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The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 Shook British Rule in India

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The Indian Revolt of 1857
Bitter fighting in the 1857 revolt.

Bitter fighting between British troops and Indian sepoys during the 1857 revolt.

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The Sepoy Mutiny was a violent and very bloody uprising against British rule in India in 1857. It is also known by other names: the Indian Mutiny, the Indian Rebellion of 1857, or the Indian Revolt of 1857.

In Britain and in the West, it was almost always portrayed as a series of unreasonable and bloodthirsty uprisings spurred by falsehoods about religious insensitivity.

In India, it has been viewed quite differently, and events of 1857 have been considered the first outbreak of an independence movement against British rule.

Background of the Sepoy Mutiny

By the 1850s the East India Company controlled much of India. A private company which first entered India to trade in the 1600s, the East India Company had eventually transformed into a diplomatic and military operation.

Large numbers of native soldiers, known as sepoys, were employed by the company to maintain order and defend trading centers. The sepoys were generally under the command of British officers.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, sepoys tended to take great pride in their military prowess, and they exhibited enormous loyalty to their British officers. But in the 1830s and 1840s tensions began to emerge.

A number of Indians began to suspect that the British intended to convert the Indian population to Christianity. Increasing numbers of Christian missionaries began arriving in India, and this led to resentment.

There was also a general feeling that English officers were losing touch with the Indian troops under them.

Under a British policy called the "doctrine of lapse," the East India Company would take control of Indian states where a local ruler had died without an heir. The system was subject to abuse, and the company used it to annex territories in a questionable manner.

And as the East India Company annexed Indian states in the 1840s and 1850s, the Indian soldiers in the company's employ began to feel offended.

A New Type of Rifle Cartridge Caused Problems

The traditional story of the Sepoy Mutiny is that the introduction of a new cartridge for the Enfield rifle provoked much of the trouble.

The cartridges were wrapped in paper, which had been coated in a grease which made the cartridges easier to load in rifle barrels. Rumors began to spread that the grease used to make the cartridges was derived from pigs and cows, which would be highly offensive to Muslims and Hindus.

There is no doubt that conflict over the new rifle cartridges sparked the uprising in 1857, but the reality is that social, political, and even technological reforms had set the stage for what happened.

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