What was the role of religion in the Indian Uprising of 1857?
The role of religion in this uprising is the source of some controversy among historians. There are some who believe that it played a major role and others who believe that its role was rather secondary.
Some historians point to British insensitivity to Indian religions as a major cause of the rebellion. From this point of view, the problems start with things like the British attempt to ban the practice of sati. This was the practice whereby women would commit suicide (some say they were coerced) by burning to death on their husbands’ funeral pyres. This seemed barbaric to the British, but the British attempts to ban it angered many Hindus. The major immediate cause of the rebellion, in this view, was the introduction of the Lee-Enfield rifle. This weapon shot cartridges that needed to be bitten before being loaded. The cartridges were greased with pig and cow fat, thus making them unclean to both Muslims and Hindus. The rebellion resulted directly from conflicts over the Indian soliders’ resistance to using the cartridge. Thus, from this point of view, religion was very important in the rebellion.
To other historians, though, religion was merely a flashpoint. These historians argue that other factors were much more important. They blame things like ethnic antagonism and class hatred. They blame the basic fact of British rule over non-British peoples. To them, the religious issues were just one of a large number of grievances that arose because of the fundamental nature of colonial rule.