The 1857 Revolt began on 29th March 1857 when Mangal Pandey of the 34th infantry in Barrackpore became the first martyr. The mutiny spread rapidly in eastern and northern India. Dehri, Patna, Arrah, Azamgarh, Allahabad, Gorakhpur, Faizabad, Fatehpur, Jhansi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Etawah, Fategarh, Gwalior, Shahjahanpur, Agra, Bharatpur, Rohilkhand, Mathura, Agra, Hatras, Delhi, Meerut, Bareilly and Roorki – these emerged as storm-centres of the Revolt
. On 11th May 1857 the sepoys of the Meerut regiment captured Delhi and proclaimed the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar as their undisputed leader. In this entire region the dispossessed talukdars and impoverished peasants and artisans joined the sepoys to contest the English authority. The English land-revenue experiments not only deprived the talukdars and landlords of their estates and social status, but also subjected the peasants to excessive revenue demands. At the same time the acute crisis faced by urban handicraft industry due to the intrusion of cheaper English products and the disappearance of the patronage of the traditional local courts and ruling classes dislocated the livelihood of the artisans. Despite their class contradictions the zamindars, the peasants and artisans joined hands with the sepoys to fight their common enemy – the English. According to one estimate one-fifth of the Indian population in 1857 directly or indirectly participated in the Revolt.
The English authority virtually collapsed over the entire plains of Uttar Pradesh. In Rohilkhand the British rule was `non-existent’ for almost a year. Contemporary British officials remarked that in Oudh and its surrounding areas it was difficult to distinguish who among the rebels were the sepoys and the peasants. In some areas like Bijnour the civil population even rose up in revolt before any help could be received from the sepoys
n other cases as in Bulandshahr the popular uprising coincided with the arrival of the rebel army from Aligarh. Recent researches have thus tended to stress that in the affected area the mutiny of the sepoys were either preceded by or accompanied by or followed by a civil rebellion. The popular violence was characterised by killing of Europeans, pillaging of English establishments and record rooms, indigo factories and burning of land records and official documents. In some areas such assaults on symbols of English authority were contemporaneous with attacks on indigenous baniyas and moneylenders. In parts of North-Western province the peasant participation in the Revolt was motivated by the aim to win back the land that they had lost because of English revenue settlement. Contemporary English observers like Kaye admitted that there was hardly any Indian belonging to any religious faith between the Ganges and Jamuna who was not against the British.