Till the close of Shah Alam\u2019s reign, the British recognized the Mughal Emperor as
the sovereign ruler of India and regarded themselves as his loyal subjects. By the
time Bahadur Shah Zafar ascended the Delhi throne,
the Mughal Emperor was an Emperor only in name.
His influence hardly ran beyond the walls of Delhi.
He was a pensioner of the Company and when
financial difficulties forced him to seek an increase
in the pension, the Company demanded surrender of
his remaining royal rights. The customary presents
made to the Emperor were discontinued.
Although dismissed by some as merely, or as to
protest against the violation of religious rights by the
British, the greatest uprising of 1857 is slowly
gaining recognition as India\u2019s First War of
Independence. And in its broad sweep it was the
greatest armed challenge to the colonial rule during
the entire course of the nineteenth century. Attracting
people from all walks of life-both Hindus and Muslims, it triggered demands for
radical social and economic reforms, calling for new society that would be more
democratic and more reforms, calling for a new society that would be more
representative of popular demands.
India's First War of Independence, termed Sepoy Riots by the British was an attempt
to unite India against the invading British and to restore power to the Mogul emperor
Bahadur Shah. The resistance disintegrated primarily due to lack of leadership and
unity on the part of Indians, as also to cruel suppression by the British Army. Indians
working for the British Army, due to their deep traditions and faith faced numerous
social barriers. It was a remarkable event in Indian history and marked the end of
Firstly the coins issued by the East India Company contained the name of the Mughal Emperor.
The official seal of the British Governor General contained the words "the special servant of the
King\u2013Emperor of Delhi". Whenever any Englishman including the Governor General himself
visited the Delhi Darbar, he stood with due reverence, bowed and offered presents to the Emperor.
In 1785, Scindia had occupied Delhi and took over the rights and privileges of the Mughal
Emperor in his hands. The British officers began to show open discourtesy and disregard towards
the Delhi Darbar in many other ways. The words "the special servant of the King-Emperor of
Delhi" were omitted from the Governor \u2013 General\u2019s seal. Bahadur Shah was denied even the right
to choose his own Crown \u2013 Prince. He had chosen his eldest son, Javan Bakht to be the Crown \u2013
Prince but because Javan Bakht\u2019s views were supposed to be somewhat anti \u2013 British, Dalhousie
refused to recognize him. Instead he entered into an agreement with a younger son of Bahadur
Shah and recognized him as the Crown \u2013 Prince in return for his agreeing to vacate the Red Fort,
to accept a pension of Rs.15 thousand per month only and to be called merely Prince instead of
King \u2013 Emperor. After the Prince accepted these conditions, Lord Dalhousie asked the King to
vacate, the Red Fort and go and live at the Kutab Minar. It is said that on hearing the news not only
was Bahadur Shah stunned red but the Indian soldiers and the common people in Delhi.
In the years just prior to the mutiny many factors combined to create a climate of social and
political unrest in India. The political expansion of the East India Company at the expense of
native princes and of the Mughal court aroused Hindu and Muslim alike, and the harsh land
policies, carried out by Governor-General Dalhousie and his successor, Lord Canning, as well as
the rapid introduction of European civilization, threatened traditional India. In 1853, the British
denied Nana Sahib, leader of the Marathas, his titles and pension, and the aged Bahadur Shah II,
last of the Mughal emperors, was informed that the dynasty would end with his death.
The Indian soldiers were dissatisfied with their pay as well as with certain changes in regulations,
which they interpreted as part of a plot to force them to adopt Christianity. In 1856 it was rumored
that additional troops were to be recruited for service in Burma, where they could not follow all
their religious rules, and that Christian missionary efforts among the troops were to receive official
encouragement This belief was strengthened when the British furnished the soldiers with
cartridges coated with grease made from the fat of cows (sacred to Hindus) and of pigs. The
British replaced the cartridges when the mistake was realized; but suspicion persisted, and in Feb.
1857, began a series of incidents in which Sepoy refused to use the cartridges.
Thesepo ys (fromsipahi, Hindi for soldier, used for native Indian soldiers) had their own list of
grievances against the Company Raj, mainly caused by the ethnic gulf between the British officers
and their Indian troops. Other than Indian units of the British East India Company's army, much of
the resistance came from the old aristocracy, who were seeing their power steadily eroded under
On February 26,1857 the 19th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) regiment came to know about new
cartridges and refused to use them. Their Colonel confronted them angrily with artillery and
cavalry on the parade ground, but then accepted their demand to withdraw the artillery, and cancel
the next morning's parade.
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