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What Caused The Sepoy Rebellion

What caused the Sepoy Rebellion in India? What was the legacy it left behind?

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Alec Cranford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Broadly speaking, the "Great Rebellion" (known at the time as the "Sepoy Rebellion" because it was led by "sepoys," or Bengal soldiers serving under the British) was caused by the sense that the British were exploiting the Indian people and threatening to expunge traditional Indian culture. There were many other factors, such as forced commercialization of farming, taxation, and others, but these cultural concerns were profoundly important.

The British disrespect for the people they ruled was symbolized by a story that spread through the ranks of the Bengal army. The story held that cartridges to be used in new rifles issued to Bengal soldiers were greased with pork fat, which was anathema to Muslims, or beef fat, which Hindus could not consume for similar reasons.

Rebellions broke out in the ranks of the sepoys, and quickly spread throughout Northern India. As for the legacy of the rebellion, its most important legacy was that the British crown took control of the subcontinent from the East India Company. The new government attempted to create loyalty and stability by building infrastructure, respecting traditional Indian culture, and simultaneously educating a class of Indian people to serve in the imperial bureaucracy. Indian princes were granted increased autonomy, and the commercialization of the Indian economy continued, and even accelerated.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Essentially, the Sepoy Rebellion was caused by British insensitivity to the growing dismay amongst the Indian Sepoys, or soldiers, being used to enhance British aims of expansionism and colonialism, the Sepoy soldiers developed a sense of resentment about how British companies were gaining wealth at the hands of the Indians.  Mistreatment of Indians and the Sepoys who were being used as British tools in order to advance an agenda which was contrary to the indigenous people led to a sense of fomenting resistance. The previous post's discussion of the issue of animal grease/ fat almost served as the breaking point in a continual pattern of disrespect and disregard.  The Sepoy Rebellion was seen as the first Indian action of Independence, but also helped to highlight how inhumane the British were, as Indians began to see in very stark terms the cruelty of Imperialism and the lack of control it features for its victims.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The immediate cause of the rebellion was rumors that were spreading among the Indian soldiers regarding the new cartridges they had been issued.  The rumors said that they cartridges were made with either pork or beef fat (depending on whether the soldiers were Muslim or Hindu).  This would have made the soldiers violate their religious laws when they bit the cartridges.

The underlying reason, however, was basic dissatisfaction over the fact that the British were ruling India.  If the Indians had fully accepted British rule, the mutiny would not have happened.

In my opinion, the main legacy of this rebellion was greater mistrust between the British and their Indian subjects.

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rrosen28 | Student

There are a myriad of reasons for the outbreak of the Sepoy Rebellion in India. The most consistently cited reason for this was use of new cartridge in firearms that contained pig fat and beef tallow. When soldiers were told to bite into the cartridge, they revolted, as pork is banned in the Islamic tradition and beef in the Hindu religion, and most soldiers were Muslim or Hindu. However, this event, much like the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to begin the First World War, was merely a catalyst, with preexisting tensions governing how the rebellion was to break out. One factor for rebellion that high caste Brahmins and Rajputs in the army were unhappy over their position, as they commonly held the same office as lower caste Hindus. In addition, real wages were not keeping up with inflation by 1857 in the British Empire, causing much economic turmoil among sepoys. And cultural disrespect and a lack for understanding of Indian tradition also helped revolution to brew. For example, there is a Hindu religious law at this time banning the crossing of open water, also known as the "kala pani" (black water) law. However, British military expansion in the early nineteenth century forced Hindu sepoys to violate this religious law, making them upset. All this precipitated in rebellion.

The legacy of the rebellion is varied. Most outright, it caused the Government of India Act of 1858, which transferred power from the East India Company to the British crown, making Queen Victoria Empress of India. This was significant as it guaranteed the Company's exploitative measures against India would end, and allowed Indians religious freedom and cultural respect in another clause of the act. Additionally, it led to the end of the Mughal Empire, as the last Mughal emperor was exiled to Burma in 1858 after he granted the rebels solace in Delhi during the rebellion. Tensions between Indians and Britons also increased, as massacres at Meerut and Kanpur galvanized hatred between the populations. Probably most significantly, however, was that the rebellion showed that the India could rise up against the British. India was an extremely diverse place in 1857, with Sikhs in the Punjab being extremely different, for example, from Muslim Bengalis or deeply religious Hindu Tamils in the south. Yet, the rebellion was nearly nationwide, and helped spur on further independence movements later in the nineteenth century (such as the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885) and twentieth century movements (such as Mohandas K. Gandhi's popular Indian revolution beginning in the 1920s up until 1947).

Further information:https://www.britannica.com/place/India/Government-of-India-Act-of-1858

On Kanpur: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/651200.pdf

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