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 Sepoy Mutiny 1857
The lessening of The East India Company profits that resulted from corruption, as well as a need to recoup debts generated by military efforts, produced a need for higher revenues. Peasant landowners, required to pay their taxes in cash, increasingly had to turn to moneylenders who seized much of this land for nonpayment of loans. This, coupled with land speculation, resulted in large-scale land ownership and a significant decrease in small holdings.

Increased dislocation along with a collapsing of the subsistence economy produced a period of social unrest. Beginning in the early 19th century, rebellions occurred in various areas of the subcontinent, culminating in the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. "no single event more powerfully affected the mind of that generation than the 'Indian Mutiny' in 1857." How best to reduce if not entirely eliminate the chances of its recurrence became the dominant official concern. 1857 was not an empty threat. From Lord Lytton in the 1870s through General Dyer in 1918 to Tottenham in 1942 the spectre of the Revolt of 1857 haunted the administrators whenever they were called upon to deal with a mass upsurge. The causes of the revolt are numerous. Hindu troops objected to the addition of Gurkha, Sikh, and lower-caste soldiers to their ranks. In addition, the economic policy of the Raj had a debilitating effect on the families at homes causing further unrest among the Sepoy troops. But, the final catalyst for the revolt centered around the use of animal grease on the cartridges utilized by the newly issued Enfield rifles. In order to load the new rifles, soldiers had to bite off the end of the cartridges. For both Islamic and Hindu soldiers, this practice violated religious ritual taboo.

What Happened in 1857

The earliest signs of disquiet among the sepoys were evident in Dum Dum in January. Dum Dum had earlier been the headquarters of Bengal Artillery. When this headquarters was shifted to Meerut, Dum Dum had to be satisfied with a School of Musketry designed to impart training of the Enfield Rifle. In January, the cantonment at Dum Dum was agog with all sorts of rumours about the nefarious designs of the government. From Dum Dum, rumours reached Barrackpore, the headquarters of the Presidency division of the army. In late January Major General John Hearsay, who was in charge of the Division, noticed a growing "ill-feeling" in the minds of the sepoys of the regiments at Barrackpore. There were reports of animated discussion among the sepoys, generally held at night. In February 1857 General Hearsay felt that the English at Barrackpore had been "dwelling upon a mine ready for explosion."

What was still a suspicion at Barrackpore, turned into a belief at Berhampore. The first rumble of the Mutiny occured on 26th February 1857, when the 19th Native Infantry at Berhampore, whose suspicions had been allayed by the explanation of their commandant, took alarm on hearing from detachments of the 34th, which had been foolishly allowed to march thither from Barrackpore, that the sepoy had told the truth, and refused to receive their percussion caps for the next day's parade. Colonel Mitchell, who was in charge of Berhampore, instead of explaining the unreasonableness of their fears, threatened them with condign punishment, but, having no means of enforcing his threat, was obliged to forgo the parade. The men continued to perform their ordinary duties; but their disobedience could not be ignored, and, as it was impossible to punish it without British troops, the governor-general sent for the 84th Regiment from Rangoon. Early in 1857, three regiments were disbanded because they refused to participate in this practice. After eighty-five Sepoys, stationed at Meerut, were imprisoned for disobeying orders to load their rifles, the remainder of the regiments mutinied on May 10, 1857. This contingent, then, marched to Delhi and announced the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, as the ruler of India.

By June, nearly 90,000, or 70 percent of the Bengal Army's Sepoy force had joined the mutiny. During the early stages of the revolt, the British were unable to respond effectively to the widespread uprising, and suffered heavy casualties. After major losses at the Kanpur garrison and Lucknow, the British Army, along with loyal Sikh and Gurkha forces, were able to regroup and put down the rebellion. Despite the extent of the rebellion, Indian forces were unable to generate a coordinated nationalist effort which significantly contributed to the failure of the rebellion.

 East India Company
The East India Company had the unusual distinction of ruling an entire country. Its origins were much humbler. On 31st December 1600 AD, a group of merchants who had incorporated themselves into the East India Company were given monopoly privileges on all trade with the East Indies by Elizabeth I.

The Company sometimes referred to as "John Company", was a joint-stock[1] company. The East India Company's headquarters once stood at Leadenhall Street in Aldgate, London. The house was built on the site of a former house by Mr. Richard Jupp, in 1799, and subsequently enlarged from designs by Charles Robert Cockerell, RA (28 April 1788 - 17 September 1863), and William Wilkins, RA (31 August 1778 – 31 August 1839)[2] [RA : Royal Academy]. It was located near the Isle of Dogs, Docklands area of London. The Company's ships first arrived in India, at the port of Surat, in 1608 AD. Sir Thomas Roe reached the court of the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir, as the emissary of King James I in 1615 AD, and gained for the British the right to establish a factory at Surat. Gradually the British eclipsed the Portuguese and over the years they saw a massive expansion of their trading operations in India. Numerous trading posts were established along the east and west coasts of India, and considerable English communities developed around the three presidency towns of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras. In 1717 AD, the Company achieved its hitherto most notable success when it received a farman or royal decree from the Mughal Emperor Farrukhsiyar exempting the Company from the payment of custom duties in Bengal.

The Company saw the rise of its fortunes, and its transformation from a trading venture to a ruling enterprise, when one of its military officials, Robert Clive, defeated the forces of the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daulla (সিরাজ-উদ-দৌল্লা), at the Battle of Plassey পলাশী in 1757 AD. A few years later in 1765 AD the Company acquired the right to collect revenues on behalf of the Mughal Emperor, but the initial years of its administration were calamitous for the people of Bengal. The Company's servants were largely a rapacious and self-aggrandizing lot, and the plunder of Bengal left the formerly rich province in a state of utter destitution. The famine of 1769-1770 AD, which the Company's policies did nothing to alleviate, may have taken the lives of as many as a third of the population. The Company, despite the increase in trade and the revenues coming in from other sources, found itself burdened with massive military expenditures, and its destruction seemed imminent. State intervention put the ailing Company back on its feet, and Lord North's India Bill, also known as the Regulating Act of 1773 AD, provided for greater parliamentary control over the affairs of the Company, besides placing India under the rule of a Governor-General.

The first Governor-General of India was Warren Hastings. Under his dispensation, the expansion of British rule in India was pursued vigorously, and the British sought to master indigenous systems of knowledge. Hastings remained in India until 1784 AD and was succeeded by Cornwallis, who initiated the Permanent Settlement, whereby an agreement in perpetuity was reached with zamindars or landlords for the collection of revenue. For the next fifty years, the British were engaged in attempts to eliminate Indian rivals, and it is under the administration of Wellesley that British territorial expansion was achieved with ruthless efficiency. Major victories were achieved against Tipu Sultan of Mysore and the Marathas, and finally the subjugation and conquest of the Sikhs in a series of Anglo-Sikh Wars led to British occupation over the entirety of India. In some places, the British practiced indirect rule, placing a Resident at the court of the native ruler who was allowed sovereignty in domestic matters. Lord Dalhousie's notorious doctrine of lapse, whereby a native state became part of British India if there was no male heir at the death of the ruler, was one of the principal means by which native states were annexed; but often the annexation, such as that of Awadh [Oudh] in 1856 AD, was justified on the grounds that the native prince was of evil disposition, indifferent to the welfare of his subjects. The annexation of native states, harsh revenue policies, and the plight of the Indian peasantry all contributed to the Rebellion of 1857 AD, referred to previously as the Sepoy Mutiny. In 1858 the East India Company was dissolved, despite a valiant defense of its purported achievements by John Stuart Mill, and the administration of India became the responsibility of the Crown. The Company completely ceased to exist since 1874, when the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act was passed in the British Parliament.

Irony

Ironically in 2005 an Indian Sanjiv Mehta, bought the rights to the name and the Coat of Arms of the erstwhile East India Company. The site, and the company's flagship store in London, was launched on Independence Day. Despite being over 400 years old, the East India Company is one of the most recognized brands in the world: over two billion people know of its history. It once employed a third of the British workforce and was responsible for 50 per cent of global trade.

Did you know ?

The word factory originally meant an East India Company trading station. Each consisted of an office, warehouses and living accommodation, rather than a manufacturing facility. The word factory comes from factor. A factor was a Company buyer/seller. Staff were promoted by grades: writer, factor, junior and senior merchant. Usually spending three years at lower levels before moving up the ranks.

References :
  • [1] A joint-stock corporation is composed of investors who are granted shares in a company. In return for their initial investments, shareholders are given dividends, or percentages, of the company's profits based on the number of shares the investor holds. Back
  • [2]Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850. Back