CAUSES OF WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
The mass uprising of the people of Indo-Pakistan against the British rule in 1857 was not a spontaneous reaction of alien rule but the eruption of the volcano of discontent that had kept smouldering for about a century. The causes of the War of Independence were political, economical, social, religious and military.
(A) POLITICAL CAUSES
The English East India Company got strongly implanted in the Sub-continent after its historic victory over Nawab of Bengal in the Battle of Plassey fought in 1757. Soon afterwards in 1764 the British recorded another important triumph in the Battle of Buxar. This time the English defeated the combined forces of Mir Qasim, Nawab of Oudh and the Mughal Emperor. This victory further brightened the prospects of the Company in the country. Later on through skilful diplomacy the British continued their policy of expansion. By the end of the first half of the 19th century they succeeded in removing from their way the main hurdles of the lion of Mysore Tipu Sultan, the Marathas, the Sikhs and the state of Oudh. As a result territorial limits of the British Empire increased at a tremendous pace. By 1857, that is about a hundred years after the battle of Plassey the frontiers of the British territory included provinces like Bengal, Bihar, Oudh, Maysore, Maharashtra, Sindh, Punjab, Kashmir and North West Frontier. W. Hastings (1773-85), Lord Cornwallis (1786-93), Lord Wellesley (1798-1805) and Dalhousie (1848-56) were great annexationists. They annexed many states.
- Doctrine of Lapse: Lord Dalhousie applied Doctrine of Lapse for the expansion of the British Empire. According to this doctrine the rulers of the states were not allowed to adopt sons. As a result their states were annexed when they died without issues. Lord Dalhousie annexed many states through Doctrine of Lapse which created a great sense of insecurity among the princes and the general public. They became suspicious of the British policies. The intensions of the British rulers are clear from the statement of Sir Charles Napier:
- Annoyance of rulers of State: The policy of ruthless expansion adopted by the British created a lot of bitterness. Lord Dalhousie left no stone unturned for the expansion of the English territory. He annexed states on the grounds of Doctrine of lapse and misgovernment. As such the rulers of the affected states like Sindh, Punjab, Jhansi, and Oudh became sworn enemies of the Company. Nama Sahib the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao was refused the pension of 80,000 pounds annually. The state of Oudh was annexed and no consideration was shown for the unflinching loyalty of the ruling house of Oudh to the British Government. In fact the annexation of Oudh was nothing short of gross violation of national faith. According to Sir Henry Lawence,
“To the same point that British interference with that province has been as prejudicial to its court and people as it has been disgraceful to the British name”.
(B) ECONOMIC CAUSES OF THE WAR
- Confiscation of Estates: The nobles were granted large estates by past rulers which served as a source of their honourable living. The British Government reversed this policy and confiscated thousand of such estates. As a result numberless affected persons turned against the Company. This is why the deposed landlords were the standard bearers of the war of Independence.
The new agrarian policy of the British, destruction of local industry, permanent settlement, large scale unemployment, monopoly of trade by the English and the Stamp Act were some important economic causes of the war.
- New Agrarian Policy: The new agrarian policy of the Government shook the foundations of the village communities. The Zamindars were asked to provide documentary proof of their holdings; otherwise, they were deprived of their lands. The rate of taxes on the lands was increased burdening the Zamindars and the cultivators. These steps alienated the majority of the working class from the Government. This class was in the front rank when the war of Independence broke out in 1857.
- Destruction of Local Industry: Due to Industrial Revolution of England cheaper and superior goods flowed into the markets of the Sub-continent. The local industry could not compete with the imported stuff and suffered badly. Millions of people were left jobless. This resulted in frustration among the lower classes.
- Permanent Settlement: The after effects of the permanent settlement of land were very disastrous for the landowners. It had fixed the income of the Government but had put the Zamindar under a lot of pressure. They had to deposit regularly a fixed amount which was not always possible. The defaulters were very often degraded and subjected to oppression by the collectors. These acts created a lot of bitterness and discontent among the peasants.
- Unemployment: The British did not trust the Indians. As a result they were not appointed on important jobs and high posts. This policy resulted in unemployment for the educated classes. The policy of annexation to the British Empire also left thousands of people jobless.
- Domination of trade by the English: The British facilitated their trade in Indo-Pakistan. Many seaports were declared fee ports and custom duty on imported goods was withdrawn. These steps ruined the local industry. Imported goods flooded local markets that were cheaper and superior in quality. Consequently the local working class became distressed.
(C) RELIGIOUS CAUSES
- Court Fee Stamps: The English Government declared court fee compulsory to be paid in the form of court stamps. Thus the people were denied the right of free justice. The general public greatly resented this action.
“Province has entrusted the extensive empire of Hindustan to England in order that the banner of Christ should wave triumphant from one end of India to the other. Every one must exert all his strength that there may be no dilatoriness on any account in continuing in the country the grand wok of making all Indians Christians.”
- Propagation of Christianity: Although at the outset the English had shown respect towards all religious yet with the passage of time they changed their mind and devised ways and means for the propagation of Christianity in Indo-Pakistan. The Government officials often became vocal in their intentions to convert the locals to Christianity. Mr. Mangles chairman of the Directors of the Company while speaking in the House of Commons said:
The missionaries enjoyed full government support. They were allowed to perform their work at all public places. The Bible was included in the syllabi of various educational institutions. Orphans, widows and distressed people were converted to Christianity. Moreover as act was passed through which the converts were allowed to inherit their ancestral properties. The Indians became suspicious of this act because they thought that this act was passed in order to facilitate conversion to Christianity. It may be interesting to note that even the highest ranked officials did not conceal their efforts of preaching Christianity. To quote Lord Dalhousie:
“It is announced also as a matter of great significance that the daughter of the Raja of Coorg had been baptized and that our gracious sovereign was her god-mother.”
Keeping in view all these facts is interesting to note that the leaders of the war of Independence like Nana Sahib, Rani of Jhansi, Maharaja Peshwa Bahadur and Bahadur Shah Zafar called upon the people to defend their faith against the propagation of Christianity.
- Introduction of new inventions: In the mid of the 19th Century, the British introduced in Indo-Pakistan many inventions like railway, post and telegraph. Moreover they made English as medium of education. These inventions made the Indians suspicious of the intentions of the British. They considered these inventions as moves of some ulterior motives on the part of the rulers.
- Jehad Movement: Syed Ahmed Shaheed launched the Jehad Movement in the second decade of the 19th century. It was a sort of large-scale effort by the Muslims to snatch freedom from alien rule. After their initial successes at Akora and Hazru the Mujahdeens were defeated at Balakot in 1831. The Jehad Movement though failed to achieve immediate aims yet it succeeded in kindling a flame of freedom which served as a beacon of inspiration for the coming generations. In 1857, particularly the Muslims were conscious of the need to overthrow the British Government.
(D) SOCIAL CAUSES
- Anti-religion Laws: The British Government enacted many laws which wee contradictory to the fundamentals of various religions of Indo-Pakistan. For example, rape was declared a civil offence. It greatly aroused the feeling of the Muslims. Similarly the widow remarriage act offended Hindu religious sentiments. The abolition of the age-old Hindu custom of Sati produced the dame results.
- Mockery of cultural heritage: The British considered the Muslims as their archenemy in the sub-continent because the Muslims had been the rulers of the country in the recent past. The British were afraid of the Muslim cultural heritage which was very rich in all aspects. The English wanted to prove their culture as superior to others. Thus they adopted a policy of ridiculing the Muslim culture. This attitude greatly agitated Muslim religious feelings.
(E) MILITARY CAUSES
- Insulting treatment with the people: A hundred year rule over the sub-continent had given the English as air of superiority. They considered themselves a super creation and often resorted to insulting attitude towards the people of the sub-continent. The Company adhered to a policy of racial discrimination which preferred white over the black. The people of Indo-Pakistan were greatly agitated by this attitude.
- Disbanded armies of annexed states: The Company annexed many states to the British Empire under ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ and misgovernment. The British disbanded the armies of the annexed states resulting in thousands of unemployed local soldiers. Consequently a number of families were rendered economically distressed. These policies created a class which wanted to get rid of the British rule.
- Dearth of English troops: In the middle of the 19th century most of the British troops were stationed in Punjab where they wee deployed during and after the conquest of Punjab. Similarly the Crimean War had ended in 1856 but the English troops had not returned yet. Eventually the number of troops in Bengal and central parts of the country was very small but the ratio of the Indian troops had increased in the Company Army which tilted the balance in favour of the natives and they were encouraged to launch the War of Independence.
- Greased cartridges: The use of greased cartridges proved as the immediate cause of the war. It was rumoured that the cartridges were greased with the fat of the cow or pig. This situation agitated the religious feeling of both the Muslim and Hindu soldiers and created widespread discontent among the native soldiers. Keeping with their religious beliefs they refused to use these cartridges.
The first incident of the war took place on 26th February 1857 when the native soldiers of the 19th Native Infantry at Behrampur refused to use the greased cartridges. Then on 19th march 1857, Mangal Pande a native soldier of the 34th native infantry fired at his British officers. His fellows did not join him. As a result he was caught and hanged. However, all the 34th native infantry was disbanded on 6th May 1857. Thus the war was triggered on and the flames of war soon spread to all parts of the country. Meerat, Delhi, Lucknow, Baraille, Kanpur and Jhansi were the prominent centres of the struggle for independence.
- Meerat: Meerat shot into prominence on 23rd April 1857 when 80 soldiers disobeyed the orders of Colonel Smyth to use the cartridges. Consequently on 8th May 1857 the 80 soldiers were sentenced to ten years imprisonment. However two days late their colleagues attacked the jail and freed the 80 soldiers. This incident led to a general revolt and the freedom fighter marched to Delhi.
- Delhi: The freedom fighters of Meerat reached Delhi and occupied the city without any resistance. They placed Bahadur Shah Zafar the last Mughal Emperor on the throne. The revolutionaries were no doubt full of emotions but they lacked discipline. However soon afterwards Bakht Khan arrived from Baraille with a strong contingent. The Mughal prince was made incharge of the revolutionaries. The British faced much difficulty. They appealed to the Sikhs of Punjab for assistance. The Sikhs joined hands with the British to fight against the Muslims. As a result combined forces of the English and the Sikhs under Sir John Shore recovered the city of Delhi. Bahadur Shah Zafar was deposed and deported to Rangoon forever. The Mughal princes were shot dead.
- Lucknow: Lucknow was another important centre of the war. The people of Oudh and the disbanded soldiers of the state rose in unison to overthrow the British domination. The freedom fighters defeated the small British garrison and placed a ten years old prince Bergees Qadir on the throne. Queen Hazrat Mahal, widow of the late Nawab became the regent. Ahmed Ullah was among the prominent leaders of the war. Some time later the British forces led by General Outram and Havelock succeeded in defeating the revolutionaries at Lucknow.
- Baraille: Baraille, the capital of Rohil Khand too, took a prominent part in the war of independence. Khan Bahadur Khan son of Hafiz Rehmat Khan was incharge of all operations. The garrison at Baraille was joined by defeated troops from Delhi and Lucknow. The struggle continued till the freedom fighters were defeated y combined forces of Sikhs, Gurkhas and the British.
- Kanpur: Kanpur was a great centre of the freedom fighters. Nana Sahib the adopted son of the last Peshwa Baji Rao II raised the standard of revolution. He declared himself Peshwa and occupied the city of Kanpur. He massacred the English soldiers. However, the British recovered Kanpur and perpetrated great atrocities on the people.
- Jhansi: Rani Jhansi Bai the widow of Raja Gangadhar Rao led the fight in Jhansi, another important centre of war of independence. She raised an army of more than 20000 freedom fighters.. She captured Gwalior with the help of Tanta Topia. Te British troops attacked Jhansi and captured the city in June 1858. Rani Jhansi laid down her life while fighting gallantly.
- Bihar: Kanwar Singh, a great military leader, led the freedom fighters in Bihar. He defeated the British troops at Arrah. He received fatal wounds and died. The British succeeded in taking control of Bihar after great struggle.
CAUSES OF FAILURE OF WAR
The war of independence of 1857 failed to achieve its immediate political objectives. Following were the causes of this failure.
- Lack of Leadership and Discipline: The freedom fighters fought mostly in independent groups at different places led by leaders of their particular regions. There was no leader who could single handed lead all the groups. The revolutionaries lacked discipline. Thus their efforts could not get the required momentum.
- Lack of unity: There was no unity among the freedom fighters. They fought independent of one another. As a result they could not assemble their resources against a common enemy. They were defeated at different places. On the other hand the British fought the war of their survival with dedication and purpose.
- Lack of Resources: The freedom fighter lacked resources of all types. They were short of equipment and food-stuffs. They had to face well equipped and well-organized enemy The Mughal Emperor had no treasury to support the war.
- Lack of Popular Support: The War of Independence never assumed the shape of a concerted national struggle. It lacked popular support. Although it spread to various parts of the country yet some places did not take part in the war.
- Superior Technology of English troops: The British troops fought with latest weapons. They had the backing of the latest technology. There were also led by capable and experienced generals
- Non-cooperation of the rulers of the State: The rulers of different states of Indo-Pakistan did not come to help the freedom fighters. Thus the War remained confined to a few centres.
- Non-Cooperation of Sikhs of Punjab: The Sikhs of Punjab considered the Muslims as their traditional enemies. They decided to support the British in the War of Independence. The Sikh soldiers played a decisive role in the recovery of Delhi from the freedom fighters. Had the Sikhs not assisted the English in the war the history of Indo-Pakistan would have been different.
- Role of traitors: The British succeeded in finding traitors in the ranks of the freedom fighters. Maulvi Rajab Ali and Hakeem Ehsan Ullah blew off the royal ammunition depot at Delhi. Thus the revolutionaries suffered a great set back.
- Return of British troops from Crimea: The War of Crimea ended in 1856. The British troops fighting there were free to return to the sub-continent. The War of Independence started in 1857. In the beginning the Company had to depend on the few soldiers present in the country. But soon afterwards the surplus troops from Crimea poured into Indo-Pakistan. These troops were experienced and equipped with latest weapons. The balance of war tilted in favour of the English. The freedom fighters fighting without formidable resources could not avoid the inevitable defeat for long.
EFFECTS OF WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
The War of Independence 1857 despite its failure changed the entire political, social and economic outlook of the sub-continent. The British were forced to revive their policy. Some important effects of the war were as under.
- Immediately after the war, through the Queen’s Proclamation of 1858, the crown took over the control of Indo-Pakistan from the English East India Company. Lord Canning the last Governor General of the East India Company became the first Viceroy of the British Government in India. Consequently the Indians were placed on equality with the subjects of the British crown.
- The British Government abolished the Doctrine of Lapse the rules of the states the right to adopt their heirs.
- The policy of annexations was totally abandoned. Rulers of the sates were guaranteed that there would be no more annexations.
- After the War the number of European soldiers was increased in Indo-Pakistan. It is estimated that there were 65,000 European soldiers against 140,00 native soldiers. The army was reorganized into separate regiments. The artillery was totally put under the control of Europeans.
- One ugly effect of the war of Independence was that the English subjected the Muslims to oppression. The British considered Muslims responsible for the War of Independence. Accordingly the head of repression fell more heavily on the Muslims than on the Hindus. Many of the leading Muslims were hanged or exiled.
- As a result of the War the British Government changed its agrarian policy in Indo-Pakistan. The Permanent Settlement of Bengal was reconsidered. The land owners were provided safeguards.
- After the War the British wrath was directed at the Muslims. The properties of the Muslims were confiscated and they were subjected to all sorts of terror and repression. The British adopted a discriminatory policy towards the Hindus and the Muslims. The Hindus were given preference over the Muslims. Soon a wide gulf between the two communities assumed dangerous proportions.
- The failure of the Independence War encouraged the Christian missionaries to resume the propagation of their religion with new vigour and assurance.