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The revolt did not happen overnight. From the beginning of the political influence .
of the British after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the British faced resistance from
various sections of the society. The miscellaneous populace had been harbouring
resentment against the British.
It is difficult to highlight a single cause for the outbreak of the revolt. There were
multiple grievances, which were acutely felt by the different sections of the
society.

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From the early decades of the nineteenth century, the British had abandoned its
policy of non-interference in the socio-religious life of the Indians. Abolition of
Sati in 1829 under Lord Bentinck, the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act of 1856, and
western education all led to disruption in the social world of the people After the
Charter of 1813, the Christian missionaries were allowed to enter India and carry on
with their mission of proselytizing. This, combined with the Religious Disabilities
Act of 1856, which sought to do away with the previous ban on Christian converts
from Hinduism in inheriting property, created a feeling amongst the people of
threat to their religion and way of life.

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British rule led to breakdown of the village self-sufficiency and also disturbed
order of land settlements in India. The British ordered an enquiry into the title
deeds of the landed estates in Bengal and its adjoining areas, Bombay Provinces
and North-Western Provinces Many people who had held lands before the coming
of the British lost their lands under the ‘reorganisation’ of the land titles. Added to
this was the commercialisation of agriculture which burdened the peasantry,
adoption of free trade imperialism from 1800, de-industrilization and drain of
wealth all of which led to overall decline of the economy.

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The sepoys of the Bengal army were recruited mainly from the North-West
Provinces, and Awadh. It had a high proportion of high caste men, Bhumihar,
Brahmins and Rajputs of the Ganges Valley. Given the social status of the sepoys, in
the early years of the Company rule, the British tolerated and even encouraged the
caste privileges and customs within the Bengal Army. But by 1820s, these customs
-and privileges were threatened by the modernizing forces that sought to
introduce a stricter universalised military culture. In accordance with the changes,
the sepoys were prohibited to observe some customary practices, like wearing a
saffron mark on their forehead, growing beard and wearing turbans. The sepoys
who had become accustomed to very high ritual status were extremely sensitive to
suggestions that threatened their caste rules.
In 1856, in accordance with the new rules, the soldiers no longer received extra
allowance bhatta for service outside their own regions because they were no
longer considered to be foreign missions. This affected the extra pay of the sepoys.

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Annexation of Awadh in 1856 was a blow to the prestige of the ruling classes, the
local population and the sepoys. Apart from Delhi, Awadh was the second most
important centre of the revolt. Multiple causes were present here in their true
form. About three-fourth of the Company’s sepoys were recruited from Awadh
and most of them were simply peasants in uniform. Thus, any change in the
agrarian set-up and in the cultural fabric would also be acutely felt by them;
Annexation of Awadh in 1856 on the pretext maladministration became an
important cause for many of those who participated. The annexation led to
disbanding of the Nawab’s army and also affected the entire aristocracy, which in
turn severely affected the economy of the region. In Awadh, many taulkdars who
lost their property as a result of the Summary Settlement in 1856 supported the
rebels. The revolt was perhaps of the highest intensity in Awadh.

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The annexation of the Indian states did not only lead to dislocation of the ruling
elites and the local populace, but the British also actively followed the policy of
discrimination against the Indians. All high posts in the Company’s government
were reserved for the Europeans.

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Bahadur Shah II, Nana Sahib, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, Khan
Bahadur Khan of Rohilkhand, Kunwar Singh of Arrah, Maulvi Ahmad-ullah of
Faizabad, Tantia Tope and Prince Firoz Shah of the Mughal royal family and raised
the banner of the revolt in Mandasor (M.P.)

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(i) The revolt of 1857 failed because it suffered from weak leadership and was hardly
organized. This proved a major handicap when dealing with the well trained and equipped
British troops.
(ii) The revolt failed to extend to all parts of the country, and large sections of the population
did not support it. And some sections infact threw their support behind the British. Some of
the loyalists were the Nizam of Hyderabad, Sikander Begum of Bhopal, Sir Jang Bahadur
(Minister of Nepal) and Maharaja Sindhia of Gwalior. There was absence of support from the
intelligentsia.
(iii) The different groups of rebels fought for different reasons and served their respective
leaders. Each sought restoration of the order of their leaders. By hailing Bahadur Shah as the
Emperor of Hindustan, the rebels sought to revert back to the medieval political order rather
than replace it with an alternate political authority. Nana Sahib and Tantia Tope sought to
revive the Maratha power while Rani Lakshmibai, her own control over the lost territories.

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The significance of the Revolt of 1857 lies in the fact that it voiced, though
violently, the grievances of various classes of people. The British were made to
realise that all was not, under control in British India. The Revolt was written about
and discussed not only within the confines of India but also in England, France and
Germany. It is also interesting to note that amongst the Indian intelligentsia, which
was then focused in Bengal and did not support the rebels, the revolt brought out
the dilemma regarding their place and allegiance towards their ‘native’ land.

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