The Indian Rebellion on 1857
The Indian rebellion of 1857 was one of much needed self respect, and of pride. The Indian people at this time were being
Political and social reform in India was achieved as a result of the European political principles brought to India by the British. Indians were Anglicized, and the British ideal for an Indian was to be “Indians in blood and color, but English in tastes, opinions and intellect”, as put by one British legislator (Rich, 214, 1979). This Western education inevitably led to well-read Indians encountering European principles such as human rights, freedoms of speech, travel and association, and liberalism. This was in direct contrast to the imperialism practiced by the British in India and to the Indian experience – one third of the subcontinent was ruled by Indian princes under British supervision, and the rest was directly controlled by the Viceroy and administered by about one thousand members of the civil service, all of them English (Rich, 215, 1979). This knowledge of principles such as autonomy and freedom naturally led to many Indians desiring this for their own nation, understandable since it appeared that the world’s greatest and most powerful nations were self-governing democracies, and this system was obviously successful.
Part of the newfound desire for freedom experienced by many Indians was the desire for native religion and customs to be respected. It is widely accepted that the Indian mutiny of 1857 was at least partly generated by Indian resentment of British interference in Hindu customs. Indian soldiers in the army were required to bite the ends off gun cartridges that contained pig fat and cow fat, which offended both Muslims and Hindus. When troops refused to use the cartridges, “eighty sepoys were thrown into gaol for disobedience, an act which finally triggered the uprising.” (Richards, 301, 1994). This showed a great lack of cultural and religious sensitivity on the part of British officers. Although the mutiny was put down quickly, it shook British confidence in their power, and resulted in tighter control of their hold on India. This in turn led to further resentment of British imperialism, and claims that military regulations were an attempt by the British to destroy the traditional caste system. (Richards, 301, 1994). In believing so vehemently that the British system was superior to the far inferior Hindu traditions, the British officers were essentially contravening the ideals of freedom that were an important element of the Western European political principles that they so wanted to instill in the Indian peoples.
Following the Mutiny of 1857, Indian nationalism gained much more momentum than had previously existed in the first part of the century. This movement consisted mostly of British-educated intellectuals, and ironically was made possible by the British encouragement of higher education, originally intended to create a middle management that could carry out simple administration jobs. Most of the Indian nationalists – most notably Ghandi – were educated in Western Europe and were well read in Western notions of freedoms, civil liberties and autonomy. The Indian National Congress was the largest and most obvious nationalist group, formed so that “educated Indianscould express dissatisfaction with the British colonial administration and suggest reforms.” (Cowie, 36, 1994) This Congress, however, had no power in terms of action and it can be seen as an attempt by the British to appease Indian nationalists who wanted progress. The seeming uselessness of the Indian National Congress in terms of enforcing changes and reforms can be seen as a great cause of Indian resentment of British nationalism. Even so, a nationalist organisation such as this would not have been possible had it not been for the fact that the British acquainted a group of Indians with European political principles (Cowie 27, 1994).
The Indian Rebellion on 1857