Updated February 5, 2022
The uprising of 1857 was a major landmark protest against the British rule which had more or less same essential characters of all those big & small rebellions during last 100 years or so in the history of India.
The essentials of 1857 uprising were the resentments grown out of diverse wrong doings of the British rule. These wrongs included invasive British-style social reforms, harsh land taxations, violence among other things. The oppressive measures on the part of British often snowballed into violence from the part of civilians too. The clashes led to a loss of lives on both sides. The practices & institutions often forced upon by the British seemed highly unwelcome and a threat to the fundamental identity of the society. Over the period of time, these all contributed to ever-growing resentment of the Indians.
The massive uprising of 1857 seemed to be a cumulative effect of some major factors though. Pathetic socioeconomic conditions, land revenue problems, the doctrine of lapse, Enfield rifle, Civilian Disquiet and the Bengal Army etc. could be attributed to the occurrence of 1857 mass uprising.
Before the actual outbreak of 1857 happened the resentment, anger and anguish of oppressed India took the form of small and big rebellions in a localized manner. These all rebellions possessed one or more characteristic issues seen responsible for 1857 outbreak. In other words, the revolution of 1857 owed its roots in the small & big revolts and clashes that had occurred in the last 100 years prior to 1857. A glimpse of a few previous rebellions substantiates this fact:
Civil Uprisings in Gorakhpur, Basti and Bahraich (1781)-
This uprising was against the sudden and inhuman imposition of heavy taxation by Warren Hasting upon the civilians of Gorakhpur, Basti and Bahraich. This exploitative step of the then ruler somehow contributed to the massive uprising of 1857 in the capacity of local people.
In order to make money from the civilians, the Warren Hasting made a plan to meet the expenses of the battle against the Marathas and Mysore. So, he involved the English officers as Izaradars (Revenue farmers) in Awadh. Subsequently, Hannay the Revenue officer under Hastings imposed the izara of Gorakhpur and Bahraich to the tune of Rs. 22 Lakh for a year. This exploitative measure forced upon the local subjects led to the outbreak of a revolt against the British from the zamindars and cultivators.
Revolt Sawantwadi (1830-1844)-
This revolt was led by deposed ruler of Sawantwadi wherein, he was deposed on a false accusation of failure to maintain law & order. The British resorting to high handedness deposed the actual representative of the local subjects and appointed a European officer in his place. The resenting sentiments of the local people manifested in the support for the major uprising of 1857.
The events in Kolhapur had their impact on Sawantwadi. The people of Sawantwadi had already revolted against the British in 1830 and 1836. In 1838 but when the British deposed the ruler of Sawantwadi and appointed a European Political superintendent to administer the state. The discontented rulers fled to Goa and planned revolt against the British. The British authorities introduced several laws and brought the state under control.
Kurichiya Uprising (1805- 1820)–
The Kurichiya Uprising was intended to check the exploitative tax policies of the British officers. This well made the foundation of the largest uprising of 1857 almost 3o years later. Any support from the local kurichiya and hill brahmin in the uprising of 1857 was inspired by the afflictions caused to them by the Britishers. Kurichiya are the Scheduled tribe group distributed mainly in Wayanad and Kannur districts of Kerala, India. They are also known as Hill Brahmins or Malai Brahmins. They fought against the British under the leadership of their king Pazhassi Raja during the last decades of the eighteenth century.
Revolt of the Raja of Vizianagaram (1794) –
This was a case of trust breaching done by British which is also made the foundation for mistrust against the British for all time to come (by local subjects). The Raja revolted against the British in 1794. An agreement was signed between the Raja of Vizianagaram and English to oust the French. After the victory of the battle, the English men came for the dues of three lakh rupees. This angered the Raja because there were no dues left, and the ruler of Vizianagaram rose revolt against the British.
Civil Rebellions in Awadh (1799)-
Wazir Ali Khan, the Fourth Nawab of Awadh, had ascended the throne 1797 with the help of British. But on 1799, he killed a British resident, George Frederik Cherry, who had invited him to lunch. Wazir Ali’s guards killed the other two Europeans and even attacked on the Magistrate of Benares. The whole incident is known as the Massacre of Benares.
Poligars Revolt (1795 to 1805)-
The Poligars (or Palayakkarargal) of South India show the strong resistance to the British between 1795 to 1805. This uprising against the Company rose basically over the taxation. When Nawab of Arcot gave the control and management of Tinneveli and the Carnatic Provinces to the East India Company. The main centres of the stiff resistance against the British were Tinneveli (or Thirunelveli), Ramanathapuram, Sivaganaga, Sivagiri, Madurai, and North Arcot.
Kattabomman Nayakan, the Poligar of Panjalankurichi, led the insurrection between 1795 and 1799. Company forces defeated by Veerapandiya Kattabomman, and then the price was put on the consideration. The second phase of uprising started from February 1801 led by the fugitive brother of Kattabomman. But it was again suppressed by the Britishers in October 1801.
Upheaval in Bundelkhand-
The Britishers took control over the vast provinces of Bundelkhand after conquering the battle of Second Anglo- Maratha wars (1803-1805). The period was characterized by Subsidiary alliance policy of Wellesley the then Governor General. This policy aimed of usurping the area of the princely state by some extent as part of the failure to comply with the tenets of policy and the princely was eventually ceded to the British empire at later point of time. The policy was a larger design of the British Crown to acquire entire princely states in India. The upheaval of Bundelkhand was had root in Wellesley’s policy. This utterly dishonest policy that was also the reason for the annihilation of a Maratha empire contributed to widespread anguish leading all the way to outbreak 1857 uprising. The Bundelkhand revolt was fought by Lakshman Dawa and Gopal Singh.
On obvious accounts, the Revolt of 1857 was the Major instance of traditional India’s struggle against the foreign rule spread far and wide. And it was no sudden occurrence instead a culmination of a century long traditions of fierce popular resistance to British domination.