Why Do the Events of 1857-8 in India Matter?

The events of 1857-8 are extremely significant and have changed India dramatically into the India we see today. We see the British taking over India from the East India Company after a ‘mutiny’ in 1857 and welcoming it into a colony in the British Empire. It was described as “the jewel in the crown” of the British Empire because of their rich sources such as silk that were deported from India to countries in Europe. This made Britain considerably richer and greedier as they increased their power by continuing to expand their empire.

The British made many positive changes as well as negative changes in India during their rule such as introducing technology such as expanding railways for everyone to use, and education for some Indians. These are just a few changes that helped a trade-inspired outlook within India. Nevertheless, they also took advantage of the Indians by making money from their resources, charging them heavy taxes to use in Britain and sending many Indians to fight for Britain in the First World War.

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We see that many changes shaped the modern India today, but why do these changes matter to us? We find out much about British rule in India from the outbreak of fighting of the mutiny before 1857 as it tells us about how the East India Company forced strict rules and intervened upon the Hindu society such as ignoring their religious beliefs, which was one of the key factors leading up to the Indian ‘mutiny’. We see that although some changes did benefit from the Indians, the general attitude was negative, since all Indians were heavily taxed as discriminated.

The way Britain changed from a trader to a ruler reveals to us how greedy Britain were at the time and how powerful as they could gain control of such a big country like India. We also can see how the British abused their power as they treated the Indians unfairly, as, in an account written by Vishnubhat Godse, an Indian who was living in the city of Jhansi in 1857, described how they British took power of it.

He remarked that the English were “shooting down every man that they saw and setting fire to houses” while entering the city and described that “the terror in the city at this time was immeasurable” and that the “screaming and crying was endless”. We see that the Indians were portrayed as vulnerable and weak as the British took over. Furthermore, the British broke their own policy, the Doctrine of Lapse by taking over the city since the deceased prince did have an adopted son. This shows the desire for more territory overpowering the need to follow the treaties they had made with he princes of states and therefore ignoring their own rules. The corruption, ignorance and brutality within the East India Company showed that they were not successful in ruling as it caused the mutiny in 1857 and therefore made the Indians very unhappy. The accounts of events of 1857 reveal to us that India was not ruled well, was a much divided country and that the citizens in general were not satisfied on being controlled by Britain . Many Indians were very unhappy about the British interfering in Hindu socio-religious affairs and charging them high taxes etc.

However, many Indians benefited from British rule and profited much from trade. Europeans who had settled down in India were considered of a much higher class than the Indians and Indians were discriminated. This reveals how people in India all had different attitudes towards the British. We can see that by many different accounts of the outbreak of fighting in India. For example, an English clergyman’s wife describes in her diary the “horror” that the Indians have inflicted and how there was “heavy firing all day” and how “ten Europeans were killed”.

However, another account from an Indian man, Vishnubhat Godse, claimed that he “was filled with dread” and that the English soldiers “tortured them, demanding rupees, gold, pearls or other valuables” and if they found those, they sometimes would let the innocent Indians free. These primary sources reveal to us how chaotic India was and the different views people held. We can also draw from this how unsuccessful Britain was at ruling. The consequences of 1857 changed India to be the India we see today.

In 1858, Queen Victoria read, “We disclaim the right and desire to impose out [Christian] convictions on any of our subjects”. This meant that she did not want to bring about any further religious change in India. The British invested heavily in large irrigation projects in order to increase food production and primary education for Indians. They also dramatically expanded the railways and jobs in the government were opened to Indian applicants. These are just some of the examples of the changes made to make India a trade-inspired country and modernised.

This can be considered the first step made to making the India it is today. Even though the ‘mutiny’ did not gain independence for the Indians, this was a significant turning point in the history of India. The ‘mutiny’, regarded by many as India’s first War of Independence, had many important consequences and the structure of British India was to be re-organised extensively, including the East India company being cast out on its role and Queen Victoria being crowned Empress of India in 1877, the British investing in large irrigation projects, education and railways.

However, there had been no real danger that British rule in India would be overthrown during the ‘mutiny’. The majority of the native soldiers had remained loyal. In fact, without them the British could hardly have suppressed the rebellion. During the attack on Delhi, for example, from the 11,200 soldiers on the British side, there were 7,900 Indian soldiers. Large areas of the country remained unaffected by what the Indians called “the devil’s wind. ” So had the revolt been?

Was it just a military mutiny in a part of the army, as the British believed, or a national uprising, as later Indian historians have argued? The truth lies somewhere in between. It was traditional India that had risen against the British, as the British had tried to push Christianity upon the Indians, the India which remembered its past, hated the present and dreaded the future that was now absolutely certain to belong to the Westernized Indian, and not to the Indian soldiers or princes.

The ‘mutiny’ is a chapter of Indian history that will be remembered as something to learn from and although the British defeated the Indians in the ‘mutiny’, many Indians still desired independence as they felt they were not treated fairly. This mattered significantly as the unsatisfied need for independence continued even though good changes were made. Therefore this was a key point in Indian history which was remembered and was certainly a factor to build up to when India actually gained independence in 1947.

It also resulted in change in the attitudes of the citizens after the ‘mutiny’ as many Indians were treated maliciously after the ‘mutiny’ as we can see from ‘Empire’ by Jeremy Paxman: “Entire villages were burned down; mutineers were smeared in pig fat before execution, tied to the muzzles of cannon and blown to pieces. At the site of Cawnpore massacre rebels were made to lick the dried blood from the floor” From this short xtract be can see how unmerciful the British were after the mutiny, as they killed rebels in painful ways while making them break the rules of their faith by smearing them in pig fat and making them lick blood from the floor as it broke their religious beliefs. The way the Indians were treated will always be remembered and so it continues the need for independence. However, many good changes were made after the mutiny that will be remembered as good such as the modernisation of the country to give India a trade-inspired outlook. So how do the events of 1857-8 matter?

They matter because the ‘mutiny’ made a platform for a bigger rebellion for independence, it brought India the technology it needed, and Britain started to build India to be the India we see today, although there were some negative effects as well. As a modern audience, we can remember these events in a positive light, and remember them as changes that put India onto a road to modernisation. Images The 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, November 1857 during the Indian Mutiny Incident in the Subzee Mundee, a watercolour of the Indian Mutiny or rebellion of 1857 by British artist G F Atkinson Drawing railways the British built in India