The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857

As with any conflict or controversy there are always two sides
to the debate, and the events in India during 1857 are certainly no
exception. Given the situation in India during the nineteenth century
it is hardly surprising that such a polarisation of opinion exists
regarding the context of the rebellious events during that year. The
British being in control of the subcontinent and their sense of
superiority over their Indian subjects, would naturally seek to
downplay any acts of rebellion. While the Indian subjects on the other
hand would arguably wish to exaggerate and over emphasise the
importance of these events, as a means of promoting the nationalist
cause for self determination. The truth of the events themselves, does
it lie towards the British account or the Indian pro nationalistic
side, or could there be a certain amount of truth in both sides of the

Metcalf in his account cites three indisputable factors behind
the outbreak of rebellion in 1857. Primarily he sees `accumulating
grievances of the Sepoy Army of Bengal' as the most important factor.
The reasons behind this `deterioration of morale' amongst the army lay
with several reasons. Much of the Sepoy army was comprised of
`Brahmins and other high caste Hindus' who assisted in promoting a
`focus of sedition'. The `generally poor ezdard of British
officers', plus the lack of improvement to the overall position of
those men serving in the army also increased the level of tension. At
this point it should be remembered that the `Bengal Army differed from
those of Bengal and Madras', as the Bombay and Madras armies took no
part in the rebellion of 1857. But the more pronounced military factor
was the lack of British troops in the `Gangetic plain' meant that many
areas were `virtually denuded of British troops'.

These military grievances which although significant were not
themselves enough to incite rebellion, as it took a perceived attack
on the Sepoy religious institutions to trigger of the rebellion. The
first of these perceived threats was that the British government was
preparing to dismantle the caste system and `convert them forcibly to
Christianity'. Although not based on fact the actions of some `pious
British officers did nothing to dispel' the rumours to the contrary.
Added to this British lethargy was the Brahmins who tended to be
`peculiarly watchful for potential threats to their religion and

Secondly, the introduction in 1857 of the `new Enfield rifle'
with its distinct ammunition, which required the bullet to be `bitten
before loading'. Rumours that the grease used on the bullets was
either from the fat of cattle or pigs, which either proved `sacred to
Hindus' or `pollution to Muslims', was interpreted as attacking at the
core of the Hindu and Muslim religious beliefs. These rumours unlike
those regarding the conversion to Christianity and dismantling of the
caste system, did prove to have a factual basis, as the British
government `withdrew the objectionable grease'. This belated action
proved futile as the damage had already been done.

However this only accounts for the military aspects of the
uprising which display the version of events `accepted in official
circles [as] basically army mutinies'. This version preferred by the
British fails to acknowledge the level of `widespread unrest among the
civilian population', who saw much of the British government's actions
as amounting to interference and contempt for the `long established
rules and customs'.

Disraeli saw the causes of the uprising as not being the
`conduct of men who were ... the exponents of general discontent'
amongst the Bengal army. For Disraeli the root cause was the overall
administration by the government, which he regarded as having
`alienated or alarmed almost every influential class in the country'.

Yet other British saw the overall social situation and
government administration as having no effect in causing the uprising.
For officials like Sir John Lawrence the `immediate cause of the
revolt' was the concerns held by Sepoys over the new ammunition for
the Enfield rifles. However, he sees this as just the trigger
incident, with the root cause being the long term reduction in
discipline in the army and the poor ezdard of officers in command.

The British ezdpoint is to regard the events of 1857 as a
mutiny. This is correct as there was a mutiny by sections of the
military, yet this fails to include the