Essay on What Were the Main Consequences for India After the 1857 Revolt?

Published: 2021/11/24
Number of words: 3716

During the course of this essay I will be analysing what were the main consequences for India after the 1857 revolt. The revolt of 1857 is conventionally conceived by historians to be the “dividing point that marks the beginning of modern India”[1]. Although historians such as Bayly acknowledge that this type of armed revolt against the British was not unique, it was the scale and threat this particular revolt posed to that made it so distinctive and worthy of its importance in India’s history[2].

My essay will be split into three separate sections, each individually focusing on what I believe to be a main consequence of the 1857 revolt. The first section concerns itself with events after August 2nd 1858, when the Government of India Act was passed, taking authority from the East India Company and giving it to the British Crown[3]. The second will focus upon the ‘divide and rule’ tactic the British “adopted” [4] in order to better control the Indian population during colonial rule. The final segment will investigate the rise of nationalism which occurred post 1857[5]. Even though I am dealing with these consequences individually, I acknowledge links can be made between the three under the branch of one overarching consequence, and I shall attempt to address this within my conclusion.

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From Company Rule to British Raj

The Government of India act I previously mentioned, now gave the British government control over India, the twenty year charter the East India Company once had to renew to parliament was replaced by parliamentary scrutiny, which was direct to Indian affairs[6]. The 1857 revolt showed parliament, that the East India Company could no longer handle control of India, so instead they on the management. This was the beginning of imperial rule, which is a massive consequence for India. There is much historiography surrounding the exact time of imperial rule in India. Some historians argue that parliamentary control had been “creeping” since the India Act of 1784[7]. Other historians, such as Kulke, argue that the company had simply been a buffer, which Britain could use to shield itself from direct responsibility for controlling India[8]. But, Britain’s economic statues had improved, so they were now ready for the responsibility of imperial rule[9]. This could make control of India by Britain seem an inevitability, rather than a consequence of the 1857 revolt. However, I conquer with Stein, who states that the legal shift to Crown Rule in 1858 visibly confirmed, that Britain now ruled India[10].

Even once it has been established that imperial rule was a consequence of 1857, the import of this change can still be debated upon. There is some continuity between the style of rule under the Company and the Crown. For example the government still offered 5% (or 4.5%) to businesses interested in investment in India, like the Company had[11]. For India itself, it is argued any major change was already intimated under company era, for example the development of technical departments, and that there were surprisingly few changes to the structure of India under imperial rule[12]. Meaning there was little consequence after the 1857 revolt.

However, Bayly states that it is impossible to measure the impact British crown rule created[13], in reference to the large number of changes the Crown rule had. The British rule was in no uncertain terms foreign domination. Indian interests were not pursued, only excursions which would directly benefit the British were begun or continued[14]. For example, the railway network, which was the largest investment into India, was done for strategic reasons, rather than for the economic or social benefit of the Indian population[15]. Indian taxation also now went straight to England[16], and rulers of India were now British Viceroys, rather than Company Governors[17]. These changes had major significance to India, and were direct result of the 1857 result, showing the move from Company to Crown rule was a major consequence. India was not just used for economic benefits, it also served as a good source of cheap labour[18], this is particularly evident within the Indian army, who were deployed, (at the expense of the Indian taxpayer), to protect British trade routes[19]. The army itself had its composition changed; a European concentration now filled high ranking positions, this has been attributed to fear and lessons learned from 1857[20]

The change in Indian ruled, locked India into a pattern of subordination which lasted at least until 1935[21]. Robb feels that the imperial rule was certainly oppressive to the people of India[22]. This seems evident in the immediate aftermath of the revolt, where tens of thousands of soldiers were hanged or shot as punishment. This occurred so much that there was a significant drop in population between 1851 and 1871 as a result of these lynching’s[23]. Some estates and property were also seized by the government as punishment for the rebellion[24]. The oppression towards the Indian citizens by the government affected the lives of everyone within the nation. This makes the change in governance a significant consequence of the 1857 revolt.

Divide and Rule

During British imperialism colonial policy walked a tightrope between control and appeasement (Robb)[25] particularly with the divide and rule policy. Some historians have attributed the success of this policy to the reason for the longevity of British rule, in many ways it was “not so much by the sword but the pen that the British ruled”[26]. The policy entailed splitting the Indian populous in various ways (i.e. religious or by class), thereby making it easier to control them. This policy was particularly important when you consider that the Indian army was the force used to contain dissidence within its boarders[27]. Historians have often used divide and rule as an example to the contradictions which existed within Indian policy because despite the rule being imperial, the divide and rule showed a “paternalistic” style of rule[28].

One example of divide and rule used by the British was the exploitation of the already existing tensions between Hindus and Muslims[29]. Sakar argues the situation between these religious groups were tailor made for British divide and rule[30]. This seems a reasonable analysis when considering incidents such as the 1893 riots between the two religions[31]. One prime example of the implementation of this policy was the Bengal Partition 1905. This was a policy decided upon by Lord Curzon, in which Bengal would be divided among religious lines. The rational was that by splitting Bengal into two provinces it would be easier to control, as Bengal in its entirety had a population of 78.5 million, and was too large to dominate[32]. Home secretary H.H Risley stated that Bengal as a united entity had power, but divided it pulled in separate different ways, which would make it easier to control. There was also a contemporary view that it would encourage Muslim Hindu tension[33], this they would be too preoccupied with their grievances, rather than focusing upon defeating their imperial rulers. However, the Bengal partition is said to have caused agitation and radicalisation which in turn caused violence against the British[34]. So although this tactic may not have been successful, it was still a major consequence of imperial rule brought on by the 1857 revolt. It must be noted that the Bengal partition was not an isolated incidence to Hindu Muslim exploitation. Early post 1857 Hindus were favoured by the British, resulting in rapid economic, political and educational gains which would encourage separatism. This favouritism then switched to the Muslims to prevent the Hindu people becoming too powerful[35]

Another example of divide and rule tactic consisted of splitting the classes of India, through such means as rewards, the rational being that violence could be “shewed by the mainstream educated politicians”[36] if they were content. Hardiman argues that the new emerging Indian middle classes, were torn between there new feeling of nationalism, and the sense that they needed British colonial protection to maintain their jobs and luxurious position in society they had obtained through British education and occupation[37]. Some middle classes were ingratiated into the British colonial system, and as a result condemned those who fought against it. For example during the indigo revolt of 1869-72 few of the middle classes sided with their Indian brethren[38]. Many religious leaders and landlords were co-opted into this complex system, in return for prestige and rewards they would control their subordinates and prevent an uprising against the British[39]. British education and occupation became a viable way for professionals to improve their social statues[40], like the Hindu Muslims tensions, citizens had another focus rather than an uprising against colonial rule. The British managed to appease some leading figures and middle classes in India, in the hope they in turn would control the lower classes and more radical sects of society. The impact the divide and rule tactic had on the social and economic lives of the Indian populous shows it was a major consequence.

The Rise of Indian Nationalism

Historians such as Bayly feel that the general consensus of opinion surrounding the rise of nationalism, (that there was a simple transition from 1857 traditional resistance to nationalism), is too simplistic[41]. Though this statement may be just, there is no doubt Indian nationalism owes an ironic debt to its rise, particularly when concerning colonial politics and education[42]. Nationalism sought to counter imperial tactics such as the divide and rule method I previously mentioned[43], without these measures to fight against arguably would not have risen, making the increase in nationalism a direct result of the 1857 revolt which caused Crown rule. Even nationalists began to refer to 1857 as the first Indian war of independence[44]. Historians have argued the eventual success of the independence movement was a great deal to do with the nationalist movement[45], this would mean Britain in a sense had created its own worst enemy.

There were various reasons for this rise in nationalism, one being the result of the oppression imperial government and “alien domination”[46]. The British were bias against any type of Indian identity[47] and were outright racist at times, shown particularly by the Ilbert Bill 1883, which in itself caused much agitation within the Indian community[48]. Soldiers stationed in India also caused further anger with multiplying counts of rape and racial ill treatment[49]. Some historians argue, (particularly in reference to the 1920’s), class struggles were ignored and focus was placed upon a united anti-colonial guiding principle[50], proven by the Kheda 1917 where rich and poor Patidars united in refusing to pay state revenue to the British[51].

Fiscal reasons for the nationalist rise are often placed under the “drain on wealth” theory, this involved agitation over funds being taken from India to fund Britain and its desires[52]. This was particularly apparent during World War One which caused economic problems for India, on average there was a 300% increase in government expenditure[53], this meant a rise in taxes and a lowering of any expenditure related to the Indian people. It was not just economic stature which was depleting, but now human material was also exhausting, particularly as recruitment into the army was no longer voluntary[54]. The drain on wealth theory became a radicalising force, despite the slight hypocrisy involved (i.e. many Indian companies were exploiting their people just like the British[55]) it served to unite the people against the British.

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Another pattern related to the rise in nationalism, is that of former English educated Indians turned against there ‘masters’[56]. Soon after the Mutiny measures were fashioned to create an expansion in higher education[57]. It was this English education that brought in an awareness of other ideologies which was essential to the forming of their own national identity. It also served to alienate many from high society as an English education became the sole path to a good occupation[58]. Even those who did manage to become educated were often unappreciated by the British, as they were seen as a threat, particularly in Bengal, where the ‘Bengal Babu’ was preferred[59]. This contradiction would have caused further agitation. It must also be noted that without English education the 70 Western educated Indians, may not have come together in Bombay 1885 to form the Indian congress, which in itself became a model for nationalist movements[60].


To conclude, I believe that the main consequence of the 1857 Revolt was the takeover of India, from the East India Company to the British Crown. There is an argument to say this change had been previously developing before the Revolt, but even if the 1857 incident was merely an excuse for the Crown it still has significance. The control of the British Raj over India had a huge impact over the lives of the Indian people, particularly regarding the divide and rule policy implemented by the British, which created tension through out many regions (for example Bengal). This tension, along with many other grievances manifested itself in the form of nationalism. This became Britain’s biggest foe and arguably wouldn’t have been created without the British. This means that the governmental change to imperial control may have been the largest consequence, but it also gave birth to other incidence and movements which had just as much significance.


C.A Bayly, the New Cambridge history of the India, volume 2, India society and the making of the British Empire (Cambridge University Press, 1988)

David Hardiman, Peasant Resistance in India 1858-1915 (Oxford University Press, 1993)

Hermann Kulke, Dietmar Rothermund, A history of India (Croom Helm, 1986)

Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R Metcalf, A concise history of modern India (Cambridge University press, 2006)

Jagdish Raj, The Mutiny and British land policy in Northern India 1856-1868 (Asia publishing house, 1965)

Peter Robb, A History of India (Palgrave, 2002)

Sumit Sarkar, ModernIndia 1885-1947 (Macmillan Press, 1989)

Percival Spear, The Oxford history of modern India 1740-1947, (Oxford University press, 1965)

Burton Stein, A History of India (Blackwell publishing, 2006)

Internet resources

Divide and rule in India. Available from <> (Accessed 20th October 2010)

The British divide and rule Policy. Available from <!OpenDocument> (Accessed 20th October 2010)

Imperialist British India – Divide & Rule Tactic. Available from <> (Accessed 20th October 2010)

Rise of Indian Nationalism. Available from <> (Accessed 21st October 2010)

The Movement for Independence. Available from <> (Accessed 19th October 2010)

[1] Barbara D. Metcalf and Thomas R Metcalf, A concise history of modern India (Cambridge University press, 2006) p.92

[2] C.A Bayly, the New Cambridge history of the India, volume 2, India society and the making of the British Empire (Cambridge University Press, 1988) p.170

[3] Metcalf, A concise, p.103

[4] Imperialist British India – Divide & Rule Tactic. Available from <> (Accessed 20th October 2010)

[5] The Movement for Independence. Available from <> (Accessed 19th October 2010)

[6] Metcalf, A concise, p.104

[7] Bayly, the New Cambridge, p.195

[8] Hermann Kulke, Dietmar Rothermund, A history of India (Croom Helm, 1986) p.241

[9] Rothermund, A history, p.242

[10] Burton Stein, A History of India (Blackwell publishing, 2006) p.239

[11] Metcalf, A concise, p.97

[12] Stein, A History, p.242

[13] Bayly, the New Cambridge, p.197

[14] Rothermund, A history, p.258.

[15] Rothermund, A history, p.269

[16] Bayly, the New Cambridge, p.200

[17] Peter Robb, A History of India (Palgrave, 2002) p.156

[18] Metcalf, A concise, p.126

[19] Metcalf, A concise, p.131

[20] Stein, A History, p.252

[21] Bayly, the New Cambridge, p.200

[22] Robb, A History, p.177

[23] Bayly, the New Cambridge, p.194

[24] Bayly, the New Cambridge, p.197

[25] Robb, A History, p.171

[26] Rothermund, A history, p.260

[27] Bayly, the New Cambridge, p.201

[28] Robb, A History, p.174

[29] Sumit Sarkar, ModernIndia 1885-1947 (Macmillan Press, 1989) p.3

[30] Sarkar, ModernIndia, p.121

[31] Stein, A History, p.286

[32] Stein, A History, pp 288-290

[33] Sarkar, ModernIndia, p.107

[34] Stein, A History, p.291

[35] The British divide and rule Policy. Available from <!OpenDocument> (Accessed 20th October 2010)

[36] Robb, A History, p.174

[37] David Hardiman, Peasant Resistance in India 1858-1915 (Oxford University Press, 1993) p.50

[38] Hardiman, Peasant Resistance, p.51

[39] Robb, A History, p.172

[40] Robb, A History, p.157

[41] Bayly, the New Cambridge, p.196

[42] Robb, A History, p.178

[43] Sarkar, ModernIndia, p.255

[44] Rothermund, A history, p.253

[45] Robb, A History, p.215

[46] Sarkar, ModernIndia, p.5

[47] Robb, A History, p.178

[48] Stein, A History, pp 272-273

[49] Sarkar, ModernIndia, p.392

[50] Robb, A History, p.205

[51] Robb, A History, p.196

[52] Robb, A History, p.169

[53] Sarkar, ModernIndia, p.169

[54] Sarkar, ModernIndia, p.169

[55] Sarkar, ModernIndia, p.87

[56] Sarkar, ModernIndia, p.5

[57] Burton Stein, A History of India (Blackwell publishing, 2006) p.275

[58] Sarkar, ModernIndia, p.66

[59] Rothermund, A history, p.259

[60] Metcalf, A concise, p.136

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