What Was the Immediate Cause of Revolt of 1857?

The immediate cause of the revolt of 1857 was the introduction of the new Enfield Rifle in place of ‘Brown Bess’. The act of introduction of Enfield Rifle outraged the religious sentiments of both Hindu and Muslim communities. In this article, we will discuss the cause of the revolt of 1857 along with the What was the immediate cause of the revolt of 1857 at the end of the article with the storyline. 

Let’s discuss the Cause of the Revolt of 1857 

What Are the Political Causes of the Revolt of 1857?

1. Annexation of Princely States:

The East India Company made several annexations under Subsidiary Alliance under Lord Wellesley and the Doctrine of Lapse under Lord Dalhousie.  The Indians feared that the absorption of all states was inevitable. Indians also started to believe that the annexations were not because of the Doctrine of Lapse but because of ‘lapse of morals’ on the part of the East India Company. Thus the expansionist policy followed by the East India Company deeply forced the rulers of the Indian states, to rise in revolt, following the Annexation of Jhansi.

  • How Was Jhansi Annexed?

Jhansi was a Maratha-ruled princely state. Jhansi was located in the Bundelkhand region. The Raja of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao died without leaving a biological male heir in 1853. The same year Dalhousie introduced the infamous ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ and annexed Jhansi, rejecting the claim of Damodar Rao (adopted son of Rani and her late husband Gangadhar Rao) to the throne. Further, in March 1854, Rani was ordered to leave the palace and the fort. Rani Laxmibai then decided to join the great uprising of 1857 against British rule.

  • How Was Awadh Annexed?

In 1856, Awadh was annexed on the pretext of misgovernance, by dethroning Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. He was later deported to Calcutta. Lord Dalhousie stated that he wanted to “free the people from the Nawab’s mismanagement and taluqdar’s oppression.” It should be noted that the British had already been draining the Awadh economy since 1765, now they have started draining its administrative structure.

This move of annexation severely hurt the self-respect of the Awadh people, particularly the sepoys of the British army since most of them came from Awadh itself.

2. The rise of Unemployment:

The East India Company dismissed many courts and forts. The dismissal of the court also leads to unemployment for the many courtiers, the artisans and the army men. The taluqdars were also dispossessed of their forts.

3. Land Revenue Settlement in Awadh:

The land revenue settlement was introduced in Awadh just after its annexation, which further amplified the people’s discontent with the cumulative result that nearly 75% of the adult population of Awadh participated in the Revolt of 1857.

4. Multilayered Interference with the Maratha Rulers:

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah Nana Sahib: Nana, the adopted son of the last Peshwa Baj Rao II, was refused pension by the British that was being paid to Baji Rao. Nana was also forced to leave Pune with his family and live far away at Kanpur. Thus, when the revolt started in 1857, it was Nana Sahib who raised his revolt at Kanpur.

George Bruce Malleson observed that the policy of Lord Dalhousie had created bad faith among Indians & Indians got the feeling that the British were ‘playing the wolf in the garb of the lamb’.

5. Abolition of Titles

The Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II had grown old and weak. Lord Dalhousie realised that Fakhr-ud-Din Mirza, the eldest son of Bahadur Shah II was not interested in retaining the imperium and thus imposed strict conditions on him. Faqir-ud-Din died in 1856 and Lord Canning (who was the Governor-General during the Revolt of 1857) declared that the prince next in succession would have to renounce the regal title and the ancestral Mughal palaces. This grievously hurt the sentiments of Muslim communities.

Lord Canning First Viceroy of India
Lord Canning First Viceroy of India

Also, it should be noted that East India Company also abolished the regal titles of the Nawabs of Carnatic and Tanjore.

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Causes of Revolt of 1857

In this article, we will discuss the various Causes of Revolt of 1857 i.e Political, Administrative, economic, Social and military causes.

What Are the Administrative Causes of the Revolt of 1857?

1. Exploitative Land Revenue Settlements:
The various forms of land revenue settlements  (Permanent, Ryotwari and Mahalwari settlements) were introduced by the British. Which eventually caused the loss of land for the landholders and heavy taxation was charged for zamindars and cultivators. The land revenue assessments under all the systems were heavy and oppressive. The oppression reached its acme and charged up to 50 per cent or more of the production and heavy tax was extracted even when the crop was fully damaged. In such cases, the cultivators had no option but to take loans from the local money lenders who used to charge them exorbitant interest.
This made the cultivators heavily indebted, also engraved a debt cycle among the poor. Many of them later joined in the Revolt of 1857.
2. Rampant Corruption in the East India Company’s Administration: 
Rampant corruption in the East India Company’s administration was an acute cause of discontent among the people. The corruption was especially cultured by the police, officials & law officers. Many historians and experts believe that the rampant corruption that we see now in Today’s India is a legacy of the Company rule. Also, the corruption game promoted a typical character of British rule that imparted a foreign and alien identity in the eyes of Indians.
3. Misuse of Judiciary:
The Company’s oppression through administration was magnified through the complex judicial system that created another dimension to hurt people. Flogging and jailing of cultivators for arrears were common. The miserable condition of the peasants made them desperate to join a revolt against their oppressors. 
Zamindars were often faced heavy damage as their land rights were repeatedly forfeited with frequent use of a quo warranto by the administration. This resulted in a loss of respect and status for them in the villages.

What are the Economic Causes of the Revolt of 1857?

The colonial policies of the Company destroyed the entire traditional economic fabric of Indian society. The peasantry could not recover from the damages imposed by the revenue settlement systems.  Exploited by heavy taxation, the peasants were forced to take loans from money-lenders at usurious rates. These money-lenders & traders emerged as the new landlords, while the scourge of landless peasantry & rural indebtedness has continued to plague Indian society. The older structure of zamindari was forced to collapse.
The Company rule also created misery for the artisans and handicrafts people. The annexation of Indian states by the East India Company took off their major source of patronage -the native rulers and the nobles. British policy also discouraged the Indian handicrafts & promoted British goods instead. The highly skilled Indian craftsmen had no other options left than looking for alternate sources of employment that hardly existed.
The Indian trade & mercantile class was systematically paralysed by the British who imposed high tariff duties on the Indian-made goods. On the other hand, the import of British goods into India attracted low tariffs, thus encouraged their entry into India. By the mid-nineteenth century, exports of cotton and silk textiles from India practically met at waterloo. 

What were the Social Causes of the Revolt of 1857? 

1. Interference in the Indian society:

 The Socio-Religious aspects of the revolt of 1857 were characterised by the racial overtones and a complex superiority of the British administrative attitude towards the native Indian population.  The attempts at socio-religious reforms like the abolition of sati, support to widow-marriage & women’s education were considered by a large section of the population as interference in the social & religious domains of Indian society by foreigners. These notions became firm by the government’s decision to tax mosque and temple lands and making laws such as the Religious Disabilities Act, 1856, which modified Hindu customs, for instance, the act stated that a change of religion did not debar a son from inheriting the property of his “heathen’ father.

2. Alienation of the Upper and Middle Class:

In the princely states, Indians served at all levels-both lower and upper. But under the British administration, all higher posts were reserved for the Europeans.
Indians could serve only as subordinates and were forced to occupy all lower levels of posts. The dissolution of princely courts also meant the loss of jobs for cultural persons such as the poets, dramatists, writers, & musicians, who were patronised by the princes of Indian states.
Thus, it is clear that the land revenue settlements introduced by the British had an adverse impact even on the Indian aristocracy, driving them into poverty without even benefitting the cultivators. 

3. Racial Discrimination:

The British were arrogant & rude towards their subject population. They considered themselves racially superior and treated the Indians with contempt, often described Indians as ‘barbarians or ‘uncivilised‘. The behaviour of English officers was particularly contemptuous, who commonly spoke of Indians as ‘nigger’ and used to abuse them verbally and physically. Criminal assaults on Indians by Englishmen were a common phenomenon, but the British people were hardly punished as they were tried by European judges who acquitted them with light or no punishment. Such repeated suppressive insults had begun to simmer in the hearts of the people like a burning sore.

Military Causes of the Revolt of 1857 

Years after year, several grievances of the sepoys in the British army had got accumulated and outbursts in the revolt. But at first, we should look into the origin and identity of the sepoys in the British army. The sepoys were practically the ‘peasants in uniform’. Owing to the impoverishment caused by the new land revenue settlements, many of them had joined military service in search of alternate employment opportunities. Further, in the Bengal Army, service was hereditary and nearly 60% of the sepoys came from the peasant population of Awadh & the high caste Brahmin & Rajput families of North-West Provinces.

Naturally, these sepoys reflected all the grievances of the civil population of Awadh as well as the grievances of the high caste and royal families.  Thus, annexations of princely states were not accepted by these sepoys. Particularly when Awadh was annexed in the name of misgovernance, they understood that the East India Company had used their services to liquidate their own King.

It is also should be noted that the Indian sepoys were equally unhappy with his emoluments compared to the British army men. A vigilant reason behind the sepoys’ dissatisfaction was the order of stopping the foreign service allowance (Bhatta) when serving in Sindh or in Punjab. Thus the stopping of foreign service allowance created a huge discontent among the sepoys.

The Invincibility of British Rule Shattered

In the years immediately preceding the Revolt, the British army suffered major setbacks in wars like the First Afghan War (1838-42), Punjab Wars (1845-49) & the Crimean War (1854- 56).
In 1855-56, the powerful Santhal uprising took place and temporarily threw away the British from their area. These events had lowered the general morale of the British soldiers and boosted the confidence of the Indian masses, particularly the sepoys who had begun to feel that if they struck at that hour, they had reasonable chances to succeed against the British Army. Thus, the sepoys were only waiting for the right moment to strike & the perfect arena was supplied by the greased cartridges incident.

What Was the Immediate Cause of Revolt of 1857?

what were the immediate cause of freedom struggle of 1857: In 1857, the old-fashioned musket ‘Brown Bess’ was replaced by the new Enfield Rifle. Its cartridges were covered with a greased paper which had to be bitten off before the cartridge was loaded into the Enfield rifle. The grease was reportedly rumoured to be made of beef and pig fat. The cow was sacred to the Hindus while the pig was sacred to the Muslims. The Army administration did nothing to confront the fears, and the sepoys felt their religion was in grave danger.
In this way, the issue of Enfield Rifles became the immediate cause of the Revolt of 1857.
The revolt began at Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, 58 km from Delhi, on May 10, 1857, and then, gathering force rapidly, soon embraced a vast area from Punjab in the north and the Narmada in the south to Bihar in the vast and Rajputana in the west. There were several outrages in various cantonments even before the Meerut incident.
The 19th NativeInfantry at Berhampore (West Bengal), which refused to use the newly introduced Enfield rifle and broke out in mutiny in February 1857 was disbanded in March 1857. A sepoy of the 34th Native Infantry, Mangal Pande, fired at the sergeant major of his unit at Barrackpore, West Bengal. He was executed on April, 18 and his regiment was disbanded in May.
The 7th Awadh Regiment which defied its officers on May 3 met with a similar fate. And then came the explosion at Meerut. On April 24, ninety men of the 3rd Native Cavalry refused to accept the greased cartridges. On May 9, many of them were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. This incident created a spark towards a general mutiny among the Indian soldiers stationed at Meerut. 

Causes of the Revolt of 1857 pdf


Note: The revolt of 1857 is also considered the first war of independence of India. Hence you can write the answer if the question comes this way: What was the immediate cause of the first war of independence?

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who had ordered the annexation of Jhansi?

Lord Dalhousie

  • Jhansi was annexed by which Governor General?

Lord Dalhousie

  • Who was the ruler of Jhansi?

Gangadhar Rao was the ruler of Jhansi. Rani Laxmibai, the wife of Gangadhar Rao became the ruler of Jhansi after his death.

  • When was Jjhansi annexed by the British Government?

Jhansi was annexed in 1853

In this article, we have discussed the Cause of the Revolt of 1857 for competitive examinations like SSC, UPSC, Railways. Cause of Revolt of 1857 pdf is also provided for the convenience of students. 

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