Post Revolt Measures

The restoration of peace was hindered by British cries for vengeance, often leading to indiscriminate reprisals. The treatment of the aged Bahadur Shah, who was sent into exile, was disgraceful and virtually the whole population of Delhi was driven out into the open, and thousands were killed after perfunctory trials or no trials at all. Some order was restored only by the firmness of Lord Canning, the first viceroy of India and of Sir John Lawrence in the Punjab. Ferocity led to grave excesses on both sides, distinguishing this war in horror from other wars of the 19 th century.

Measures for the prevention of such crises in the future naturally began with the army, which was completely reorganised.

  • The ratio of British to Indian troops was fixed at roughly 1:2 instead of 1:5-one British and two Indian battalions were formed into brigades so that no sizable station should be without British troops.
  • The effective Indian artillery, except for a few mountain batteries, was abolished. Indian soldiers were also restricted from handling certain sophisticated weaponry.
  • Soldiers from Awadh, Bihar and Central India were declared to be non-martial and their recruitment cut down considerably. Sikhs, Gurkhas and Pathans who assisted in the suppression of the revolt were declared to be martial and were recruited in large numbers.
  • Well-guarded military cantonments were to be constructed beyond the walls of the old, crowded “native” cities. These new British military towns were initially erected as secure bases for the reorganised British regiments and were designed with straight roads wide enough for cavalry to gallop through whenever needed.
  • Essentially community, caste, tribal and regional loyalties were encouraged so as to thwart the forging of the solidarity that was evident in the mutiny of the sepoys from Awadh in 1857. * The officers continued to be British, but they were to be more closely linked with their men.
  • The army became an efficient professional body, drawn largely from the northwest and aloof from the national life.

Government of India Act of 1858

On Aug. 2, 1858, less than a month after Canning proclaimed the victory of British arms, the Parliament passed the Government of India Act, transferring British power over India from the East India Company, whose ineptitude was primarily blamed for the revolt, to the Crown. The merchant company’s residual powers were vested in the secretary of state for India, a minister of Great Britain’s cabinet, who would preside over the India Office in London and be assisted and advised, especially in financial matters, by a Council of India, which consisted initially of fifteen Britons, seven of whom were elected from among the old company’s court of directors and eight of whom were appointed by the crown. Though some of Britain’s most powerful political leaders became secretaries of state for India in the latter half of the 19th century, actual control over the government of India remained in the hands of British viceroys-who divided their time between Calcutta and Simla and their “steel frame” of approximately 1,500 Indian Civil Service officials posted throughout British India.

British Social Policy

On Nov. 1, 1858, Lord Canning announced Queen Victoria’s proclamation to “the Princes, Chiefs and Peoples of India,” which unveiled a new British policy of perpetual support for “native princes” and non-intervention in matters of religious belief or worship within British India.

The royal proclamation declared that

  • Those who laid down arms by 2 Jan. 1859 would be pardoned except those directly involved in the murder of British subjects
  • That official service would be open to all
  • Due regard would be given to ancient usages and customs of India.

The Queen’s proclamation of 1858 further declared that the British had no desire to extend their existing territorial possessions. The announcement reversed Lord Dalhousie’s pre-war policy of political unification through annexation of princely states, and princes were left free to adopt any heirs they desired so long as they all swore undying allegiance to the British Crown. However while giving the princes’ security from annexation it was made clear that in the event of ‘misgovernment’ or ‘anarchy’ the British would step in to take temporary charge of a native state. Territorial and monetary awards were bestowed on princes who had remained loyal, i.e., those of Gwalior, Rampur, Patiala and Jind. In 1861, a special order of knighthood, the star of India, was instituted, of which the recipients were the rulers of Baroda, Bhopal, Gwalior, Patiala and Rampur, chosen for their loyalty and services to the British.

In 1876, at Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s urging, Queen Victoria added the title ‘Empress of India’ to her existing title. British fears of another mutiny and consequent determination to bolster Indian states as “natural breakwaters” against any future tidal wave of revolt thus left more than 560 enclaves of autocratic princely rule to survive, interspersed throughout British India, for the entire nine decades of Crown rule. The new policy of religious non-intervention was born equally out of fear of recurring mutiny, which many Britons believed had been triggered by orthodox Hindu and Muslim reaction against the secularising inroads of utilitarian positivism and the proselytising of Christian missionaries. British liberal socio-religious reform therefore came to a halt for more than three decades-essentially from the East India Company’s Hindu Widow’s Remarriage Act of 1856 to the crown’s timorous Age of Consent Act of 1891, which merely raised the age of statutory rape for “consenting” brides from 10 years to 12 .

After 1869, with the completion of the construction of the Suez Canal and the steady expansion of steam transport, reducing the sea the time taken in passage between Britain and India from about three months to only three weeks, British women came to the East with ever greater readiness, and the British officials they married found it more appealing to return home with their British wives during holidays than to tour India as their predecessors had done. While the intellectual calibre of British recruits to the ICS in this era was, on the average, probably higher than that of servants recruited under the company’s earlier patronage system, British contacts with Indian society diminished in every respect, and British sympathy for and understanding of Indian life and culture were, largely replaced by suspicion, indifference, and fear.

Queen Victoria’s 1858 promise of racial equality of opportunity in the selection of civil servants for the government of India had theoretically thrown the ICS open to qualified Indians, but examinations for the services were conducted only in Britain and were open only to male applicants between the ages of 17 and 22 (in 1878 the maximum age was further reduced to 19) who could undergo a series of rigorous tests of a physical as well as intellectual nature and in very unfamiliar subjects and surroundings with unsympathetic examiners. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that by 1869 only one Indian candidate had managed to clear these obstacles to win a place in the ICS. British royal promises of equality were thus subverted in actual implementation by jealous, fearful bureaucrats. In consequence the higher ranks of the administration remained almost entirely British until the 1920s when the Indian civil service examinations began to be held in India as well as the UK. In addition, there was a whole hierarchy of separate bureaucracies in which also the higher ranks were British, i.e. the revenue, justice, police, education, medical, public works, engineering, postal and railway services as well as the provincial civil services. India thus continued to offer highly-paid careers to an appreciable portion of the British middle and upper classes while the Indian presence therein remained negligible.

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