There comes a time in history that awakens national consciousness, for Bharat 10 May 1857 was that day! The nation and its people were bearing British oppression for a long time finally decided to rise as one and throw off the foreign rule.
1857 has often been reduced to a ‘sepoy mutiny’ that was confined to small geography in northern Bharat. However, that is far from the truth. It is Veer Savarkar’s book on the 1857 war that provides a fresh perspective. Veer Savarkar minces no words when he says that Swadharma and Swaraj were the core principles on the basis of which this war was fought.
Quoting Veer Savarkar would be apt before we proceed to examine the causes that led to the revolutionary war. “It was not the Sepoy alone who rose in revolt – it was not by any means a merely military mutiny. It was a combination of military grievance, national hatred, and religious fanaticism against the English occupation of India”, wrote the revolutionary patriot.
The so-called greased cartridges were merely the spark and not the match or the striker of the matchstick that lit the revolutionary fire against the British. The British had been oppressing and ill-treating the sepoys in their army.
British policies such as the Doctrine of Lapse had alienated native rulers. The attitude of the English towards Bharatiyas was one of contempt and that successfully sowed the seeds of discontent among all sections of Bharatiya society. The seeds of discontent had taken deep roots all over Bharat before Dalhousie landed in Bharat in 1846. The 1806 Vellore uprising was a manifestation of this discontent and a precursor to the 1857 independence war.
The already deep-rooted discontent was only fanned further by Dalhousie who began a system of open and direct oppression. Add to this, the freehand given to Christian missionaries to operate and convert the natives – the stage was set for Bharatiyas to rise against the Raj.
1857 was neither a sudden nor an isolated event; prior to it, several revolutions had taken place. Peasants, sepoys, and tribals had been fighting against the British across the country. However, these weren’t consolidated unlike in the 1857 war when different sections of the society participated as one and contributed their might.
On this very day in 1857, Dhan Singh Gurjar blew the war conch and freed his fellow soldiers from jail. They then proceeded towards Delhi and were joined by common Bharatiyas who had decided to shake off the mental slavery. Every individual who participated in the war aimed to achieve independence from the foreign rule.
“If this was a mere sepoy mutiny we would have crushed it and it wouldn’t have received public support”, noted Alexander Duff. He also rued that the British were not only unable to crush the movement but that it actually gathered steam.
An organized struggle from all over the country shook the foundation of British rule. The Bharatiya resistance was so strong that it took the Company three years to extinguish the fire it had lit. This struggle also clarified some fundamentals. It became clear that no one can survive by forgetting religious rights. It also made Bharatiyas realize that religious restrictions must be countered at all costs. Hindus retaliated with all their might when the British attempted to suppress religious freedom to perpetuate their rule.
It awakened national consciousness and inspired succeeding generations of Bharatiyas to fight for complete independence from the British. The exemplary leadership and fighting spirit are an inspiration to this day. It laid the foundation for the subsequent events that culminated in the achievement of complete freedom in 1947.