The Sepoy Mutiny - 1857

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The Anglo Sikh Wars brought an end to Khalsa rule in the Punjab. These two wars, the First and Second Anglo-Sikh Wars left the Sikhs fractionalize without any united leadership. The Dogra general who had lead Sikh armies was in alliance with British and reaped a profit of his own by paying a small fortune to purchase the kingdom of Kashmir. In the years that followed the Anglo-Sikh wars of 1849, sikh armies were disbanded by the British and heavily recruited as soldiers in the British regiment where their gallantry and loyalty were soon tested in the mutiny of 1857, which was nothing more than an attempt by the Marathas and Muslim rulers were merely revolts by the princes to regain their feudal or territorial rights. The mutiny of the Purbias in the British armed forces was encouraged and the embroglio over the use of the who used a mixture of pid and cow fat to grease their new cartridges, ended with the death of several hundreds of British women, children who were murdered by these mutineers, all over North India. The British reprisals were even more brutal and even included massive destruction of sections of Delhi's Lal Kila (Red Fort).

The eighty Year old Bahadur Shah Zafar, the aging Emperor of the Mughals whose once mighty forces had been cowed by victorious Sikh and Maratha armies was asked by the mutineers to be the figurehead of their rebellion, a task to which he reluctantly agreed. He actually had no other choice. During the Mutiny of 1857, the Muslims sought restoration of the rule of Muslim princes, and the Hindus hoped to put their Rajas back into power, as well. The princes of the two communities had a unity of purpose in putting up a common front against a common enemy, the British. After the Anglo Sikh Wars, the young Sikh Maharaja, the last son of Ranjit Singh and his mother, the last potent personalities, around which both been removed from the Punjab, leaving the misls fractured and disorganized. With Maharaja Ranjit Singh dead none of his sons had been able to keep the once great kingdom together, infighting and duplicitous leadership had insured the Khalsa army's defeat. With no one to pay them and with the once great Toshkhana looted by the Dogras and the British taking what was left the warriors were soon being asked to fill new regiments in the British army to keep the Afghans at bay.

Purbia pleas fall on deaf ears

Moreover, the situation in the Punjab was quite different from the one that prevailed in the rest of India. Perhaps the main reason that the Panjab remained peaceful was that the Sikhs, now now part of the new British regiments had nursed a serious grudge against the Purbias who, despite the Sikhs having never given them any cause for offence, had by their betrayal and other overt and covert acts, helped the British during the Anglo-Sikh wars and later in the annexation of Punjab. The British used the Sikh grievance and the consequent "natural hatred" towards lhe Purbias. Kavi Khazan Singh in his work, “Jangnama Dilli”, written in 1858, mentions that the Sikh participation against the Purbia soldiers was in reaction to their boast that they had vanquished the Sikhs in 1845-46 and in 1848-49.

Another contemporary observer noted: "The animosity between the Sikhs and the Purhias is notorious. The former gave out that they would not allow the latter to pass through their country. It was, therefore, determined to take advantage of this ill feeling and to stimulate it by the offer of rewards for every Hindostani sepoy captured. The bitter memories of Purhia co-operation with the British were so fresh in Sikh minds that any coalition between the two became impossible. The people who now claimed to be fighters for freedom were the same who, eight years earlier, had actively helped the British to usurp Sikh sovereignty. On top of that they were trying to bring back the infamous Mughal empire, with its Rajput rulers that had, for hundreds of years, wreaked havocs on the Sikh Gurus and the famous Gursikhs.

The pleas of the Purbias were so hollow and incongruous in view of their earlier conduct, that they fell on deaf ears of the aggrieved Punjabi Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims of the former Sikh Raj of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his sons whose independence they had helped the British to rob. Besides, it is a well-accepted view that the uprisings in 1857 were nothing more than petty revolts by the princes to regain their feudal, territorial rights. It was far from being any ideological national struggle for a united, free India. (a oft called First War of Independance.)

In this context, the Sikhs in the background of their rule in Punjab and egalitarian tradition could harldy be expected to side with Muslim and Hindu princes to regain their kingdoms, nor could religious taboos which affected Hindu and Muslim sentiments, against many of which the Sikh Gurus had led a crusade, in any measure inflame Sikh sentiments. It was on account of all this that the Punjab was not afiected hy the rebellion which convulsed the rest of northern India. Punjabi Mussalmans turned a deaf ear to their Hindustani co-religionists exhortation of Jihad against the pig-eating despoilers of Islam. Punjabi Hindus and, with greater reason, the Sikhs refused to listen to the belated appeal to save Hindu Dharma from beefeating foreigners who used cow fat to grease their cartridges. However, there were some stray cases of Sikhs joining the mutineers. It was reported that a large number of Sikhs gathered at Ropar and declared the Khalsa Raj for which the leader of the band was immediately put to death. A Sikh Chief, Raja Nahar Singh was executed for supporting the cause of the rebels. After annexation Bhai Maharaj Singh had moved from village to village in Majha region and incited the people to rebel.

The Cis-Satluj chiefs of Patiala, Malerkotla, Kalsia, Nabha, Faridkot and Jind, along with their mercenary forces, rendered full help to the British in suppressing the rebellion. These chiefs owed their existence to the British who had protected them from the conquests of Ranjit Singh. They still remembered with gratitude the support extended to them hy the British against Maharaja Ranjit Singh. But for the British protection, Ranjit Singh would surely have sought to annex their kingdoms long ago.

This mutiny led the British to recruit for their armed forces heavily among the communities which had been neutral to this rebellion. Especially, Gurkhas, Rajputs of Rajasthan, Punjabi Muslims and Sikhs. Sikhs started enlisting with British forces and were thus back to the profession of their liking, the military services.

Ninety Years later when India became independent Indian leaders started referring to the Mutiny of 1857 as "The first war of Independence", which in reality was stand of the once great Mughal Empire.


1) Sikhs and the 1857 Mutiny - Lt. Col. Gulcharan Singh Sujlana (Retd.)

2) The indian mutiny of 1857 and the Sikhs - Dr. Ganda Singh