GS Mains History Q&A: 9

Q.9 ​“The decline and fall of empires are not affairs of greased cartridges. Such results are occasioned by adequate causes and by the accumulation of adequate causes.” Comment on this statement made by Benjamin Disraeli in the context of 1857 revolt.


The official British explanation for 1857 was that only the Bengal army had mutinied and civil disturbances were caused by the breakdown of law and order machinery, Disraeli in his House of Commons speech spoke of the “destruction of native authority”, “the disturbance of property rights and tampering with the religion”as the real cause of revolt.

His emphasis was on the point that the case of greased cartridges did not create a new cause of discontent for the army, but supplied an occasion for the simmering discontent to come out in the open. The causes of revolt emerged from all aspects- covering socio-cultural, economical and political life of the Indian Population. 

The process of territorial and cultural acquisition of India by the company, accompanied by broken pledges and oaths resulted in huge loss of political prestige for it. Lord Dalhousie’s assertion of the Right of Lapse, policies as of “Effective control” and “Subsidiary Alliance” followed by the company over time created suspicion in the minds of almost all ruling princes in India. The annexation of the province of Oudh, the principle homeland for the Sepoy troops, along with the conditions of service which increasingly came in conflict with the religious beliefs and prejudices of the sepoys caused resentment. British laws which voided the traditional practice of sati (1829) and made it possible to convert from Hinduism to Christianity without losing inheritance rights to ancestral property (1850) along with missionary activity spreading throughout British India, much of it apparently receiving official support inflamed the feeling of the sepoys. 

The economic hardship faced by people because of imperial rule led to accumulation of sheer discontent among the masses. While heavy taxation left the peasants at the mercy of moneylenders/traders, artisans and handicraftsmen were cut off from their major source of patronage when the Indian states were annexed by the company rulers.

Further fortification of the land rights of Zamindars and confiscation of the estates possessed by Taluqdars (especially in Awadh region) left them raging with anger to gain their lost prestige. 

Finally, the rapid spread of English education, railroads and telegraphs threatened to enforce cultural homogenization, as did the fact that all legal proceedings were conducted in English. Rampant corruption in the company’s administration especially among the police, petty officials and lower law court further imparted an alien look of British rule in the eyes of Indians.

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