Indian Mutiny begins
The 10th of May 1857 AD
In the century following the victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 The East India Company, by military might, diplomatic exploitation of the fragmented nature of India, and economic force, succeeded in taking over almost the entirety of the sub-continent. Naturally there was resentment and tension aplenty over that period, but the company managed to retain its stranglehold on the land by using local forces led largely by British officers. In 1857 this situation changed radically.
In contrast to more modern rebellions – though it should be remembered that in India, very understandably, the conflict is better known as The First Indian War of Independence rather than as a mutiny or rebellion – there was no central leadership, no great political movement, not even a core of ideas to which the so-called rebels adhered. In place of such things there was a range of provocations and grievances: Indian troops forced to serve outside their native land; the loss to Sepoys, high-caste Indian soldiers, of certain traditional rights when new territories were annexed by the company; increased religious tension when rumours abounded that the British were seeking to convert their Indian subjects. Famously too there was a major problem for the British when further rumours circulated that a cartridge, the end of which needed to be bitten off before use, was greased with either lard or beef fat, thus anathema to Muslims in the first case and Hindus in the second.
It was the cartridge question that set the spark to the tinder-box. On April 24 1857 in the city of Meerut 85 of 90 Indian soldiers ordered to use it in firing drills refused. These men were court martialled on May 9, and in the main given extremely harsh sentences. The next day they were freed by comrades in the 3rd Cavalry, and the violence spread – junior British officers were killed, soldiers in a nearby bazaar were attacked by civilians, and the wives and children of some Britons were also slain. What had begun with the obstinacy and insensitive action of a British commander insisting on using the suspect cartridge flared rapidly into an appallingly bloody conflict.
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