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The Indian Mutiny and Massacre at Cawnpore in 1857

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Golden Temple in India

Indian Mutiny and Sepoy Rebellion of 1857

The Indian Mutiny was an attempt to overthrow the East India Company by large groups of Indian sepoys, soldiers and princes. The events in 1857 are also known as the Sepoy Rebellion and were a determined effort to destroy the greatest British power in india. It started when the British governors-general who ruled India at the time angered the Hindus by forbidding some of their traditional religious practices. A short while later, the British sent missionaries from England to convert some indians to Christianity which upset both the Hindus and the Moslems. Even though there was a long history of hatred between the Hindus and the Moslems they joined together to fight the British as more and more Indian states were coming under British control.

The sepoy army of Bengal, who until now were supporting the British, quickly became angry when a story spread that the British intended to break down the Hindu caste system and grease the new rifle cartridges that the sepoys used with a mixture of cow and pig fat - the cow being a sacred animal to the Hindus and the pig being an unclean animal to the Moslems.

The mutiny started on Sunday, May 10 at a place called Meerut, which was a large military base northeast of Delhi, when a British officer attempted to make the soldiers use the new cartridges. They refused and were imprisoned for mutiny. The Indian cavalry at the base then set fire to the European quarters and rode off towards Delhi. The Indians at Delhi soon joined the mutineers from Meerut and started murdering Europeans at random then seizing the Delhi arsenal where the weapons were stored. Soon the rest of the Bengal army also mutinied but the fighting people of of the Punjab remained loyal. The city was held by the rebels for four months until a column of Europeans and Sikhs from the Punjab arrived and recaptured it.

By this time, the garrisons of Cawnpore and Lucknow had been surrounded by the mutineers so the British sent soldiers under the command of Sir Henry Havelock to relieve them. However, faced by overwhelming forces the advance column had to surender to Nana Sahib, a local Indian prince. Sahib promised that the British would be allowed to go free if they moved down river to Allahabad. Sadly the Indians did not keep the promise and ambushed the boats and murdered all the people in them. Havelock, marching on Cawnpore in July, heard that more than 200 women and children were still alive in the town. He reached Cawnpore and captured it, but found that he was too late to save the women and children, who had been murdered the previous night.

As soon as he could Havelock then marched on Lucknow where a large number of British families had taken refuge in the Residency - the house of the English adviser to the Indian Ruler - and had been besieged from June to December. It is said that a feverish woman, a Highland Scot, heard the pipes played by the bands of the Scottish soldiers marching to relieve Lucknow. The British attacked the Lucknow garrison and managed to get the remaining British people away.

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