The Indian Mutiny of 1857-1858: Causes and Consequences

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The Indian Mutiny of 1857-1858: Causes and Consequences Under the administration of the Marquess of Dalhousie (Governor-General 1848-56), the last of the independent Indian states, including the wealthy Muslim state of Oudh, were annexed by the British. To consolidate this new territory, some degree of Westernisation was introduced: an Indian railway and road system was developed and the first three Indian universities were founded, creating a tier of higher-caste men educated according to the British system but not fully incorporated into those careers of civil service and army awaiting them. Child marriage and the practice of suttee previously had been abolished and, in 1856, a regulation was passed requiring sepoys to serve overseas thereby losing caste. Both the annexation and consolidation heightened tension between government and population and mutiny was inevitable when the Indian section of the army was allocated cartridges smeared with the fat of cows and pigs, unclean to both Hindu and Muslim elements. The mutiny lasted thirteen months: from the rising of Meerut on 10 May 1857 to the fall of Gwalior on 20 June 1858.The sepoys were quickly joined by large numbers of civilians supporting the reinstatement of both a Moghul and a Maratha emperor and by landlords, particularly those of Oudh, penalised by the new administration and its policy of exporting raw materials for manufacture in Britain. Historians agree that the mutiny was characterised by violent reprisals on either side but, at least in British historical tradition, the most significant events are the massacres at Meerut, Cawnpore and Lucknow; post-mutiny literature dwelling on the fate of women and children especially. The mutiny, regarded by many as India's first War of Independence, was to have important consequences and the structure of British India was to be re-organised extensively. Increasingly, India came under direct Crown rule as the British East India Company was dispossessed of its functions and, in 1877, Queen Victoria was crowned Empress. Despite the severity of European reprisal as each territory had been regained and its subsequent defensive proposals of military alteration, a measure of conciliation had been introduced to administrative policy. Integration of the higher castes and princes was now considered important, land policy was revised and plans for radical social change were shelved.

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