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First War Of Independence – Uprising

British writers described the Uprising of 1857 as Sepoy Mutiny because it
started off among the native soldiers trained by the East India Company. During
the entire course of nineteenth century, it was the greatest armed challenge to
the colonial rule. Triggered by the demands for economic and social reforms, it
attracted both Hindus and Muslims wanting a new democratic society.

The Sepoys or Sipahiswere not satisfied by the way the British officers treated them and were
particularly infuriated over the introduction of a cartridge laced with cow and
pig fat. Both the Hindu and Muslim sepoys found the method of using the cartridge repulsive as it challenged their
rules of purity. To open the cartridge, it had to chewed and then the gunpowder
was poured into the rifle. All this without doubt prepared the base for the far
more widespread revolt of 1857.

Armed mutiny broke out literally every year only to be crushed by the
Britishers. The Indians were consistently outgunned as the lacked the fire
power, lacked means of communication and unfavorable timing of planning the
revolts. But the revolt took a new turn when the sepoys of Meerut rose in arms and killed their officers calling for a general
mutiny. British rule ceased to exist in the northern parts of India for several
months after the Uprising began in Meerut on May 9-10, 1857. Lucknow, Meerut,
Delhi, Kanpur, Bereilly and Jhansi were the main centres of revolt.

The rebels chose the Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, as their ruler and
demanded the Britishers to leave India. Some Hindu and Muslim rulers also
joined hands with the rebellious Sepoys and militant peasants to stand against the British. The most important
leaders of the uprising were Tantia Tope, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Nana Sahib, Bakth
Khan, Begum Harzrat Mahal, Maulvi Ahmadulla, Kunwar Singh, Bahadur Khan and Rao
Tula Ram. The former rulers also had their complaints against the British who
had implemented regulations like the law of succession which gave the British
the right to capture any princely state if it lacked a legitimate male heir.
Frantic communities had no choice but to resist the bitter end.

The Court of Administration was established by the rebels consisting of ten
members, four civilians and six from the army with equal representation of both
the Hindus and Muslims. On the things of common consumption, the rebel
government eliminated taxes. They also planned to abolish Zamindari system
imposed by the Britishers by giving the ownership of land to the one who
ploughed it.

Even though the former princes who joined hands with the rebels could not go
far but many aspects of the public statements issued by the former rulers are
worth mentioning. They issued all the public statements in popular languages
providing Hindi and Urdu texts concurrently. Public Statements were issued
together in the name of both Hindus and Muslims. Feroz Shah in August 1857
issued a public statement that all trade was to be reserved for Indian
merchants only with the free use of Government steam carriages and steam
vessels. Only Indians will occupy the public offices and the pay of the
soldiers were to be improved.

British were immensely threatened by the drastic turn of events as a result of
which they dispensed massive recourses in men and arms to smother the Uprising.
Betrayal by the number of rulers such as the Rajasthani princes, the Sikh
princes and the Maratha rulers like Scindia allowed the British to reign
despite of the fact that the rebels fought courageously. The betrayal of the
princes gave a major set back to the Sepoy mutiny. In addition to it, the
conservative trading communities were not ready to face the uncertainties of
the long drawn rebellion. Moreover the superior weaponry used by the British
and the barbarity used by them for defending their Empire was unmatched. From
the end of 1857 British started regaining power. In March 1858, Lucknow was
retaken and a peace treaty was signed which ended the war.

In the history of Indian subcontinent, 1857 is an important milestone. This
rebellion was also known as the Great Rebellion, Indias First war of Independence, the Uprising of 1857, the Sepoy Mutiny and the
Indian Mutiny.

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