of Hindus and did not do anything that hurts the religious and cultural sentiments of Indians. They made friends with both Hindu and Muslim populace and also with Hindu Rajahs and Muslim Nawabs. Every British settlement either Madras or Calcutta or Bombay all their places were granted by the Nawabs and Moghul Emperor for them. If they want to fortify their settlement, in order to save themselves from the Dutch or French intrusions, they would have to get permission from Nawabs or Moghul Emperor to do so.

1857 Rebellion

But after death of Aurangzeb in 1707 things have changed. (During the lifetime of Aurangzeb itself his four sons were killed in battles with their father’s lieutenants.) British started intriguing in the mutual fights between local kingdoms. And started providing military services to the Rajahs and Nawabs. They made subsidiary alliances with the local Rajahs and Nawabs through which the respective Rajahs or nawabs are made to make payments for the maintenance costs of the British Armies held in the service of Rajahs and Nawabs. The price was paid by Rajahs and Nawabs some times by granting them tax collection rights in certain localities/districts. And British had arms like Guns, Rifles, Pistols and then they were granted tax collecting rights. The Rajahs or Nawabs had no inkling to check the quantum of tax the British were collecting from the farmers. Then naturally they would be seen as rulers by the public. In fact, main aim of the British was not to rule India but to exploit India by preventing the French, Portuguese and the Dutch from doing the same. The Rajahs and Nawabs were prevented from making any alternative arrangements by engaging with other traders like Portuguese or the Dutch or the French. If any dared to do so he would be defeated. For example, Tipu Sultan of Mysore was eliminated in 1799 when he was getting help from the French to manufacture Guns.

Then occurred the 1857 rebellion in which numerous Rajas and Nawabs alongwith the Sepoys of the British rebelled against the British East India Company. First reason being the growing resentment over application of the Doctrine of Lapse. According to which, if a Rajah dies without a child his Kingdom would be annexed by the British. This principle negates the tradition of adopting a child for perpetuation of their lineage by Hindu Indians.

Also Read

Sepoy Mutiny

And another reason for rebellion was the Indian Sepoys who were engaged by the British got the news that the Enfield bullet cartridges were being greased with beef tallow and lard of Pork. Touching the beef tallow was a taboo for Hindu sepoys and Lard of Pork was a taboo for Muslim. This has ignited the rebellion against the British from the sepoys. 

Mangal Pandey

The spark for the rebellion was kindled at Barrackpore near Calcutta on 29, March 1857 when one Sepoy Mangal Pandey openly declared his rebellion against the British commander and fired against him. And at last, he tried to commit suicide but failed. Then he was caught and hanged by the British. After that the sepoy mutiny gained momentum by May 1857.

The marching rebel sepoys consisting of both Hindus and Muslims religions reached Delhi and proclaimed ailing Bahadur Shah as Emperor of India. Several Rajahs and Nawabs joined the fight against the British. And some did not. It was followed by retaliation by the British and extermination of the Moghul lineage by even killing infants.

This war of Indians against the British lasted for 18 months and it ended in September, 1858. About 6,000 British troops and British Civilians were killed. And about 50,000 rebel sepoys were killed by the British. And about 1,00,000 Indian civilian population were killed by the British. But we must be cautious while counting who is who in the struggle. When we say that 50,000 rebel sepoys were killed by the British, we must understand that these killings were conducted by the British but carried out by the Indian sepoys who were loyal to the British. So that the British succeeded in pitting Indians against Indians and won the war against Indians. (But there was no Hindu Muslim divide among the sepoys or the Indian rulers at that time.)

As a consequence of the Sepoy Mutiny, after 1858 the British did not annex any Indian Kingdom using the principle of Doctrine of Lapse. But the British Crown took over the East India Company in September, 1858. And it is interesting to note that Queen Victoria of United Kingdom assumed the title of Empress of India in 1877. That means Queen of England became Empress of India, but not Empress of the UK or England. It is said that she was fancying the idea of becoming Empress just like Russian Empress which was not accepted by anyone in England. But Prime Minister of England Benjamin Disraeli (a Jew) made her happy by calling her Empress of India. So the title of Empress was a paper title.

And ailing Moghul Emperor Bahadur Shah was exiled to Rangoon in 1857 and he died in 1862. Earlier in 1857 all those who were related to the Moghul emperor were exterminated by the British, including infants. Thus, with the demise of Bahadur Shah the Moghul lineage came to an end in 1862. However British could not dare to shift their Head Quarters from Calcutta to Delhi till 1911.