Summarize the causes and effects of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Causes of the 1857 Rebellion.

By the 1850s, much of India was ruled by the East India Company, a private company consisting of British merchants which had first established its presence in the 1600s. To maintain its authority in India and to protect its economic interests, the East India Company employed large private armies, consisting of native Indians. By 1856, the company employed over 300,000 Indians, many of which were called Sepoys (infantrymen). Around three-fourths of these Sepoys were Hindus while the remaining one-fourth consisted of Muslims.

While the Sepoys were ruled by British officers, the two groups were very different. The British struggled to cope with the intense Indian heat while the Sepoys had a reputation for their strength and skill in combat. There were religious differences, too: the Sepoys followed their religions very carefully, with the Hindus refusing to eat beef and the Muslims refusing to eat pork.

This fact may seem unimportant but, in 1848, Lord James Dalhousie, became the the governor-general of the East India Company and his policy towards the Indians was often harsh and unforgiving. He annexed even more Indian territory for the company, for example, and forced Indian tenant farmers to pay taxes to their British overlords. The most dramatic of his changes, however, came in 1857 when Dalhousie issued a new rifle to the soldiers of his Sepoy army. This rifle was very different to previous models and required the use of animal fat to aid the cartridge as it slid down the barrel of the gun. As devout Hindus and Muslims, the Sepoys refused to grease the barrel with pork or beef fat, as required, and felt insulted by the British. Despite British reassurance that they would not have to, the Sepoys became deeply suspicious and this led to the rebellion which began at an outpost near Delhi in April of 1857. 

Effects of the 1857 Rebellion.

The British retaliated with extreme violence. They captured random Indians, tortured and murdered them. Captured rebels suffered a similar fate: they were tied to a cannon and blasted into hundreds of pieces. At a trading post called Cawnpore, the British looted the town and committed widespread rape and murder.

The Rebellion lasted for over one year and, in 1858, the British were finally able to recapture Delhi and restore order. The British adopted a policy of reconciliation: Queen Victoria pardoned many of the rebels and respect was shown towards the Hindu and Muslim religions. Most importantly of all, the East India Company was abolished and Indian affairs were directly controlled through a specially-appointed governor.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial