The Sepoy Rebellion

As the British began to take political control of India, native unrest grew. At this point in the mid-19th century, the British had reduced the Mogul emperor to a mere figurehead; the real government was a British administration assisted by the British army, which numbered around 160,000, of which only 15% were British. The rest of the army was composed of natives drafted into military service who were called sipahi, anglicized to sepoys.

In 1856, the British issued new Lee-Enfield rifles to their army which greased their cartridges with pig and cow fat. The use of these animals in the cartridge grease offended both the Hindus and Muslims who made up the majority of the sepoys. In 1857, various regiments in the British army began to rebel all around the Indian subcontinent and the 11th and 20th regiment marched on Delhi, where they slaughtered British civilians and restored power to the aging Mogul emperor. As the news spread, more sepoys joined the rebellion and the British army was forced to fight several pitched battles against the sepoys and local princes who joined the rebellion.

Soon after, in the early summer of 1857, the sepoy army besieged the British in the cities of Lucknow and Cawnpore, killing many British. After several months of inconclusive fighting, in September of 1857, the British retook Delhi, and the newly Nepalese-infused British army went on to retake in early 1858. Soon after the rebel capital at Jhansi capitulated, and with this the practical rebellion ended. However, the Sepoy Rebellion, or Indian Mutiny, officially ended in April of 1859 with the capture and execution of leading rebel general Tantia Topi.

The British imposed harsh measures on India as a result of the widespread revolt. The British officially abolished the Mogul Empire, exiling the emperor to Burma. The British crown assumed direct control of India, ending the East India Company’s administration. The British now viewed the Indian subcontinent with distrust and repression as opposed to the mere exploitation of the future.

A Lee-Enfield Rifle

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