Quick Notes on Revolt of 1857: Social Causes

The revolt of 1857 is an important marker in Indian History and is an area where questions have repeatedly featured in the Civil Services (Prelims) and Civil Services (Mains) Examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). Here we outline the various social factors that helped cause the revolt.

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  • In 1772, when Warren Hastings was appointed India’s first Governor-General, one of his first undertakings was the rapid expansion of the Company’s army. Since the sepoys from Bengal – many of whom had fought against the Company in the Battles of Plassey and Buxar – were now suspect in British eyes, Hastings recruited farther west from the high-caste rural Rajputs and Bhumihar of Awadh and Bihar, a practice that continued for the next 75 years.
  • A significant part of the British rule over India. Transformed the ruling system of Britain in India. No other event contributed greater in terms of Britain’s changing policy. From 1757-1857, the EIC established strong colonial footings in India. But during this time the EIC was involved in the ‘visible’ aspects of colonialism and that exploitation greatly hampered the prospects of Indians- in terms of the social, political, economical and military scenario of India.
  • Thus, the exploitation carried out by the East India Company in 100 years, found reactions in various revolts. But the scale of the revolt of 1857 was much larger and unprecedented. This revolt prompted the British Parliament to take direct control over India.
  • The justice system was considered to be inherently unfair to the Indians. The official Blue Books, East India (Torture) 1855–1857, laid before the House of Commons during the sessions of 1856 and 1857, revealed that Company officers were allowed an extended series of appeals if convicted or accused of brutality or crimes against Indians.

Causes of Revolt

  1. Social
  2. Economical
  3. Political
  4. Military
  5. Immediate Factor

Social Factors

  1. Racial discrimination was the prime factor. Indians suffered badly in the hands of the Europeans. There was visible racial exploitation wherein Indians were not allowed to mix with the Europeans. There was discrimination that was also carried out in public places. This generated gross discontentment against the domination of the whites in India.
  2. The British were also circumspect about interfering in the religious and cultural affairs of Indians. And that if there was to be any interference in their religious and cultural affairs, then that would generate widespread revolts against the British rule and the newly established British rule would be uprooted very easily.
  3. British-run schools were also a problem: according to recorded testimonies, anger had spread because of stories that mathematics was replacing religious instruction, stories were chosen that would “bring contempt” upon Indian religions, and because girl children were exposed to “moral danger” by education
  4. Until 1800, the British were thus not keen to interfere in the social and religious affairs of Indians. But, at the beginning of the 19th Century, the British began to support their bid of social reforms by the methods of legislation.
  5. Thus, it can be summarized that Indians began to doubt the objectives of the British since the advent of these legislations. Some glaring examples of this period are the 1813 Charter Act which conservative Indians viewed as an imposition of Christianity over them. Therefore, they sharply reacted.
  6. In other areas of central India, such as Indore and Saugar, where such loss of privilege had not occurred, the princes remained loyal to the Company, even in areas where the sepoys had rebelled
  7. At the same time, when some of the social legislations were passed, like, the abolition of Sati, 1829 was passed by Lord William Bentinck (which was implemented across all presidencies across British India), Prohibition of child marriage, widow remarriage, etc. were all understood by Indians as a bid to impose Christianity over them.
  8. Therefore, in the first half of the 19th Century, the British proposal of social reform through the means of legislation- although it was directed towards the acceptability of British rule over India, conservative sections viewed this as an imposition of Christianity over them.

Thus, social factors contributed largely to the revolt which was expressed in 1857.

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Relevant Links

IAS Salary Rise of Indian National Movement
Revolt of 1857 – First War of Independence Against British Revolutionary Movement in India – Freedom Struggle
NCERT Notes: Lala Lajpat Rai (1865-1928) Rowlatt Act & Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (1919)
Rise of Mahatma Gandhi in Indian Freedom Struggle Subash Chandra Bose
Salt Satyagraha – Causes and Effect of Dandi March Non-Cooperation Movement – Facts, Causes, Significance, Suspension
Quit India Movement (August 8, 1942) – Background, Significance Indian National Movement – Extremist Period

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