The Mutiny of 1857 lasted for almost one year. By 1859, the British rule was once again established in India. Though the uprising of 1857 failed, it had its importance. It proved to be a source of encouragement to the National freedom struggle. The rebels had succeeded in sowing the seeds of nationalism among the Indians. The Revolt of 1857 was the first sign that the Indians wanted to end British rule and were ready to stand united for this cause.
Consequences of Revolt of 1857
The mutiny of 1857 helped in unifying the people of India and helped in awakening the feeling that India was one nation. It had a widespread effect on the Indians and it impressed the intellectuals of the country. The national movement in the twentieth century drew its inspiration from the events of 1857. A whole world of nationalist imagination was woven around the revolt. It was celebrated as the First War of Independence in which all sections of the people of India came together to fight against imperial rule. The leaders of the revolt were presented as heroic figures leading the country into battle, rousing the people to righteous indignation against oppressive imperial rule.
Vengeance and Retribution
Threatened by the rebellion, the British felt that they had to demonstrate their invincibility. The urge for vengeance and retribution was expressed in the brutal way in which the rebels were executed. They were blown from guns, or hanged from the gallows. To instill fear among people, punishment was not discreetly meted out in enclosed spaces. But it was theatrically performed in the open.
Racial bitterness was perhaps the worst legacy of the struggle. Indians were disparaged in the pictorial representations of the revolt in Britain. It represented the rebels as violent and brutish. The general public opinion in Britain was against any clemency for the rebels. When Governor General Canning declared that a gesture of leniency and a show of mercy would help in winning back the loyalty of the sepoys, he was mocked in the British press.
Better Government of India Act, 1858
Though the efforts of the rebels failed, the British government was pressurised to change their policy towards India. Even before the rebellion could be completely suppressed, British Parliament passed the act for the Better Government of India in 1858. Under the Better Government of India Act, both the Board of Control and the Board of Directors were abolished. And the office of the Secretary of State for India was created with an Indian Council of 15 members to assist the Viceroy of India, designation earlier known as Governor General in India.
Assumption of Power by the Crown
In August 1858 the British crown assumed control of India from the East India Company and in 1877 Queen Victoria was crowned empress of India. This brought to an end the rule of East India Company. In the proclamation of 1st November 1858 the Queen announced a continuation of the Company’s policies. India became a colony of the British Empire. Under the proclamation, the policy of annexation and expansion was abolished. The 'doctrine of lapse' was openly renounced. The Indian rulers were assured of their rights to succession after adoption. The crown promised to honor all the treaties and the agreements made by the company with the rulers of Indian State. The Indian states were henceforth to recognise the paramountcy of the British crown. They were to have no relation with foreign powers or with one another without the knowledge of the British. Their military strength was curtailed.
Concessions made to general public
Proclamation also promised religious toleration and freedom of religion without any interference from the officials. They were also assured of respect and protection to their age old customs and practices. Amnesty was referred to those who were still in arms if they had no British blood on their hands. Proclamation declared that race would be no bar to office under the Crown.
Policy of “Divide and Rule”
The First war of Independence shook the whole edifice of the Company Raj from its base and blurred all the religious distinctions of the two major denominations of the country. By now the British had become distrustful of the Hindu Muslim unity. They decided to follow the policy of divide and rule the country. Though pre-British Indian society was not secular, it was free from communal hostility. But, British sowed the seeds of communal disharmony between Hindus and Muslims. After the mutiny, the British rulers became active to poison the society by its policy of 'divide and rule'. After the revolt British blamed the Muslims for the rebellion and started patronizing Hindus. This policy was continued till 1870s. Afterwards, British started favoring the Muslims and sidelined Hindus.
Re-organisation of Army
The Army had been mainly responsible for the crisis of 1857. Hence, radical changes were introduced in the army. The strength of European troops in India was increased and the number of Indian troops reduced from the pre- 1857 figure. The proportion of British to Indian troops was fixed at one half in the Bengal while in the Madras and Bombay armies one third was felt to be enough. All Indian artillery units with the exception of a few mountain batteries were disbanded, even the artillery was kept with the British soldiers. All the big posts in the army and the artillery departments were reserved for the Europeans. There was mutual distrust and fear between Indians and the British. New British military Policy came to be known as “Divide and counterpoise”. There were attempts to play native against natives on the basis of caste, religion and region and separate units were created on the basis of caste, religion and region. Great care was taken to avoid the preponderance of any single race or caste in particular units. New recruits in the service of the army were 'recruited from ‘martial’ races viz. Sikhs and Gorkhas etc., who had sided with the British in the rebellion of 1857.
Re-organisation of Administration
After the mutiny, the British tightened their control over key positions both in the civil and military administration. To give expression to this pledge the Indian Civil Service Act of 1861 was passed, which provided for an annual competitive examination to be held in London for recruitment to the coveted Civil Service. The act legalized all the irregular appointments made in India to meet the exigencies. It was increasingly realised that one basic cause for the Revolt of 1857 was the lack of contact between the ruler and the ruled. Thus, a humble beginning towards the development of representative institutions in India was made by the Indian Councils Act of 1861.
The revolt played a pivotal role in Anglo- Indian history. It had shaken the roots of the British Empire in India. The British came to realizations that they could not rule India with their old policies. Thereby many changes were made in their policies and concessions were made towards natives. The British became cautious and defensive about their empire, while many Indians remained bitter and would never trust their rulers again. It was only after the emergence of Indian National Congress in 1885 and Mahatma Gandhi that Indians re-gathered their momentum for independence from the yolk of foreign rule.