Essay on Causes of Sepoy Rebellion in India
Economic Imperialism refers to an instance where a foreign company has power over smaller nations- but what is an example of this occurring throughout history? During the 1850s, the British East India Company was the most powerful force in India. Although this was only a company, it functioned on behalf of the British government and was therefore given privileges to acquire an army. This army was made up of Sepoys, which were Indian soldiers. The Sepoys were generally obedient to the British, however, one day during 1857, there was an uprising in which the Sepoys rebelled and thousands of people- Sepoys and Europeans alike- were slaughtered.
This sparks a burning question- what caused this gruesome rebellion that took the lives of such a great number of people? According to a number of documents, the main causes of the Sepoy Rebellion are the disrespect of the Indians’ religions, the “uncultured” way of the Indians, and the conquest of Oudh. While the majority of these documents are primary sources, instances of extended bias become evident, especially when the sources refer to how “ignorant” and “uncultured” the Indians were. On the other hand, the sources that refer to the British disregarding the Indians’ religions and the conquest of Oudh corroborate with many other sources, thus proving their reliability.
One possible cause of the Sepoy rebellion was the disrespect that the British had for the Muslims and the Hindus, which were the two religious groups that occupied the majority of India during the mid-nineteenth century. Sir Colin Campbell, a commander of the British forces, acknowledged the feelings of the sepoys regarding the British trying to convert them to Christianity. In Document B, he states, “Injudicious attempts to convert sepoys to Christianity have been made, and [the sepoys believed] that they were to be converted by compulsion…”
By making this statement, Campbell is showing how the Indians believed that they were going to be forced by the British to convert to Christianity, and this disregard for their own religious beliefs angered them. Although Campbell was British, he still wrote about how the British were attempting to convert the sepoys, which more greatly demonstrates the trustworthiness of this Document. Also, In Document D, Sayyid Ahmed Khan, a Muslim scholar and jurist for the British East India Company, expressed, “All men whether ignorant or well-informed... believed that the government intended to force the Christian religion and foreign customs upon Hindu and Muslim alike.” This source further proved the reliability of the Document, because Khan works for the British, and he even believed that “the intentions of the government were excellent,” so he would not be likely to state that the government was disrespecting the religions unless this was in fact accurate. In addition to this, Document C illustrates that the government was also believed to have used pork and beef fat to grease the rifle cartridges, which caused outrage amongst the sepoys since Islam and Hinduism prohibits the consumption of these animals.
Sepoy, Sita Ram stated, “Interested parties were quick to point out that the great aim of the English was to turn us all into Christians, and they had, therefore, introduced the cartridge in order it bring this about since both Muslims and Hindus would be defiled by using it…” Sita Ram was a Sepoy during this rebellion, which means he had a first-hand view on the situation, and was there to verify that this is what was happening, therefore making this Document reliable. All of these sources, whether they are from the point of view of a Brit or Indian, agree on the fact that the disrespect and attempted conversions were a main cause of the Sepoy rebellion, and due to the corroboration between all of the sources, we are able to conclude that this was, in fact, a cause.
Another cause that the documents acknowledge is that the Indians were “uncultured” and therefore started the rebellion out of sheer ignorance. This is shown in Document A, which states, “There was, therefore, much suspicion and angry feeling among the native soldiers, and when ignorant men are suspicious and angry they are likely to break out into deeds of unreasoning fury.” Samuel Rawson, the author of this excerpt, was a British man who had an immense bias against the Indians, which is proven as he called them “ignorant” and “unreasonable.” Document A also states, “The men believed that the grease was made of the fat of cows, though this was not really the case.” By saying this, Rawson is insinuating that a big reason that the sepoys revolted was due to a simple rumor that was spread, and that they were too blindly ignorant to see what was actually happening.
Additionally, Document B states, “It has never been disputed that this was a merciful change for the people of Oudh; but the people are not always governed by reason.” This is suggesting that the people of Oudh were wrongfully bitter and unreasonable, which is a possible contribution to the arousal of the rebellion. This cause of the Sepoy rebellion is not likely, because the source that addresses this has a very heavy bias against the Indians (which is apparent through Rawson's word choice), and is therefore not trustworthy.
A final possible cause of the Sepoy rebellion was the conquest of a major Indian city, Oudh. This is illustrated in Document E, as it states, “The company applied the Doctrine to take over the town of Oudh. Indians considered this to be a final outrage of British conquest. Oudh was such a rich and historic part of India that this seizure was seen as a cultural insult.” Since Oudh was such an important part of India to the Muslim sepoys due to the abundance of culture and tradition, they had good reason to rebel as this was “the final outrage” for them. This source comes from an article written by Joseph Coohill, a historian, and although it is a secondary source, it confirms the information that has been declared by other primary sources, making it reliable.
Also, in Document C, Sita Ram reveals, “Some men pointed out that in forty years of service nothing had ever been done by the English Government to insult their religion, but as I have already mentioned the sepoys' minds had been inflamed by the seizure of Oudh. ” In this source, Sita Ram is saying that he observed that his fellow sepoys were already infuriated by the annexation of this important city. He spent every day in the presence of his fellow sepoys for years, so this observation must have had some element of truth, thus making this document trustworthy and reliable. In all, this cause is profoundly probable, especially since both of these sources corroborate and verify the evidence.
The Sepoy rebellion was an event that was sparked by the enraged sepoys, and many reliable sources illustrate how this was primarily based off of the actions of the British East India Company. For instance, Documents C and D, both primary sources, describe the contempt that the British had for the religions of the Indians, which was shown through the disregard of important beliefs and attempted religious conversions. Also, Documents A and B both state that the ignorance of the sepoys was a cause behind the rebellion, however, both of these sources show extended bias and are therefore not trustworthy. Document E and C also address the British conquest of Oudh, and they name this as a possible cause of the rebellion. The three main causes of the Sepoy Rebellion as stated in the Documents are the disrespect of the Indians’ religions, the “uncultured” way of the Indians, and the conquest of Oudh.