The Sepoy Mutiny Of 1857

.. d approach. He argued the name of the events, which is what parties for both sides have continuously argued over, are entitled to be called the `Great Indian Outbreak’. For Gupta the name is not being pro Indian nationalist in the description of the events, which he regards as having `possessed the hallmarks of a truly national uprising’. He sought to equate these events on an equal footing with European events of a similar nature.

`If the limited and unfruitful results of 1830 and 1848 in Central and Southern European countries have been regarded as national uprisings’, Gupta sees the Indians as justifiably giving the events of 1857 a similar title. The two accounts by Joshi and Savarkar are certainly for the pro-nationalist movement, who of course would wish to portray the events of 1857 in a light that was directed towards the nationalist movement’s objectives. Gupta although eluding to this viewpoint is far less pro nationalist and more balanced in his approach. As Metcalf points out the `most pervasive legacy of the mutiny can be found perhaps in the sphere of human relations’. Quite simply the way in which the British and Indians interacted, was especially the way the British felt towards the Indians altered markedly. While there is no question concerning the British as the rulers of India for a century, the manner of administration prior to the mutiny of 1857 was less as the role of overlord. After the mutiny it became much sterner with the British acting as `clearly an occupying power, garrisoning a hostile land’.

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The British saw the need to reduce the risk of a second rebellion and to reduce the prospect the `Government of India adopted the policy of creating division and disunion in the civil ranks’. In terms of interaction the mutiny saw `the romanticism of orientalists and the optimism of reformers [giving] way to a pessimistic ezce that emphasised military security and cautious policies’. This saw the British drift `into insular little communities’. As part of this different military and administrative approach there was a significant restructuring of the military, `the Indian element in the army was drastically reduced (from 238,000 in 1857 to 140,000 in 1863) and the European part increased (from 45,000 to 65,000)’. As part of restructuring personnel numbers, ratios were introduced where in the `Punjab the ratio of British to native troops should normally be one to two, ..

[while] in Bombay and Madras .. one to three’. In an attempt to further reduce any chance of another mutiny occurring the `native Artillery was abolished .. [and] the corps of Bengal, Madras and Bombay Artillery and Engineers were amalgamated with the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers’. The decades prior to the mutiny saw no attempts by the British to classify the Indians into `racial categories or rank them as superior or inferior’. But by the middle of the nineteenth century the divisions of `race was a popular topic in Victorian England’. The concept of superiority and inferiority reached such levels that the `concept of permanent racial superiority ..

underlay much of post-Mutiny British thought about India’. The basis for these views were no longer regarded as simply being `emotional sentiment, it was a scientific fact’, or more accurately pseudo-science. While the theories of racial superiority were nothing new to the people of Victorian England. The racially based ideas were given much greater credence to those who supported them, by the `publication in 1859 of Charles Darwin’s, Origin of the Species [which] accelerated this shift from the commonalities of the human race to a differentiation of races’. These racially based beliefs in superiority and inferiority were the basis, for the supporters of such beliefs, in the reason behind the British victory in 1857, as the `white race was dominant because it was more advanced and adaptable’.

The moves by the British towards acknowledging the various racial groups in India and therefore the qualities of each was an area which having been neglected before the mutiny became an area of keen interest. The `martial races became a concern immediately after the outbreak of the Sepoy Rebellion’. The British administration the `Peel Commission concluded .. had been unaware of the true martial attributes possessed by various Indian ethnic groups’. The willingness of the British to admit to the beneficial qualities of certain ethnic groups showed that, although they did not regard such groups as being anywhere near the equal of the white race. They could be categorised as being the superior members of an inferior race.

The findings of the inquiry saw the British place certain racial groups out of favour, while providing greater acceptance of others. The Brahmins were characterised as `scheming and dishonest’, and it was the `high caste Hindus of Oudh and neighbouring areas .. adjudged responsible for the undermining of discipline of the sepoys of the Native Army’. While others like the `Guhkas, Sikhs, Marathas and Rajputs .. understood the meaning of honour, and duty’, therefore the British administrators saw these races as being `India’s truly martial peoples’.

The recruitment into the army of members of these social groups was made government policy and `a series of handbooks on the martial races [produced] for the benefit of recruiting officers’. Aside from the overall deterioration in relations between the British and their Indian subjects after the rebellion, there was also an impact on the Indians themselves. With the Muslims losing much of the influence and power they held before the rebellion, and the Hindus filling the vacuum left by the Muslims. While the British attitude changed radically towards the Indians the `most bitter and widespread hostility was reserved for the Muslim community’. They were blamed by the British for much of the rebellious activity, which the British saw as an attempt to `restore the authority of the Moghul emperor’.

Because `Muslims stood prejudiced against western education’ they `had to remain in the background for some time’, while the Hindus who were more favourable in the adoption of this western style of education and learning English benefited under the government. An example which shows how the Muslims declined so heavily and the Hindus benefited after the mutiny, is in the case of `judicial positions open to Indians’. `Although Muslims comprised only 12 per cent of the population in the North Western Provinces, they held 72 per cent of positions’ prior to 1857. The post 1857 effects saw this disproportionate share of judicial position diminish to a situation where in `1886 they could claim only 9 posts out of a total of 284′. This situation of a Muslim decline in influence had long term effects on the Muslim community right up until the early part of the twentieth century.

As each side of the debate is so fixed in their opinion on this subject that no consensus ever seems likely to be reached. For the Indians the events assist in enhancing the nationalist theme of ridding the sub-continent of the British. To the nationalists the events of 1857 are the first step in a process that took ninety years to achieve the goal of an India ruled by Indians. However the evidence of the events clearly comes down on the side of the British opinion. The events were not a war of independence but a military and civilian mutiny.

Given that the `entire south of India took no part in the rebellion’ it seems impossible to justify the claim that the events were a war of independence. Added to this, the assiezce provided by certain elements of Indian society to the British further reduces the nationalist claims. The lack of central co-ordination amongst the rebels hardly inspires confidence in them engaging in a conflict to gain independence. Clearly the debate comes closer to the British viewpoint of 1857 being a year of mutinies in the Indian sub-continent, and not the first attempts by the Indians to seek independence.