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The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857

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January 1, 1857
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Mirza Firuz Shah
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Military
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Bahadur Shah II 1837–1857

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The Sepoy Mutiny was a violent and very bloody uprising against British rule in India in 1857. It is also known by other names: the Indian Mutiny, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, or the Indian Revolt of 1857.


In Britain and in the West, it was almost always portrayed as a series of unreasonable and bloodthirsty uprisings spurred by falsehoods about religious insensitivity. In India, it has been viewed quite differently. The events of 1857 have been considered the first outbreak of an independence movement against British rule.


The uprising was put down, but the methods employed by the British were so harsh that many in the western world were offended. One common punishment was to tie mutineers to the mouth of a cannon and then fire the cannon, completely obliterating the victim.


A popular American illustrated magazine, "Ballou's Pictorial", published a full-page woodcut illustration showing the preparations for such an execution in its issue of October 3, 1857. In the illustration, a mutineer was depicted chained to the front of a British cannon, awaiting his imminent execution, as others were gathered to watch the grisly spectacle.


Background


By the 1850s the East India Company controlled much of India. A private company which first entered India to trade in the 1600s, the East India Company had eventually transformed into a diplomatic and military operation. Large numbers of native soldiers, known as sepoys, were employed by the company to maintain order and defend trading centers. The sepoys were generally under the command of British officers.


In the late 1700s and early 1800s, sepoys tended to take great pride in their military prowess, and they exhibited enormous loyalty to their British officers. But in the 1830s and 1840s, tensions began to emerge.


A number of Indians began to suspect that the British intended to convert the Indian population to Christianity. Increasing numbers of Christian missionaries began arriving in India, and their presence gave credence to rumors of impending conversions. There was also a general feeling that English officers were losing touch with the Indian troops under them.


Under a British policy called the "Doctrine of Lapse," the East India Company would take control of Indian states in which a local ruler had died without an heir. The system was subject to abuse, and the company used it to annex territories in a questionable manner.


As the East India Company annexed Indian states in the 1840s and 1850s, the Indian soldiers in the company's employ began to feel offended.


Legacy of the Uprising of 1857


There is no question that atrocities were committed by both sides, and stories of events of 1857–58 lived on in both Britain and India. Books and articles about the bloody fighting and heroic deeds by British officers and men were published for decades in London. Illustrations of events tended to reinforce Victorian notions of honor and bravery.


Any British plans to reform Indian society, which had been one of the underlying causes of the revolt, were essentially set aside, and religious conversion of the Indian population was no longer viewed as a practical goal.


In the 1870s the British government formalized its role as an imperial power. Queen Victoria, at the prompting of Benjamin Disraeli, announced to Parliament that her Indian subjects were "Happy under My rule and loyal to My throne."


Victoria added the title "Empress of India" to her royal title. In 1877, outside Delhi, essentially in the spot where bloody fighting had taken place 20 years earlier, an event called the Imperial Assemblage was held. In an elaborate ceremony, Lord Lytton, the serving viceroy of India, honored a number of Indian princes.


Britain, of course, would rule India well into the 20th century. And when the Indian independence movement gained momentum in the 20th century, events of the Revolt of 1857 were viewed as having been an early battle for independence, while individuals such as Mangal Pandey were hailed as early national heroes.


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Ismail Mazari

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Very good information.

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