The Greenwood Encyclopedia of International Relations - Vol. 2

By Cathal J. Nolan | Go to book overview

Suggested Reading:
David Omissi, The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army, 1860–1940 (1994).
Indian Mutiny (1857–1858). “Sepoy Rebellion.” It is better known in Indian history as the First War of Independence. It was essentially an Indian Army revolt that quickly became a full-scale but abortive war of independence from the East India Company and foreign rule. It was rooted in anger over deepening subordination to British rule, but triggered by cultural reforms introduced by Dalhousie and by a new requirement by his successor that sepoy regiments would have to serve anywhere in the empire (they were needed in Burma, especially). The Company also passed a provocative law in 1856 permitting Hindu widows to remarry. This combined with wild rumors about forcible conversions to Christianity and more rumors that cartridges for the new Lee Enfield rifle were greased with cow and pig fat (offending Hinduand Muslim troops, respectively, as cartridge wrappings had to be bitten off before loading) to stir religious outrage and anti-Christian, anti-Company feeling among the troops. Regiments began to refuse orders to load their rifles, even under threat of British cannonading. They were then stripped of their uniforms and discharged or imprisoned, bereft of pay or pension regardless of prior years of loyal service. On May 10, 1857, at Meerut just north of Delhi, three sepoy regiments mutinied and freed the imprisoned soldiers, killing several British officers and then assaulting the British Quarter. The Delhi garrison joined the mutiny the next day. After a month of relative calm, other garrisons followed suit as news of the rebellion spread along rail and telegraph networks recently built by the British.

By mid-summer “John Company” had lost control of much of north India and parts of the Deccan (Madras and Calcutta stayed loyal). The mutineers were aided by spontaneous peasant risings. When word of murders of British civilians reached London, reprisals were made, and the mutiny became not just a full Anglo-Indian war but something akin to a race war as well. Former sepoys and aroused peasants massacred whole British families and in one “bibigar” butchered by rifle, and then by hand, more than 120 British women and children and tossed their bodies down a nearby well. As such news reached Britain, and reinforcements arrived in India, reprisals, torture, and summary executions of rebels were carried out on a vast scale. Some British units devised merciless new ways to humiliate and execute captured Indians, such as by forcing them to eat forbidden foods then strapping them to the mouths of cannon. In short, both sides sank into, or rather revealed, an inner barbarity. It took the British Army and Company troops more than a year to

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The Greenwood Encyclopedia of International Relations - Vol. 2
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iv
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xxi
  • F 530
  • Suggested Reading: 534
  • Suggested Readings: 547
  • Suggested Reading: 548
  • Suggested Reading: 557
  • Suggested Readings: 571
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  • G 601
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  • H 681
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  • I 752
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  • J 846
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  • K 884
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  • L 927
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