The First War of Indian Independence (1857 Revolt)

In this post, we are providing complete notes on the first war of Indian Independence also known as the 1857 revolt. This is a part of Complete Notes of Modern History of India. These notes are very helpful in clearing most of the exams like UPSC CSE, State PCS, SSC CGL, CHSL, CPO, FSSAI, ASRB, EPFO, APFC, Railways, DMRC, UGC NET and Other competitive exams. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel for Free videos. Subscribe to our Telegram Channel for all updates. If you are preparing for India’s Top Government Exams then download our App for hundred per cent Exam-oriented Courses and Mock-Tests. Support our Social platforms like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.


The revolt of 1857 has an extraordinary place in the history of India. This event is known by different names such as, “the Sepoy Mutiny”, “The Indian rebellion” and the “First War of Indian Independence”. This was the first joint revolt against the British. It was the end result of the already simmering discontent of Indians against the policies of East India Company. The British historians called it “Sepoy Mutiny”, whereas the nationalists termed it as the “First War of Indian Independence”.

Causes of Revolt of 1857

Religious and Social Causes

Racism or racial discrimination was believed to be a major reason for the revolt of 1857 wherein Indians were exploited and were kept away from mixing with Europeans. The whites also started interfering in the religious and cultural affairs of Indians and tortured them as well.

Political Causes

The British expansion had led to the propagation of unjust policies that led to the loss of power of the Nawabs and Zamindars residing at various places of India. The introduction of unfair policies like the policy of Trade and Commerce, the policy of indirect subordination (subsidiary alliance), the policy of war and annexation, the policy of direct subordination (doctrine of lapse), the policy of misgovernance (through which Awadh was annexed) greatly hampered the interests of the rulers of the native states, and they one by one became victims of British expansionism. Therefore, those rulers, who lost their states to the British, were naturally against the British and took sides against them during the revolt.

Economic Factors

There were various reforms in the taxation and revenue system that affected the peasants heavily. British Government had imposed and introduced various administrative policies to expand their territory.

– Permanent Settlement in Bengal

– Mahal Wadi Settlement in Central India

– Ryotwadi settlement in Southern India

These three settlements were highly exploitative, and in particular, the Permanent settlement had created a devastating impact. Thus the peasants were greatly encouraged to overthrow the British Government from India and led to their active participation in the revolt of 1857.

Military Factors

Indian soldiers in the British army were looked down upon by their English officers. They were paid low salaries and not promoted above the rank of a subedar. According to the General Service Enlistment Act of 1856, Indian soldiers could be posted anywhere overseas in the British Empire. This was against their religious belief. Hindus believed that crossing the sea was a sin. The Indian sepoys were more in number than the British soldiers which gave a sense of self-confidence to the Indians. There were more than 75000 soldiers in the British army from “Awadh”. These soldiers were enraged when Awadh was annexed to the British Empire on the grounds of maladministration by Nawab Wajid Ali. The Indian soldiers faced a lot of discrimination from the British officials with respect to their salaries, pensions, promotions. Indians were subjugated in the military while their European counterparts faced no such discrimination. This led to discontent and was a major military factor that resulted in the revolt of 1857.

The Vellore Mutiny took place even before the revolt of 1857 (50 years before). It erupted on 10th July 1806 in Vellore, present-day Tamil Nadu, and lasted only for a day, but it was brutal and it was the first major mutiny by the Indian sepoys in the East India Company.

Immediate Causes

The British introduced new Enfield rifles. To operate these rifles the cover of the cartridges had to be torn with the teeth to load the cartridge into the rifle. There was a rumour that the cartridges were smeared with the fat of cow and pig. The cow was sacred to Hindus and pig was prohibited for Muslims. The Indian soldiers felt that the British were deliberately trying to spoil their religion. Therefore the Indian soldiers refused to use the rifles. But the British forced them to do so and threatened the Indian soldiers to use them. This resulted in a massive revolt against the British.

The Rebellion

In late March 1857, a sepoy named Mangal Pandey attacked British officers at the military garrison in Barrackpore. He was arrested and then executed by the British in early April Later in April sepoy tropers at Meerut refused the Enfield cartridges, and, as punishment, they were given long prison terms, fettered, and put in jail. This punishment incensed their comrades, who rose on May 10, shot their British officers and marched to Delhi, where there were no European troops. There the local sepoy garrison joined the Meerut men, and by nightfall the aged pensionary Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II had been nominally restored to power by a tumultuous soldiery. The seizure of Delhi provided a focus and set the pattern for the whole mutiny, which then spread throughout northern India. With the Exception of the Mughal emperor and his sons and Nana Sahib, the adopted son of the deposed Maratha Peshwa, none of the important Indian princes joined the mutineers.

From the time of the mutineers’ seizure of Delhi, the British operations to suppress the mutiny were divided into three parts. First came the desperate struggles at Delhi, Kanpur, and Lucknow during the summer; then the operations around Lucknow in the winter of 1857-58, directed by Sir Colin Campbell; and finally the “mopping up” campaigns of Sir Hugh Rose in early 1858. Peace was officially declared on July 8, 1859.

Causes of Failure of The Revolt of 1857

The revolt was eventually not successful in ousting the British from the country because of several factors.

  1. The sepoys locked one clear leader; there were several. They also did not have a coherent plan by which the foreigners would be routed.
  2. Indian rulers who aided the revolt did not envision any plan for the country after the British were defeated.
  3. Majorly northern India was affected by this revolt. The three presidencies of Bengal, Bombay, and Madras remained mostly unaffected.

Impact of Revolt

The immediate result of the mutiny was a general housecleaning of the Indian administration. The East India Company was abolished in favor of the direct rule of India by the British government. In concrete terms, this did not mean much, but it introduced a more personal note into the government and removed the unimaginative commercialism that had lingered in the Court of Directors. The financial crisis caused by the mutiny led to a reorganization of the Indian administration’s finances on a modern basis. The Indian army was also extensively reorganized.

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