The Sepoy Mutiny Of 1857

Learn about the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, when native Indian troops rose up from within the British army to cause mayhem across much of India.

The Sepoy Mutiny or The Sepoy Uprising? Differing accounts in years gone by tend to give two different stories. To the British it was a series of inept minor skirmishes on the part of the mutineers, which were quickly quashed. To nationalist Indians it was a War for Independence, a social uprising, and ultimately a forerunner to them achieving independence from Britain.

At the time of it happening, 1857, the British had come to fancy themselves as a master race. This master race should not live in isolation they thought, and so set about colonising various developing nations, with the intent of passing on their social and cultural mannerisms for the benefit of all involved. It was the Sepoys (native Indians serving for the British Army) that would suddenly destroy any myth of total harmony in India.

It wasn't really as if the British were savage tyrannical rulers before the mutiny. Rather, high caste Hindus were unhappy with what they saw as British interference with well-established rules and customs that they had developed over several centuries. By early 1857, the kingdom of Oudh was annexed, meaning the Sepoys of that area lost various privileges. The Hindus saw their moment and began stirring up nationalist feeling amongst those serving in the army, and also amongst the civilian population. However, it must be said that several groups of Indian people, notably the Punjabi Sikhs, would side with the British after the mutiny, so India was not exactly united. It was in this simmering mood of confrontation that the British army had introduced a new type of rifle, the Enfield. One of the idiosyncrasies of the gun's ammunition was that the bullet had to be bitten before it was loaded into the rifle, and this would prove vital in causing the Sepoy Mutiny.

Rumours began to spread amongst the Sepoys that the bullets had been smeared in pig and cow fat. Comprising both Muslims and Hindus, this offended them both greatly. For Hindus the cow is sacred, whilst Muslims believe that the pig is a filthy beast. Inevitably, some of the Sepoys refused to use the ammunition, and as a consequence were shackled in chains and imprisoned. Incensed by this move their comrades revolted and freed them. In their escape they viciously killed several British soldiers and this was to set the tone for some savage scenes, especially for the next six months.

The mutineers continued on towards Delhi, and with the help of the local garrison captured the city. The uprising spread across central and Northern India with soldiers and civilians alike taking part in the ransacking. Subsequently, the city of Cawnpore was captured and Lucknow was besieged. The British responded swiftly, their riposte characterised by immense brutality. Cawmpore was recaptured by them in July of 1857, and Delhi in September of the same year. Lucknow was freed in the spring of the following year.

As a direct result of the Sepoy Mutiny, the Indian presence in the British army was reduced to almost a half of what it had been. Also whereas before Indian regiments had been allowed to exist separately, they were now incorporated to be part of larger British regiments. High caste Hindus and Brahmins were stereotyped as dishonest, because of their role as provokers and their nationalist sympathies. The opposite can be said of such groups as the Sikhs, who were portrayed as model citizens and soldiers. Muslims, in particular were persecuted, because the British believed that the Sepoy Mutiny was a direct attempt to restore the acting Moghul emperor as leader. Perhaps most importantly, the administration of India was passed to the British crown. After the mutiny had been quelled the British army acted as if it were in an occupied land.

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