New Delhi: India's first War of Independence isn't a day story. It had continued to slowly spread its route since the beginning of European Rule when Vasco da Gama of Portugal had discovered a sea route to India and reached Kozhikode (Calicut, Kerala) in 1498. In this series, many Europeans started coming to India for trading and made their offices and forts in various parts of India of which the British East India Company became the major force.
Robert Clive, who led the East India Company's troop defeated the rulers of Bengal in 1757. This battle became famous as the Battle of Plassey and is marked as the beginning of British rule or say “British Raj” in India. In 1764, the Battle of Buxar was also won by the English forces. After this, the British got control over Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Even before the Indians turned over a leaf towards the Revolt of 1857, people in different parts of India had already revolted against the British which showed up in forms of revolts and armed struggles in areas of southern India including Karnataka followed by Goa, Jharkhand and Bengal.
Had it been the re-establishment of British authority over India by the end of 1859, but the Revolt of 1857 never went in vain. It remains a landmark in our history and was a source of inspiration in later freedom struggles. But how did it actually begin? Was it an organised conspiracy or was it completely unplanned? The Revolt began at Meerut, 58km from Delhi on May 10, 1857 and spread across northern India. Mangal Pandey, the young soldier was hanged even before the beginning of the Revolt in Meerut on March 29, 1857.
This was a beginning of discontent which further was provoked when eighty five people of the Native Cavalry were imprisoned and put into fetters when refused to use greased cartridges. There grew the general mutiny among soldiers which is said to be the most relevant cause behind the cause. But sepoy discontent could be referred to as the most immediate cause as at that point the material for mass upheaval which came from character and policies if Colonial rule, grievances and dislike of people against company administration and hatred for foreign rule was ready and a spark was needed to set it on fire.
The soldiers released their imprisoned comrades on 10 May, and set off for Delhi where they were joined by the local infantry who killed their European officers and seized the city. The soldiers then proclaimed aged Bahadur Shah Zafar, who under instigation or pressure wrote letters to chiefs and Indian rulers to organise confederacy of Indian states to fight and replace the British regime.
Much of the strength of the Revolt of 1857 lay in Hindu-Muslim unity. The storm centres of the revolt were at Delhi, Kanpur, Lucknow, Bareilly, Jhansi and Arrah in Bihar. Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar's old age and weaker personality somewhere was a reason of political weakness in the Revolt. The Revolt was spread over a large territory but could not embrace the entire country, areas of southern, eastern and western India were still left. And many rulers and a large number of big zamindars gave active help to the British in suppressing the revolt. A later disunity among Indians also proved fatal for the Revolt. Indians were short of modern weapons and other war materials. They somewhere were ill-disciplined like a riotous mob than a disciplined army.
Later, the lack of unity among Indians grew unavoidable. They were also unaware of modern nationalism. At the end, the British government which was at heights of its power, and was supported by most of the Indian chiefs and princes proved it stronger against rebels. The rebels witnessed and early downfall when Bahadur Shah Zafar was captured by the British on September 20, 1857 after a bitter fight. The emperor was exiled to Rangoon where in 1862, he died. With this fall at Delhi , the Revolt disappeared.
The heroes of the Revolt soon became household names in the country, even though they were not very dear to their rulers. The Revolt which paved the way for modern national movement left an impact on minds of Indian people.