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A Mutiny Becomes a Popular Rebellion

The Sepoy mutiny which started in 1857 threatened the British East India Company’s very presence in India.

The rebellion started in Meerut and gathered momentum as a large number of people from different sections of society rose in rebellion. It was regarded as the biggest armed resistance to colonialism anywhere in the world, in the nineteenth century.

The rebellion slowly spread from Meerut to Delhi.

From Meerut to Delhi

  • As mentioned earlier, Mangal Pandey of the 34th Infantry, at Barrackpur, rebelled by firing at an officer on command, against the use of the new cartridges which was supposed to be coated with the fat of cows and pigs.

  • On 9th May 1857, some Sepoys of the regiment at Meerut refused to do the army drill using the new cartridges. So, eighty-five Sepoys were dismissed from service and sentenced to ten years in jail for disobeying their officers.

  • On 10th May, the soldiers marched to the jail in Meerut and released the imprisoned Sepoys. They attacked and killed British officers. They captured guns and ammunition and set fire to the buildings and properties of the British and declared war on the firangis or foreigners.

  • The soldiers were determined to bring an end to the British rule in India and they wanted the country to be ruled the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. So, the Sepoys of Meerut rode all night to reach Delhi.

    Bahadur Shah Zafar

  • As news of their arrival spread, the regiments stationed in Delhi also rose up in rebellion. British officers were killed, arms and ammunition seized, buildings were set on fire.

  • Triumphant soldiers gathered around the walls of the Red Fort where the Mughal Emperor lived and proclaimed him as their leader.

                                                  Red Fort, Delhi

  • On 3rd July, 1857, over 3,000 rebels came from Bareilly, crossed the river Jamuna, entered Delhi, and attacked the British cavalry posts.
  • The Rebellion spread to many Indian states. The rulers of these states accepted the rule of the Mughal emperor again as they were threatened by the expansion of British rule.
  • The Mughal Emperor organised a confederacy of Indian states to fight the British.

The British were surprised by the turn of evens. They were under the impression that the issue of the cartridges would die down. But Bahadur Shah Zafar’s decision to support the rebellion changed the entire situation.

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